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Lázó Chapel

Lázó Chapel is the most important monument of the early Renaissance in Transylvania. It is an eclectic building combining architectural features typical of the Italian Renaissance, which spread slowly in this part of Europe, with archaic design solutions of the Gothic tradition.

The chapel was built in the area of the former northern portal of the cathedral in the early sixteenth century. An inscription made below the cornice on the frieze of the edifice indicates the year of completion, 1512. Dedicated to the Holy Spirit, the chapel was founded by and donated to the bishopric of Transylvania by John of Lázó, Archdeacon of Tileagd.

John of Lázó was an erudite and cultured cleric having received a humanist education. He spoke Latin and Italian, as well as some Slavic languages. Documents mention the names Johannes de Lázó or János Lászai. He was born in 1448, in Lascov, today in Slovakia, and graduated from the Academia Istropolitana in Pressburg (today Bratislava), and then in Italy, perhaps in Bologna. In Italy he met Felix Schmied, a Dominican monk from Ulm who Latinized his name as Felix Fabri. In 1483 they went together on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Egypt. The pilgrimage lasted until January 1484 and Felix Fabri kept a detailed diary that was first published in Latin and later translated into German, English, and French, becoming a real travel guide. A second pilgrimage to the Holy Land was undertaken around 1500, but there is no information left on this trip.

From 1508 to 1512, John of Lázó was in Alba Iulia, where he coordinated the construction work of the chapel, founded by him in order to keep an oath made to the Holy Virgin during his first pilgrimage. In 1517, he went to Rome where he remained until the end of his days. He died of cholera in 1523, at the age of 75. He was buried in St. Stephen Rotonda in Rome.

Lázó chapel is a small size construction with a rectangular plan. The height of the chapel is lower than that of the lateral naves of the cathedral. The western and northern sides are completely open, while the eastern side is connected to the northern nave, which was later turned into St. Anne Chapel. Two corner pilasters frame the northern façade of the chapel. Each pilaster bears an obliquely oriented niche supporting the entablature. The portal, located in the median of the ground floor, has a semicircular opening. In front of the portal are stairs with sawed stone bannisters. Richly embellished pilasters supporting a profiled cornice decorated with egg and palmette motifs flank the opening of the door. A profiled cornice protects the heraldic decoration placed above the door against the weather.

The line of the bases of the niches and the portal’s cornice mark the lower part of the façade’s upper floor. This upper floor has a centrally located niche framed by two decorated pilasters and two small Romanesque windows. Both the central and corner niches have shells in the upper part. The entablature consists of a slightly profiled architrave, a frieze displaying the inscription mentioned, and a strongly profiled cornice. The western façade is much simpler, being penetrated by a rectangular portal, nowadays walled up, and a circular window. The inner portal is very richly decorated with stylistic features typical of Renaissance architecture borrowed from the heritage of Antiquity.

In contrast to the Renaissance conception of the edifice is the vault of the chapel typical of the late Gothic. The vault is supported on ribs which form a network of parallelograms, with the heraldic emblems of the vice voivode Leonard Barlabássy (1501-1525), the bishop Ladislas Geréb of Vingard (1475-1501) and the archdeacon of Tileagd, John of Lázó (1448-1523) the founder of the edifice.

This combining of elements of Gothic architecture with features of the Renaissance from Lombardy demonstrates that the master mason was not a foreigner, but a local who might have worked on sites in Hungary or even Oradea or Alba Iulia. Most of the bishops of these two cities were learned individuals, educated in important European universities, who contributed to the introduction of humanist culture and a taste for the Renaissance in Transylvania. (C. A.)