The Wooden Churches of Maramureș, Romania

Along Romania’s northern border, rolling hills and thick forests clothe the landscape that flows into Ukraine.  This is the region made famous in William Blackers Along the Enchanted Way, recalling a medieval way of live that still exists but is quickly evaporating into the morning fog.

One notable architectural feature of this region is the wooden church – dozens of them.  Gothic in style with steeples often towering over a smaller structure, in the 17th century villagers were forbidden by the Austro-Hungarians to built their orthodox houses of worship out of longer lasting stone.  Nevertheless, the oak structures have stood the test of time, just as rural life has continued to thrive alongside the tradition of marvelous woodworking.

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Eight of the churches have made the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.  With this designation, the structures are becoming more popular and local infrastructure is being developed to increase tourist access.  The church we visited had a soon-to-be-opened little tourist office and newly paved access road.  The bridge over a nearby creek was still not complete, so we had to access the church the old way – over a swinging pedestrian bridge.  When we walked in the Ieud church, a gentleman had just finished mopping the wooden floor, which still gets sullied by the frequent traffic of parishioners.  An informational brochure was available for a miniscule fee.   Outside, several adults and children were clearing the overgrowth from between the crowded burial plots.

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As I slowly walked the perimeter of the cemetery, I noticed a widow sitting by a plot, gently rocking back and forth, murmuring prayers (bottom right of above photo).

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A typical grave marker at a wooden church.  Throughout Romania, photos of the deceased are common, though outside the Maramureș most grave markers are stone.

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Discarded crosses on the side of a hill. I showed incredible restraint by not taking the red one as a souvenir. I’m certain they will just sit there and rot.

 

 

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