The Wooden Church of Surdesti
The small commune of Șișești includes seven villages, two of which are renowned for their wooden churches, Plopiș and Șurdești. The latter actually has two churches, but it is the Greek-Catholic one, dedicated to the Saint Archangels Michael and Gabriel, that has earned this village its fame as home to the tallest wooden church in the world and tallest wooden construction in Romania.
History and fame
With the recent completion of the Săpânța-Peri monastery (in 2003), the wooden church of Șurdești lost this official privilege, but all of its impressive features remained intact. Built in 1766 by master carpenter Ion Macarie and made entirely of oak wood but set on a stone foundation.
This monumental church, currently listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, reaches 72 m in height, which is a measure of the locals’ faith, as they believed that a higher church would make it easier for their prayers to reach the Heavens.
Beauty and historical value go hand in hand for this church. While its more recent history is somewhat similar to that of other wooden churches – it was initially built for the Greek-Catholic community, but was transferred to the Orthodox in 1948, when the Communist regime abolished this cult, only to be returned to the Greek-Catholics in 1990 – what strikes visitors and researchers alike is the richness of historical vestiges in and about the church. For instance, it would be hard not to notice the stone crosses in the cemetery around the church, or the fact that it was made entirely of wood, meaning nothing metallic was used, not even nails, or the painted scene representing a pre-Copernican universe in which the planets and the sun revolve around the Earth.
All in all, it would be quite accurate to claim that this wooden church is not only a time capsule from another age of long ago but also a place where the visitors themselves can be transported back to those times, because once they step inside, they enter both a different universe and a different age in time.
A rather interesting particularity is the fact that the roof has two rows of eaves all around the church, with a second row of windows built in the wall between the two. Another interesting aspect is the porch, added at a later date on the western side of the church and made of two rows of archways, with different openings but identical decorations, and built one on top of the other. The steeple alone measures 54 m in height and is surrounded by four turrets, a sign that the village had an Elders’ Council to rule over important matters.
The twisted rope motif
In terms of decorations, the most visible aspect from the outside is the presence of the twisted rope motif, as well as other wood sculptures and carvings authored by master Ștefan Tămăran Ciocotișan. The walls inside were painted by master Ștefan Zugravu with scenes from the Old and the New Testament, as well as saints and martyrs, and most of the paintings have survived quite well. The iconostasis displays the rather rare feature of having each of its scenes and of its tiers separated through a clear frame. The church also contains several icons painted on wood, of remarkable beauty.