We have seen many abandoned churches in Banat but none of them match the charm and beauty of the one from Bobda. Initially constructed to serve as a mausoleum for the Csávossy noble family, due to its great size, it was later transformed into a Roman-Catholic place of worship. The last religious service to take place here was around the ‘80s, after which it was forgotten. Today, the church serves as a nest for a few dozen pigeons, that have made a perfect circle out of their excrements in the place where once stood a red carpet. One of the towers collapsed a long time ago, the dome is also on the verge of falling down, the stained-glass windows and the altar have been stolen, the organ destroyed and the crypt that once occupied the church basement has been desecrated.
Bobda is documented in existence since 1221 under the name of Babd. The noble families did not start receiving lands until 1349. In 1489, the landowners were Imre Doczy and the Petö family. Until the end of the 15th century, the landowners list included the names of Endrödi Bekesfi, Botha Andras and Tarczai Janos. Bobda was not destroyed during the Ottoman occupation, being owned by the Timiş medieval county and later attached to the Torontal county, in 1779. In 1782, Gyertyánffy Antal, Lukács and Kristóf bought the land through an auction organized by the Treasury. In 1838, Gyertyánffy Antal, and later Gyertyánffy József owned properties in Bobda. The last noble family around these parts was Csávossy, who was raised to the rank of nobility only in 1904. In 1912, Bobda had 232 houses, 1179 locals (mostly Romanian of the Orthodox religion), a post office, a telegraph and even a casino.
The Gyula Csávossy baron of Bobda
On the date of May 16, 1939 Gyula Csávossy is born in the Szarcsa village (located on the Serbian side of Banat and today lost). Gyula starts high school at Timişoara and, later, is transferred to Vienna. He studies law at the University of Vienna and, afterwards, enrolls at the Science College of Budapest. His father’s desire, owner of several estates in the Torontal County (including Bobda), was that his son would follow his tracks and dedicate himself to the agricultural activities. As a result, Gyula returns to Banat and settles in Bobda. His first wife, Magdalena Szemzo, dies and he remarries the baroness Josephina Spigelfeld, who bears him two sons: Joszef and Endre. In 1897, Gyula builds in village of Bobda a majestic castle, with 42 rooms, surrounded by exotic gardens and herds of horses. Across the road from the castle, the construction of a mausoleum begins, copied after the basilica from the hungarian city of Esztergom, which is finished only after 1908.
The cursed family
On 28th of January 1911, Josephina dies. In the September month of the same year, the baron also dies, both of them being buried inside the mausoleum. The decline starts after 1918, when a big part of the Csávossy family fortune is divided among the community.
Because of harsher and harsher conditions, Joszef and Endre see themselves obliged to sell the rest of the property, then leave and settle in Canada and Switzerland. The castle ends up into the hands of a legionary by the name of Hârţu, who, in order to cover his bank debts, demolishes the castle and sells it brick by brick (an aerial image of the place where the castle once stood can be seen here).
The mausoleum, on the other hand, is entrusted to the local community, who takes it as a duty to take care of it. It starts to be used as a Roman-Catholic church, from where the villagers started calling it “Baron’s Church” but it doesn’t stay away from drama. Around the 1950s, the first communist mayor of Bobda desecrates the crypt of the Csávossy family, in a search for precious objects that could have been nationalized. Still, the mayor is not left unpunished, spending two years in prison because of this offense. A few years later, another unhappy episode, that seemed torn from a horror movie scenario, takes place: a group of teenagers go into the basement of the mausoleum-church and play football with the bone remnants of the Csávossy family. The remnants were gathered together inside a bag and they were moved inside the village cemetery, where they benefited of a Christian funeral.
Of what was known once as the Csávossy family fortune, today remain only a few construction materials on a wide patch of land in the village center – which state the fact that there once existed a castle there, the school building and an abandoned house – both, being old annexes of the castle and the mausoleum church, a real architectural beauty which may collapse at any moment.
Now everyone wants to be the owner of it.
Our guide through Bobda was Dănuţ. He opened the church doors to us and is just the man who saved the bone remains from the crypt and made sure that the baron’s family had a proper funeral, even though this happened a kilometer away from the place where Gyula Csávossy built a place for his last sleeping place. Because he didn’t knew, he could not to tell us who is now responsible for the baron’s church: “Now, everyone wants to be the owner of it. It received funds. And everyone wants to benefit from that.”
The grandmother and mother of Dănuţ were the ones to pull the mausoleum-church bells for years in a row. Now, they have taken the roll upon themselves as an inherited job from generation to generation. More so, his grandfather worked in the baron’s house and has kept in touch with the Csávossy family heirs: “The old man – he was a servant for the baron. He was only a child when working for the baron, he was 12 or 13 years old. When they left, the baron’s children, left their inheritance to him. They have relatives in the city (Timişoara) and in Hungary but they’re not interested in this sort of stuff. My old man kept in touch with them, knowing about seven or eight languages. They were around 80 years old when the old man still used to talk to them. Now they would be dead, or very old. But they should have grandchildren or great grandchildren. But if they aren’t interested, why should I be?”
The police were hand in hand with them
Dănuţ caught the times when services were still held inside the baron’s church. He perfectly remembers those who took care of it and those who stole from it. “The priest, who was still around here, the one from Cărpiniş, he would bring mountaineers from Alba Iulia, who kept patching the dome where they would see droplets of water poking through. They were the ones who patched it up, after them, there was no one left to do so. Those who came after them, they were only after business purposes! They started stealing the paintings, started to… they even stole Jesus (the statue portraying the savior which, for a while, was taken upstairs to the altar room, the statue being over a meter in height). A single man couldn’t have taken it and neither could those kids. These were grown up people who started stealing. They came, they took fingerprints and the police was hand in hand with them: because they said that they couldn’t find them, all these excuses… The police was hand in hand with them!”
“They took down the organ with thick wire, from upstairs to downstairs. When they noticed that the wire was hurting their arms, they let it go and it fell to the ground. It was repaired twice. The decay got to it and ate it out. When they dropped it, the organ broke. This because the wood was rotten… What were they thinking, that it was still sturdy?”
Even though the church looks like it might collapse any moment, the foundation is still pretty sturdy. “The church has wooden pillars buried for another 7 meters in the ground which are placed on a <<ball>>. The land underneath it is very muddy. The foundation was built just like in the case of the Timişoara Cathedral. When those Japanese people came, around the ‘70s, they have also passed through these parts and they inserted the probe in the ground and noticed that the ball was still good, barely used. The ball was built in order for the ground not to crumble. When an earthquake take place, the <<ball>> oscillates”. The dome has survived so far due to the structure: “The dome is sustained by a beam track. Even the bell, if you look closely at it has a beam track.”
At the church entrance, on either side, on the exterior of the small iron railings, you can see, even today, the coat of arms of the Csávossy family. “The baron used to climb these stairs with his horse, right to the front door of the church. He used to go up to the towers with his telescope, follow those who were beating the horses and then punished them.”
Dănuţ even told us about the baron’s exotic fishes: “Right where the castle used to be, the baron had a large tank, but the water drained into the canal. They were the first to go down. Some of them were caught, some of them were not. There were multicolored fishes and god knows from where they might have been brought.”
I wasn’t able to put them back there, inside the tomb, seeing how they kept breaking in.
“There was a castle with almost 50 rooms. It could have been a hospital, but because of the communists, the baron’s children couldn’t do anything about it. And they broke the castle and sold the bricks so that the others could build houses. Before, there were no houses around. Around 1942 – 1943, that’s when they also broke into the tomb. The coffins were made out of gliding glass so, if they had taken the lid they could have seen the corpses. They broke the tomb, opened the coffins because they thought they would find treasures or gold. Hell if I know whether they found anything. They broke them and because the bodies were exposed to air, they decomposed.”
“The children jumped the fence and played football with the skulls. Along with a priest I took the bones from Jimbolia and gathered them inside a bag. But that priest was just another businessman! He said to me: <<Gather them in one of the better coffins and go to the cemetery with them.>> And then I took some white cloth, covered them and replaced the lid. It was a coffin inside a coffin. And then it was closed. I couldn’t put them back into the tomb because they kept breaking in.”
“Well, if we gave them a proper burial, at least make it an expensive one. And that was when I took money out of the account and payed the people who worked on it and the rest of the money, the priest from Jimbolia said that we should put it to the CEC (Romanian House of Savings). No, no, no, that money stays here, in the account along with the old man’s money. That money can’t be taken out by no one until the church is renovated, only then can someone take them. I told him: what money comes from outside, those are for the renovations. He didn’t like that.”
Bobda is only 26 km away from Timişoara (see map) and you can easily reach it by car or even by bike, the access road being in a very good condition. Accommodation means don’t exist until the village of Jimbolia. Food can be bought from the grocery stores from Bobda which are right across the road from the mausoleum-church. Old photographs of the church and the old castle of Bobda can be seen on Monumente Uitate (Forgotten Monuments). Pictures of Bobda taken from above can be seen here.
Written by Alexandra Palconi. Translated by Doiniţa Spuză.
Photo credit: Flavius Neamciuc