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The Calvinist Church in Alba Iulia

Located in the Lower City, on the present Regina Maria Street, the Calvinist church is the only monument of this religious denomination in Alba Iulia. It was constructed around the mid-eighteenth century, shortly after Alba Iulia’s Magyar, German and Romanian populations were relocated to the east of the outer city, in the newly built neighbourhood housing Alba Iulia’s Magyar inhabitants.

The construction of the Vauban-type fortification between 1715 and 1738 caused important changes to the urban morphology of Alba Iulia. The much larger size of the new fortress, as well as the need for an extended esplanade, with widths varying from 200 to 500 meters, necessitated the church’s relocation to the east of the settlement. Thus, as the fortress was being constructed, new neighbourhoods appeared in the meadows outside the city walls, bordered on the east by Mureș. This area came to be called the Orașul de Jos (the Lower City) by inhabitants. Three neighbourhoods appeared, organized along ethnic lines: Magyar, German and Lipoveni (Romanian), to which were later added the Heiuș and Maieri neighbourhoods.

The Magyar neighbourhood was considered the main area, being located in the centre of the new city. To its south was the Heiuș suburb and to the northeast the River Ampoi, while Lipoveni lay on the left bank of the same river, extending east to the River Mureș. In maps from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the area was usually given its Hungarian name, Város (city).

After the population were relocated to the new neighbourhoods, the construction of a church became a necessity. The Calvinist community had no church, since St Michael’s Cathedral, which had been used by the Calvinists since the second half of the sixteenth century, was given back to the Roman Catholic Church in 1715. As a provisional solution, a chapel was built in the central area of the new neighbourhood; this served as church until the mid-eighteenth century. When the chapel became run-down and too small for the community, plans were laid to replace it with the present building.

On 5 May 1756, Empress Maria Theresa (1740-1780) approved the inhabitants’ petition to build a new church. Construction started in 1757 and ended in 1761, as recorded in an inscription placed above the entrance to the church on the northern side of the bell tower. The construction was funded by the members of the Calvinist community, both citizens and nobles, among whom Count János Lázár stands out as prime curator, as well as Pastor István Málnási.

The building is rather modest in size, but the layout is interesting. It is a hall church with a rectangular nave, closed on the eastern and western ends by semi-circular apses and with a rectangular bell tower located in the middle of the northern façade. The nave is covered by a semi-cylindrical vault with penetrations supported by arches standing on pilasters. The inner part of the church is sober, with few decorative elements on the arches supporting the vault. There are tribunes near the apses. The eastern one houses an organ, and the western one was the parishioners’ designated space. On the southern wall of the nave is the pulpit, which has a wooden canopy produced in 1765.

The exterior of the church is similarly sober. On the northern side pilasters support a undecorated frieze, while the eastern and southern sides have buttresses. At the beginning of the twentieth century the bell tower bore a clock with dials on each of the tower’s four sides. Not far from this was the cemetery.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century a primary school has functioned near the church. A teacher was in charge of the children’s education.

In 1860 the church underwent major repairs, but unfortunately these did not solve all the problems, as can be seen from the images taken at the beginning of the twentieth century, where cracks in the area of the eastern apse can be spotted. Restoration carried out in the 1970s and 1990s have given the church its current appearance. (C. A.)