The Assumption of The Mother of God – The Church with Moon in Oradea
The Church with Moon stands out amidst the cultural and religious landmarks of Oradea as a continuous hearth of Romanian spirituality, dwelling between its walls the memory of a people consolidated through many tribulations. The history of the church has been interwoven with that of the city on the banksides of the river Crişul Repede. The Church with Moon is the fruit of community work and financial endeavors of the Romanian Orthodox believers jointed with the Macedo-Aromanian and Serbian believers. Mihai Kristoff and Mihai Puspoki are the two great founders who would go to Vienna Imperial Court many a time in order that they should obtain the approval to build an Orthodox church in the so-called (at the time) New City.
On the 27th September 1784, around the time of Horea’s Peasant Uprising, the Emperor approved the building of the church and the right to free practice of the Orthodox worship in the New City.
On the 9th of November 1784, the Bishop of Arad, Petru Petrovici, laid the cornerstone of the church which was to be finished in less than 6 years. Three marble plates located over the chorus place are the testimony of this inspiring event. The inscriptions on them are written in Serbian, Greek and Church Slavonic: “the grounds are laid in 1784, in a November’s day, by the will of the Wise and Mighty Emperor Joseph the Second, long live his name, under the church ruling of the diocese of Arad by Petru Petrovici, under the administration of Grand Oradea by George Ranisavlievici, with Mihai Puspoki and Mihai Kristoff as the founding fathers, through the financial efforts of the righteous population of Greek rite, Romanians and Serbians, inhabitants of this city and believers in the Assumption of the Mother of God to whom the church is dedicated and through the efforts of the architects, Iacob Eder and Ioan Lins.” Above this inscription, the image of Emperor Joseph II of Austria was painted, as a sign of gratitude for the fact that he had granted permission for the construction of the church.
For the souls of the people longing for freedom and for the right to worship in their faith, the construction of the church had the significance of the opening of a gate to heaven. On the 17th on November 1790, the church was welcoming its most precious treasure, the believers. Under the aegis of the church, since 1783 a confessional school had operated, gathering along teachers in Romanian, Greek and Serbian languages. Some of the teachers of this school were priests that were not paid by the state at the time, as in the case of other religions, but were financially supported by the church community. The confessional school ceased its activity in 1919, with the advent of the opening of public schools following the year when the Romanian country was reunified.
The church architecture was designed in line with the culture and the artistic spirit of the time. It was carried out by the architect Iacob Eder, in Baroque style with neoclassical elements.
The symbol of the church which has made out its fame is the moon-phase measuring clock – unique in Europe – located in the tower of the church, a mechanism rendered by Georg Rueppe, the Viennese art-master. It is a clock made in conjunction with a lunar globe located in the wall of the church steeple, externally visible (half black and half gold), operating in interdependence. The Globe mechanism is related to the Clock mechanism so that along the all 28 moon cycle days, the globe undergoes a rotation movement around its axis, showing the phases of the moon. This mechanical system dates back to the end of 1793. The bells, located in the tower of the church, were made in Budapest and Arad.
The church painting was accomplished by two of the most famous painters of the time, the brothers Alexander and Arsenie Theodorovici, who came from Novisad. They painted most of the church, both the mural painting on the walls and the iconostasis. Other painters who contributed to the completion of the paintings are: Paul Murgu, collaborator of Arsenie Theodorovici, to whom we owe a small part of wall painting as well as the small icons painted on the two pews and the pulpit; Schutz Josef and Jacob Golsz, as well as the carpenter Joseph Mitrutzer. The painting technique used for the mural walls and the wooden elements (iconostasis, pulpit, bishop’s chair, pews) was oil-based. Taking into account the religious dimension, the style of the painting aligns to the standards of Byzantine canons (the rules of iconographic display as settled by Ermeniea textbooks). From the aesthetical perspective, the artistic manner is that of the Renaissance with Baroque influences.
The nowadays painting on the iconostasis and other wooden elements is the initial one, with minor restorations that have been necessary since it was bestowed, unlike the all mural painting which had been completely restored. The old painting made in fresco technique was massively destroyed. Therefore, during 1977 to 1979 it was completely removed up to the bare masonry and the church was repainted in fresco (old mural used to occupy only 20% of the walls and vault, the other 80% was marble imitation painting). The artisan of the new painting is the renowned artist Eremia Profeta, who also painted the Bishopric Chapel and Episcopal residence. His style is an original one. It tends to harmonize the neo-Byzantine style with other artistic elements bearing some Western influences molded in the Romanian space. The Western influences are visible in the theological interpretations of the represented images.
Another unique element of the Church with Moon, this time related to its painting, is the presence of the image of Horea, the hero, spokesman and martyr of the Romanian Peasant Uprising. His face is painted in the middle of the arch above the median iconostasis. He is painted on the Holy Veil, so as to be identified, through his martyrdom, to the place attributed in church painting to Jesus Christ, usually painted on the Veil.
The event of consecrating the church took place on June 11, 1832, under the guidance of Maxim Manuilovici, Bishop of Vârşeţului and administrator of the diocese of Arad and Oradea. Shortly after the consecration of the church, the inhabitants of the city underwent a frightening experience, the Fire of 1836. For four days the city had been subjected to a true “siege” of flames and clouds of smoke. In the New City, over 100 houses perished in flames and all houses around the Church with Moon, including the school building. Under divine providence, the Church with Moon remained untouched by the fire effects, just blackened by the smoke that made the atmosphere even more burdensome.
After the revival of diocese of Oradea (30 august 1920), who had its own bishop, Dr. Roman Ciorogariu, the Church with Moon was ranked bishopric cathedral, a place of enthronement for bishops of Oradea and also an Episcopal necropolis. The Church is the place where there are buried, until the Second Resurrection, the remains of the former bishop of Oradea, Dr. Roman Ciorogariu (1920-1936) and his descendants: Dr. Nicolae Popovici (1936-1950), whose body was brought to Oradea in 1992 from City of Biertan, and Dr. Vasile Coman (1970-1992).
We mention some among the priests who have served the ecclesial conscience of the church over time: Horvat Samuil, Mihai Manuilovici, Ioan Clintoc, Iosif Popovici, Atanasie Boţco, Simion Bica, Toma Păcală, Andrei Horvath, Vasile Popovici, Andrei Lupşa, as well as some of the men in the leading committee of the church who were involved in its development: Emanuil Gojdu, Nicolae Jiga, Teodor Lazăr, (Aurel Lazăr’s father), Nicolae Zigre, Dr. Aurel Lazăr, Iosif Diamandi, Dr. Dumitru Mangra, Dr. Alexandru Haşaş and many others.
“Through the hallmarks of its architectural style, of its interior painting and cultural heritage, the Church with Moon is a testimony of the vitality and creative urge of the Romanian people; playing its role in history, the Church with Moon contributed to the spiritual and moral development of its believers; it continues to be a good spiritual mother for her sons’ souls, fully dedicated to the mission of rescuing the earthly and heavenly life of her sons. The role of the church with Moon in Oradea is, for Romanian Orthodox believers in the Northwest of Transylvania, alike the role played by the monumental churches “Trei Ierarhi” for Moldavia and Neagoe Basarab’s Church in Curtea de Arges for Valachia” (Bishop Vasile Coman).
History has proven that Church with Moon bears the mark of a place for spiritual development in the North-West of the country, playing a special role in the life of Christian believers throughout all Bihor County.