The Wooden Church of Ieud Deal
The wooden church of Ieud Deal has been the subject of both much admiration and much controversy, especially among scholars. While everyone agreed that the imposing construction set in the hilly part of the Ieud village was unparalleled in beauty and artistry, researchers wildly disagreed on its history, in particular on the year it was built.
Some scholars dated it as early as 1364, whereas others claimed it had been built after the Tartar invasion of 1717, as was the case with most wooden churches of Maramureş. The most commonly accepted theory, however, states it was built in the XVII century and underwent various restoration and improvement works in the XVIII century.
Today it is accepted that this Orthodox Church, called the church of Ieud Deal (“Ieud Hill”) to differentiate it from the Greek-Catholic one in the lower part of the village, was probably built around 1620 by the local noblemen of the Balea family. This date easily makes the wooden church of Ieud Deal the oldest one in Maramureş, which is but one of the many reasons it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Another important reason is its architectural beauty and harmony. It is a large church, measuring 7.15 m in width and 11.87 m in length.
Inside, mural paintings cover the entire surface of the church. While there is no actual signature of the painter, scholars have attributed them to the renowned Alexandru Ponehalschi. Controversy exists in this respect too, as some claim that, while he did paint some of the icons in the church, probably around 1782, the actual paintings on the wall date back to about 1765, when Mihai Balea, a local squire, commissioned a complete restoration of the church, which might have included either re-painting it or painting it for the first time to complete it. One particularity of the paintings is that the ones in the aisle include texts in Romanian written with Cyrillic characters, containing advice for the faithful.
The whole village of Ieud is a place of extraordinary beauty and serenity that makes it a wonderful destination for tourists. But even leaving aside its charm as a little bit of Heaven – which it certainly is – anyone visiting it should definitely take the time to see the wooden church of Ieud Deal, to observe its austere simplicity on the outside and revel in the colorful and detailed painting on the inside. It’s a place that appeals to people of all ages and inclinations and, for anyone who happens to pass nearby, failing to visit it would be unforgivable.
From west to east the church is composed of the ante-temple (the women’s hall), the aisle (the men’s church), and the altar. The aisle is the main room of the church, as indicated by its high ceiling. Remarkably, the height of the aisle equals its length, which is a feature specific to many other churches erected in Maramureş at the beginning of the XVII century. Also specific is the lack of a verandah; while many old wooden churches have had this added long after they had been built, the one of Ieud Deal was left without.