The restitution claim of the historic Batthyáneum in Gyulafehérvár (Alba-Iulia) was rejected. In a Tuesday verdict, the Romanian High Court of Cassation and Justice has refused the restitution of the Batthyáneum to the claimant, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gyulafehérvár. An excerpt from Tuesday’s legally binding verdict was published on the court’s website on Wednesday. According to the entry, the judicial body found that the archdiocese’s appeal against the judgment of the court of first instance was unfounded.
Attila Komáromi, the lawyer representing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gyulafehérvár, told Hungarian News Agency MTI that at Tuesday’s trial, he tried to convince the judges that obvious historical facts should not be ignored.
One fact is that the founder of the library, the Roman Catholic Bishop Ignác Batthyányi, left the Battyháneum Library and its precious collection of books, manuscripts and other valuable objects to the Roman Catholic Church and the province of Transylvania. Another fact is that the property was recorded in the land registry in accordance with the contemporary (18th century) civil code, which allowed the registration of not just the property and the owner but also the purpose of the real estate. As Bishop Ignác Batthyányi also had an observatory built in the library building, the land-registry entry mentioned the name “Csillagda,” which means Astronomical Observatory in Hungarian, the lawyer detailed.
Attila Komáromi pointed out as well that the Romanian state had refused not just the restitution of the Batthyáneum’s building but also its vast and diverse collection — the latter without any justification. In fact, the Batthyáneum’s building is merely “the box” for the priceless collection of books, manuscripts, coins, minerals and artisanal objects, Komáromi said. Furthermore, the lawyer mentioned as an argument that the Romanian government had already adopted a decree on the restitution of the Batthyáneum to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gyulafehérvár, which is still in force today, kronikaonline.ro noted.
In light of all this, the advocate said the legal struggle would most likely continue at the European Court of Human Rights, said Komáromi. He noted that in 2012, the Strasbourg court ordered the Romanian state to pay a fine for delaying the assessment of the Batthyáneum’s restitution claim for 14 years.
The building and its collection had been restituted to the Roman Catholic Church by the Romanian government in 1998 via an emergency government decree. This decree was upheld by parliament as well in 2002. Though the law provides for the restitution
of the Batthyáneum and some
other properties in detail, the act of restitution has not been carried out by the Romanian state institutions.
Eventually, the Romanian restitution committee rejected the Church’s request for restitution in November 2015. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gyulafehérvár then challenged this decision in the Gyulafehérvár Court. As their claim was rejected in a judgment issued in July 2018, they appealed to the Romanian High Court of Cassation and Justice, which pronounced its decision on Tuesday. The Batthyáneum in Gyulafehérvár is the most valuable of all the real estate and collections taken by the Romanian communist regime which were — and some still are being — claimed back by Hungarian Churches in Transylvania.
The library of the Batthyáneum contains about 65,000 volumes and 1,650 medieval manuscripts; a large part of these very valuable books and manuscripts were collected by Bishop Ignác Batthyány, who himself copied documents in the Vatican Library. The Batthyáneum holds three-quarters of all the codices and incunabula that can be found in Romania.
The most precious item of the Batthyáneum is the Codex Aureus from 810, which was insured for USD 25 million when it was shipped to Germany for a short time in 2002. About one-third of the 800-volume collection dates before 1526. For instance, the so-called “Missale of Esztergom” is from 1377, the “Glosses of Gyulafehérvár” is from the early 14th century, and the “Codex Batthyány” is from the 16th century.
The library was taken from the Roman Catholic Church by the Romanian communist state, and the governments that came after the regime change have so far not returned it; they seem to have interpreted the will of Bishop Batthyány differently. In his 1798 testament, the bishop left the building and the entire collection to the Catholic Church and the province of Transylvania. The Romanian political elite seem to be of the opinion that as the legal successor of the province of Transylvania, the Romanian state is also entitled to own the collection. According to the interpretation of the Roman Catholic Church, the disputed denomination (of the Roman Catholic Church and the province of Transylvania) in the testament undoubtedly refers to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Transylvania.
Title image: The founder of the Batthyáneum was the Hungarian Roman Catholic Bishop, Ignác Batthyány; he donated his private collection of valuable books and manuscripts to the library. In his will, he left the entire building and all of its collections to the Transylvanian Roman Catholic Church.