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The oldest wooden church of Banat

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In Crivina de Sus, a village situated on the right bank of the Bega river, right at the border between the Timiş and Hunedoara counties, a real 300 year old treasure is kept: the oldest wooden church of Banat. This place of worship with the patron known as “Cuvioasa Paraschiva” (Pious Paraschiva), dates back to 1676 and has a construction of reference, built in the style of vernacular architecture, reason for which it was ranked as a national interest historical monument, type A, under the code of TM-II-m-A-06214.

Unfortunately, because of the degradation state in which the building is in currently, the Crivina de Sus church is about to disappear right under our eyes. For about a year now, a volunteer team along with the village priest have been trying to save this historic monument.

The oldest wooden church in Banat

The Crivina de Sus village, located at approximately 25 km away from Făget, is documented since the 16th century, under the name of Also Krywyna. Between 1514 and 1516, this area is mentioned as part of the powerful estate of Şoimoş Fortress, being under the dominance of Count George of Brandenburg, who has obtained it after his marriage with the widow of Ioan Corvin, the son of King Matei Corvin1)Wikipedia – Crivina. Initially, the village was located on the left side, behind the wooden church and over the hill. After that, the people went down to the valley. Across the road from the church there is a school. Towards the Lăpugiu de Sus, there are still remains of the old village center, two border crosses, that stand as testimonials of the old village.

The local tradition and documents prove that, this place of worship, was brought all the way from Ilia, the Mureş Valley, being donated to the small community of Crivina de Sus by a rich widow, this explaining the monument’s architecture which is similar to the churches found in parts of Hunedoara. Today, above the southern portal of the church, a cyrillic inscription carved in wood offers precise details about the year in which it was built: They built this church in God’s year of 1676, February, the 3rd. Therefore, the wooden church of Crivina de Sus is the oldest one in the Banat area, having a major importance for the current patrimony.

Located upon a hill and surrounded by a traditional Orthodox cemetery, the condition of the wooden church from Crivina de Sus is not a happy one. In order to present an overview picture of the state of degradation in which the building is, you can see a few pictures here. In the summer of 2013, out of the initiative of the Asociaţiei de Peisagişti din România (Landscape Association of Romania), a volunteer group (made ​​up of architects, landscape architects , ethnologists , geographers , scholars , engineers, painting restorers , anthropologists , historians etc.) decided to save the historical monument, which had not benefited of a serious restoration for more than 50 years and where the rain made it impossible for a Sunday service to be held.

The restoration process started out with a series of student workshops, through which the church, what was left of the paintings, the cemetery, its stones, the vernacular architecture, crafts, community, the tissue built and the landscape were all analized. Also in 2013, a short while after the workshops, priest Ionel, the Crivina de Sus minister and the Pietroasa Commune Hall managed to somewhat repair the access road towards the cemetery and have folded the shingle roof of the church with a sheet in order to stop the rain caused infiltrations.

When I first entered the church, I wanted to cry

For the moment, Crivina de Sus has 92 house numbers and a population of approximately 200 locals, most of them belonging to the neo protestant religion. According to father Ionel, the decline of the Orthodox faith started in ‘62. Until then, there was a father that lived here in the village and was married to the teacher’s daughter. After his death, the priests came and went, the people started switching to the pentecostal religion and, just like that, their interest in the church faded. Before me (in 2011), there was another priest, much younger, but he didn’t stay for too long. Now, he’s at Romanesti (at the “Izvorul lui Miron” Monastery). Before him, there was another priest that stayed for 25 years. That was the time when many things happened, and now this is how it is (the church).

When I arrived, it was really sad. When I entered the church for the first time, I started crying. It was raining all the time (inside the church). Inside the altar there were certain spots where it was constantly wet. The walls were covered with torn and molded towels. Until last year, we even had bats here. They entered through the roof. Now, they get just inside the attic. It doesn’t rain inside anymore, for now. Now, you can hold services again.

The last intervention on the church took place between ‘68 and ‘70, when the roof was replaced. It wasn’t an authorised work, made by specialists, but by people from Maramureş, who did what they could. That’s when they put the slab on the roof and covered it later with shingles. The original architecture was done only with shingles, but they were supposed to take care of it. From what I understood, the warranty period was supposed to last 10 years. After that, it should have been changed or taken care of with special oils, said father Ionel to us.

Last year we did an overall cleaning, we repaired the walls and repainted them. The important thing was to protect it and prevent the rain getting in. Now, it doesn’t rain inside except for the tower, because we didn’t get to cover it with slab as well. This is a special kind of slab, brought from Hungary. It’s better than the normal one, thicker. It is glued directly on to the roof. Between the roof and the slab is a layer of material that absorbs humidity in order for it not to sweat.

The original paintings from the 1800s were kept only on the imperial door and on the cross above it, as well as on the two old icons that were saved and remained inside the church. There are two icons in the Metropolitan museum, in the basement of the Timişoara Cathedral. They were restored a long time ago and we just need to get them into our possession. I understood that there could be others in museums from Timişoara and even Lugoj. These icons were placed right there, in front, but it used to rain on them, through the ceiling, and they were ruined. The students are to take them to Timişoara and restore them inside their labs. Last year, they consolidated the imperial doors. They glued and strengthened them so that they don’t collapse.

Officially, in the Crivina de Sus there are approximately 50 people of Orthodox faith. The priest, Ionel, works in the wooden church from Crivina de Sus only during spring and summer, once every two weeks. In the winter the weather is very cold and there are cracks in the walls and in the tower. Since Easter, beginning with the resurrection sermon, I started working here. Regarding the oldest church in Banat, the priest told us that it’s beautiful, intimate, welcoming, just like a grandparent’s house. Can you imagine, since 1676, how many prayers from our elders, our ancestors…

Funds are being gathered for the protection of the historic monument from Crivina de Sus

Through the project of the Biserici înlemnite din Banat. Restaurarea bisericii de lemn “Cuvioasa Paraschieva”, Crivina de Sus (Wooden Churches of Banat. The restoration of the wooden church “Cuvioasa Paraschiva”, Crivina de Sus), the AsoP (Landscape Association of Romania) has decided to protect the historical monument. The process of securing the church was advancing gradually, being in the final phase now, the one in which they intervene in order to stop the degradation of this holy place. Another step of this project was the result of a series of meetings and discussions with various specialists, with members of the public administration and the local community:

The feedback was positive, from more than one parts. The specialists congratulate us, appreciate and support us a lot. […] The local community has grown very close to the project, have taken part in last year’s activities, helping with the construction of the main gate, which led to the cemetery, and more so. Little by little they opened up, talked to us and told us about the history of this place. And the public administration members helped us also, as much as they could, but the economic reality of the rural world doesn’t allow the allocation of funds for the church salvation, the historic monument, said Raluca Rusu to us, the vice-president of AsoP.

Between the 3rd and 13th of August 2014, AsoP will organize a second interdisciplinary workshop at the wooden church of Crivina de Sus. The total budget for the salvation process is estimated around the sum of 102,550 lei and this includes the studies, the expertises, the architecture project, the materials for the structure and the project of restoration of the historic monument as well as organizing the workshop that takes place between the 3rd and 13th of August 2014, where 30 people, both students and specialists, will participate.

The purpose of the workshop is to realise speciality studies, mainly the survey of the church, the 3D scanning of the church and an anthropological study on the Crivina de Sus community. Besides these, there will also be interventions on the site, continuing the last year’s work: completing the twig fence around the cemetery, the restoration of the memorial cross in the cemetery and the construction of the gate according to the local conditions, for the secondary access inside the cemetery. The urgent matter is the realization of the metallic structure of the structure and of the tensed membrane and their installment. The structure will have the role of an umbrella, which will protect the church from the infiltrations resulting from the rain. Taking into account that the shandles roof is in some parts deteriorated, without this structure, the church would be exposed to infiltrations, a very serious thing, which would accentuate the degradation of the interior wood, also told us Raluca Rusu.

From the total budget, it would take another 18.500 lei, as an enough amount for the construction and the placement of the structure. Those who wish to help with stopping the degradation phase in which the oldest wooden church of Banat is, can make a donation in the AsoP count. More details regarding the fund collection you can find on the website. On the bottom you can see a simulation of the structure which is meant to protect the wooden church of Crivina de Sus.

Useful Information

Crivina de Sus is 121 km away from Timişoara (see map). The access road to the village is in a very good condition. Near Crivina de Sus is the Poieni village, where there can still be seen old summer camps and where another wooden church can be visited (a 100 years younger than the Crivina one) or the Bogdanovich Ferencz crypt.

Written by Alexandra Palconi. Translated by Doiniţa Spuză.

Photo credit: Flavius Neamciuc/Cristian Sitov


1 Wikipedia – Crivina
2 comments at "The oldest wooden church of Banat"
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  • June Wrap-up or The unexpected success - Thebusyshelf
    13 June 2020 at 20:23

    […] work on a wooden church, the oldest in the Banat region in Romania ( you can check it out here: Crivina de sus Church). I had a blast […]

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