Black Church Restoration Ad Hoc Collection in Braşov
This collection tells the sinuous story of the restoration to its former glory of the Black Church, a Gothic monument of the highest significance for the collective identity of the Saxon community in Transylvania. Launched by the local German-speaking elite during the 1930s, the restoration of the Black Church in Braşov was carried out during the communist period despite such politically driven adversities as the atheist system of values and the policy of so-called of “urban systematisation,” which envisaged the demolition of an important part of the architectural heritage of Romania.
Brașov Curtea Honterus 2, Romania
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Provenance and cultural activities
The restoration of the Black Church in Brașov, a process which took place between 1937 and 2000, represented a cultural action that defined the identity of the Transylvanian Saxons in the twentieth century. The restoration process illustrates the extent to which the Romanian communist regime tolerated certain manifestations of solidarity and mobilisation of ethnic minorities within local communities, whose aim was to preserve their historic heritage in the context of inconsistent official policies in this field. The restoration involved many institutions and generated a large quantity of documents from various sources, which reflect the participation of the institutional actors in the project and their relationships, as well as the activity of the personalities who planned and implemented it.
A first category of documents is represented by those issued or received by the parish of the Honterus community (the official name of the Evangelical community of the Black Church starting from 1936) during the period from 1937 to 2000. These documents officially entered the Black Church Archives in the middle of the 1960s. Most of them were archived in the fonds dedicated to records of local presbytery meetings. Those issued by the parish show the activity of the parochial presbytery and of the presbytery commission for historic monuments concerning the restoration process. In the same category could also be included documents which reflect the institutional communication between the parish and other institutions such as the Directorate for Historic Monuments (Direcţia Monumentelor Istorice), local authorities, experts, etc. The second category contains the files in the Black Church Archives which were issued by other sources than the parish of the Honterus community. They are mostly documents concerning the technical aspects of the restoration, and originate in a donation made between 2010 and 2012 by the architects who were directly involved in the project, namely Hermann Fabini and Ulrich Keicher.
The initiative started from the local elite of the Transylvanian Saxons in Braşov, who in the 1930s came to the conclusion that the Black Church was in need of extensive restoration. The church was one of the most important Gothic edifices in Transylvania, as well as a symbol of the city and of the local Transylvanian Saxon community. The impulse from the local parish was actively supported by members of the Saxon middle class who initiated a fund-raising campaign called Für unsere Schwarze Kirche (For our Black Church). The money donated in the period from 1937 to 1944 was used to consolidate the church walls and to restore certain parts of the interior and of the exterior of the monument, as well as a number of the statues adorning the building. Some of the people who initiated the project continued to be involved in the restoration even after the communist takeover of power in Romania. Among these may be mentioned the future curator of the Honterus community parish, Otmar Richter, and the architect Günther Schuller. They would constitute the backbone of the initiative during the communist regime, despite the political risks entailed by such a project.
After 1948, the restoration process was not openly presented by the community leaders as a continuation of the interwar project, although the interview with Thomas Șindilariu and certain documents issued by the church presbytery show that the community was aware of the continuity but refrained from verbalising it. The political risks stemmed from various aspects of the Black Church restoration process. The restoration entailed the organised initiative of a group within the Transylvanian Saxon local elite, which, in the 1950s, could have been interpreted by the authorities as a “plot against the security of the state,” as many similar initiatives at that time were labelled. These risks were illustrated by the Black Church Trial of 1958, when Konrad Möckel, the principal pastor of the Black Church, together with members of the parish administration and a group of young people were condemned in a political trial and received sentences including life in prison. The process was triggered by Konrad Möckel’s attempt to influence the education of young people by organising youth classes in the vestry of the Black Church. Prior to this moment, in the period 1945–1948, the communist regime had taken a series of repressive measures against the Romanian Germans, the most important of which was the deportation of a large part of the economically active population to forced labour camps in the Soviet Union on the basis that they were considered part of the German nation and guilty “for Soviet human and material losses” during the Second World War (Baier 1994). Among those deported was also the architect Günther Schuller, who, after his return from the Soviet Union, devoted most of his activity to preserving the historic heritage of Brașov. In spite of this unfavourable context, the parish of the Honterus community resumed the restoration activity at the beginning of the 1950s, requesting the support of the institution in charge of the protection of historic monuments. Between 1951 and 1952, the authorities financed a series of secondary works, such as the interior painting of the Black Church, and repairs to its roof. After the period 1958–1964, when the repressive actions of the communist authorities paralysed any restoration activity, the restoration initiatives were resumed in the mid–1960s. The propitious moment to continue this project occurred in 1967, with the occasion of the visit to Brașov of the general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, Nicolae Ceaușescu. On his visit to the Black Church, the bishop of the Evangelical Church and the principal pastor of the parish brought to his attention the need to renovate the edifice. With the approval of the Party leadership, the restoration was resumed in 1968, and by 1977 the church roof and certain interior frescoes had been restored. Taking advantage of the disastrous effects of the 1977 earthquake, Ceaușescu then dissolved the Directorate for Historic Monuments (Direcţia Monumentelor Istorice), an institution which hindered his plans for the urban restructuring of Bucharest and other cities in the country (Panaitescu 2012, 224). The scaffolding of the construction site remained unused, in the absence of the institution which had been financing and overseeing the restoration. Three years after the dissolution of the Directorate for Historic Monuments, those involved in the restoration process asked the authorities if they could resume the works with funds from other sources than the state. The authorities allowed this, tolerating a close collaboration between the Evangelical Church in Romania and the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland (Federal Republic of Germany). Thus, the restoration continued from 1981 to 2000 with financial support from this foreign institution. In the period from 1981 to 1984, the interior of the church was renovated, and in 1984–2000, the exterior.
The Black Church Restoration Ad Hoc Collection represents one of the rare cases in which the communist regime tolerated a substantial local initiative of a national minority, with the aim of restoring a part of the heritage viewed by the Transylvanian Saxons as emblematic for their community. Although the restoration took place in the periods 1951–1953 and 1968–1978 with the financial support of the communist authorities, the dissolution in 1977 by Ceaușescu of the institution which had been financing and coordinating the project represented a turning point. At that moment, the community resorted to the solution of continuing the restoration with the support of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland. Despite the fact that the initiative of using Western funds to finance the restoration could have entailed political risks for those involved, the Romanian communist regime tolerated it. One explanation for this could be that good relations with the Federal Republic of Germany were economically important for Ceauşescu’s regime. Besides, the financial support of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland meant that significant amounts of foreign currency entered the budget of Romania, due to the Honterus parish’s payments for renovation materials with the money received from Germany in the period of Romania’s foreign debt crisis. At the same time, the Black Church was an important part of historic heritage, not only locally but also nationally since the incorporation of Transylvania into Greater Romania. By continuing the restoration process started at the beginning of the 1930s, the intellectual elite of the Transylvanian Saxons managed to preserve the forms of solidarity specific to their community and succeeded in carrying out a substantial programme of restoration of this part of their historic heritage, despite unfavourable political contexts.
Description of content
The Black Church Restoration Ad Hoc Collection contains over thirty volumes of documents, such as the records of the meetings of the presbytery of the Honterus parish community, historical and technical documents, plans, drawings, photographs, institutional correspondence, and financial documents. These documents can be found in different fonds and files of the Black Church Archives and Library: the fonds containing the records of meetings of the Honterus community presbytery, the unarchived files concerning the issue of the Black Church’s restoration, and the fonds donated by the West German architect Ulrich Keicher, who coordinated the restoration process in the 1980s and 1990s. The documents in the first two fonds were issued by the Honterus parish or received by it from various institutions such as the Directorate for Historic Monuments, local authorities, the High Consistory of the Evangelical Church of Augustan Confession of Romania, and the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland (Federal Republic of Germany). The documents donated by the architect Ulrich Keicher include papers issued by his architecture office or by other institutions that it had contact with during the restoration process. The documents in the collection reflect the initiative of the Transylvanian Saxons in Braşov to renovate the most important historic monument of the city, the Black Church. Started in the 1930s, this initiative continued during the communist regime, despite the policies of Ceaușescu’s regime that discouraged the protection of architectural heritage, adopted in the late 1970s when the Directorate for Historic Monuments was dissolved.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 1000-
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 10-99
- memorabilia (posters, flyers, stamps, etc.): 10-99
- photos: 10-99
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
- Șindilariu, Thomas
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- parts are closed to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Pintilescu, Corneliu
Baier, Hannelore, ed., 1994. Deportarea etnicilor germani din România în Uniunea Sovietică 1945: culegere de documente de arhivă (The Deportation of the Romanian Germans to the Soviet Union: a selection of documents from the Romanian archives). Sibiu: Editura Forumul Democrat al Germanilor din România.
Fabini, Hermann. 1997. Die Schwarze Kirche in Kronstadt. Sibiu: Monumenta.
Panaitescu, Alexandru. 2012. De la Casa Scânteii la Casa Poporului: Patru decenii de arhitectură în Bucureşti, 1945–1989 [From the House of the Spark to the House of the People: four decades of architecture in city of Bucharest, 1945–1989]. Bucharest: Simetria.
Pintilescu, Corneliu. 2009. Procesul Biserica Neagră – 1958 [The Black Church Trial – 1958]. Braşov: Aldus.
Zahariade, Ana Maria. 2011. Arhitectura în proiectul communist: România, 1944–1989 / Architecture in the communist project: Romania, 1944–1989. Bucharest: Simetria.
Șindilariu, Thomas , interview by Pintilescu, Corneliu, July 26, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection