Tracing a Sacred Building Tradition. Wooden Churches, Carpenters and Founders in Maramures until the Turn of the 18th Century
Abstract: The increasing interest in the European historical log construction has heightened the need for comprehensive studies in different parts of the continent to view both the common features and the particular ones. The advanced Scandinavian research has revealed the problems of studying in depth and maintaining the log heritage when links to traditional carpentry are lost. One of the fortunate places where the log building was not interrupted and where a rich heritage in wood survives is the historical region of Maramures, today partitioned between Ukraine and Romania. The main purpose of this work is to trace the tradition of building wooden churches in central and southern Maramures from the beginning of the 16th century to the turn of the 18th century. Since the knowledge used to build the local wooden churches circulated throughout the European continent their understanding is of high interest long outside the region. For the present work the main sources of information are the 42 extant wooden churches, about one third of their total two centuries ago, and the outcome highly relies on their intimate reading. Another major source of knowledge is still saved by a decreasing number of practicing senior carpenters with relevant knowledge and skills in traditional carpentry. The present research was naturally concentrated on the fieldwork, where the investigation of all the extant wooden churches was complemented by interviews with active craftsmen. In search for the main sizes with relevance for their characteristic design, of central importance was to measure at the very base of each construction, the place where the builder evidently had to take key decisions. The present work is arranged in a triangle with the intention to approach the wooden churches from the following three perspectives: the local vernacular architecture, the builders and the commissioners. The first chapter is primarily concerned with the individuality of the wooden churches within the local vernacular building tradition, challenging for the first time the earlier conception of uniformity. From the Middle Ages until the turn of the 18th century the skills, knowledge and experience to build ample log structures with plane and well sealed walls, as well as with flush joints, were performances out of the ordinary. The craftsmen from Maramures who were able to reach such levels were not simple peasants but well specialised church carpenters who inherited and maintained this advanced knowledge to exclusively build houses of worship. Since the local tradition to erect wooden churches depended on those who build and used, it is fundamental to identify the local builders and founders. The earlier blurred distinction between them veiled their separate roles in shaping the wooden churches and hindered us from a clear understanding of the results. For this reason the following two chapters are concerned with the church carpenters and the founders of churches as well as their general contribution to the local wooden churches. The extant wooden churches from Maramures reveal the existence during the 17th and 18th centuries of at least two main family schools of church carpenters. There are further distinguishable three main itineraries and numerous smaller ones, indicating the work of some of the most important church carpenters ever active in the region and in some cases even shifts among generations. In general, the church carpenters stood for the technical performances, the high quality of the wood work and the artistic refinement. In a long perspective, the true creators of the local wooden churches were actually the commissioning founders. Especially the role of the noble founders of Eastern rite was decisive in the formation of a regional character among the local wooden churches. The wooden churches from Maramures closely mirror the local society of modest country landlords, manifesting themselves along several centuries in their double condition of Eastern Christians and Western nobles. The wooden churches from Maramures open necessary connections with similar performances throughout Europe. Seemingly the local distinction made between sacred and profane rooms was characteristic for many other rural regions on the continent. The highest knowledge in log building seems to have had a sacred purpose with wide continental circulation and therefore in many places requires distinction from the more regionally rooted vernacular one.
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