Árpád-era sanctuary atop a Roman palace in Sztána church

An interesting archaeological discovery was made in the Reformed Church in the village of Sztána, a small settlement in the Kalotaszeg (Călata) region of Transylvania: Researchers have come across the remains of a small medieval, Árpád-era sanctuary, built on top of a palace dating back to the time of the Roman Empire.

As Kolozsvári Rádió (Radio Cluj) recently reported, archaeologists have discovered the remains of a small semicircular sanctuary dating back to the 12th century, the Árpádian era of the Hungarian Kingdom. This early medieval house of worship was erected on the remains of the massive stone walls of a building that might have once been an impressive villa or even palace of a high-ranking Roman.

The village church had to be restored, so a renovation plan was made back in 2016, and the archaeological excavations financed by the Transylvania Reformed Diocese began just last year. As the leader of the research team, archeologist Zsólt Csók told Kolozsvári Rádió that they suspected there may be an early medieval church near the existing one, as early 13th century sources mention the village of Sztána. Within the semicircular sanctuary, the location of an altar was found as well, built on a massive base of a Roman column.

At first, researchers thought the Roman wall remains belonged to a villa rustica, a simple farmhouse estate, but then observing the impressively thick walls and the abovementioned massive column base, they concluded that the former Roman building must have been an estate, most likely a palace-like summer home of a Roman official. “The road built in the time of the Roman Empire, the via imperialis, passed through the vicinity of the village, so it is likely that a wealthy, high-ranking Roman citizen might have had a summer home here. We are now set to determine the base plan of this palace,” Zsolt Csók detailed.

As he put it, experts had previously speculated that there must be Roman vestiges in the area, as a Roman milestone had been found earlier; nevertheless, they did not suspect they would find it just below the village church. The archaeologist also noted that the community of the small village might benefit from their findings if they could be displayed somehow. Also, the dig site has to be expanded in the near future, as up until now only about half of the church’s interior has been researched.

The pastor of the church, Hunor Papp, told the maszol.ro news portal that he is very pleased that these finds from different historical eras have been discovered in Sztána. He noted that he’d like the massive column base to be put in the middle of the church, with a new altar above it. The pastor also said that the findings could be displayed depending on the funds available to the church, keeping in mind that the building is first and foremost a place of worship. He hopes that the renovation of the church will be completed by the end of this year.

“We are grateful for the financial support we received from the Hungarian government (through the Rómer Flóris program, managed by the Budapest-based László Teleki Foundation); without these funds, several Transylvanian churches couldn’t have started their much-needed restoration work,” Pastor Papp added. The church in Sztána also has a unique wood coffered ceiling, which is in a dilapidated state and has to be restored as soon as possible, but the parish has no funds yet to support the cost.

The village of Sztána (Stana) is one of the smallest settlements of the Alszeg (the so-called Lower Part) area of Kalotaszeg, located in Szilágy (Sălaj) County,18 kilometers northeast of the city of Bánffyhunyad (Huedin). The settlement’s first mentioned name is Zthara (1288). The village church that is standing today was originally built in the 15th century, and its first known reconstruction was in 1640. The church was then expanded and reshaped between 1836 and 1838, with its tower constructed in 1876. One of the most valuable aspects ​​of the church is the wood coffered ceiling, with its 42 painted panels, made in the 18th century by master carpenter János Asztalos Gyalui. In the second half of the 18th century, the workshop of another famous master, Lőrinc Umling, also worked in Sztána, painting a priestly chair in 1767 and a pulpit crown in 1777 for the church.  Also, the 36-panel coffered ceiling in the eastern part of the nave was made during a major refurbishment carried out at the beginning of the 19th century.

Title image: Archaeologists had suspected that an early medieval church must be nearby; nevertheless it was a nice surprise to find it right under the existing church, placed on the remains of a Roman palace.

Source: kolozsvariradio.ro/Hunor Papp

Author: Éva Zay