The Wooden Church of Barsana
The small commune of Bârsana, located in Maramures County, is attractive to tourists not only as a place of remarkable beauty and purity of nature but also as the home of one of the eight Wooden Churches of Maramureș included in the UNESCO World Heritage. This church, whose patron saint is the Virgin Mary, was built to honor the Virgin’s Presentation in the Temple and is but one of the many pillars of the orthodox faith that prevails in Romania.
The church was erected in 1711 as part of the Monastery of Barsana and it shouldn’t be confused with the newer church built within the “Bârsana” Monastic Complex, a few kilometers away.
Different locations of the church
In terms of its history, it’s worth mentioning that this church has undergone both changes of location and of composition. Back in 1711 it was erected in a place called “Monk’s Hair”, by a monk of noble origin and his sons, as a sign of gratitude to God for having offered them protection against the plague. A few years later, following a big battle against the Tartars, a cemetery was set up in the valley of the Iza River and this is where the church was relocated in 1739. A second relocation took place in about 1795, when the church was set in the middle of a cemetery dedicated to victims of the plague.
The church has suffered some changes, or rather additions, in terms of structure, as a consequence of the relocations. A two-level verandah was added to the west side of the original building, and its windows were enlarged in size. The outside of the church is remarkable for the sculpted pillars that support the arched verandahs and the steeple with an open bell chamber, covered by a tall pyramid-shaped roof.
Seeing how the current location of the church is associated to the terrible and numerous deaths caused by the plague, some of the locals still entertain the belief that the dead who were buried under the original location of the church have moved themselves, underground, in an attempt to remain close to the house of prayer where they could find salvation for their souls. For those of a religious mind, it is a proof of the strength of their faith. For the others, the thought of the dead actually moving, especially in a place that is part of the famous Transylvania, might hold a special creepy charm. Either way, the church is worth visiting to breathe in its atmosphere, beauty and history.
Inside, the decorative style of the church displays visible influences of the baroque and rococo styles. The paintings were made directly on the wood, which was previously prepared by leveling its surface with pieces of cloth, wherever it was necessary, and by coating it in a layer of lime. As far as themes go, the paintings in the nave illustrate scenes from the Book of Genesis, whereas those in the ante-temple represent scenes from Judgment Day. The paintings on the walls, the furniture and the iconostasis of this church are remarkably coherent, which makes the inside of this church stand out among the many churches built in post-Byzantine tradition.