“Emanuel, what do you do in the off season?” is a one of the top 3 questions I get from all the travelers I spend time with. So, I decided to try answer to this question through some posts on my blog which has been neglected in the last months.
Recently my good and very inspiring friend Johannes Halmen, priest of the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Transylvania posted on Facebook a call for volunteers to help him perform a throughout clean action at the Fortified Church in the village of Ormenis, a small village with less than 300 inhabitants well hidden between some rolling hills.
Saturday morning I met Johannes in the parking of a supermarket in Sighisoara where he supplied with snacks provisions for volunteers and we embarked in his old minivan heading to Ormenis which is one hour of driving away from Sighisoara, the town where we live in. The driving time was a good opportunity for me to learn more about the life of a Saxon priest serving around 10 different communities scattered in villages of Southern Transylvania sometimes 80 km appart and none of them with more than 30 members. He is priest for some of the last Saxons of Transylvania who refused to emigrate after the collapse of Communism in this part of the world. They are somehow closing a 800 years chapter of history that we are blessed to be contemporary with.
Ormenis, Irmesch in German language, is a village belonging to Commune Viisoara in Mures County first historically mentioned in 1319, the village has today less than 300 inhabitants out of which 24 are Saxons which makes a great number according to Johannes, sadly there are more and more Transylvanian Saxon established villages with no Saxon living in.
The Fortified Church was built in the early XVI century as a Roman Catholic church and decorated with beautiful frescoes. After the Saxons of Transylvania embraced the Protestant Reformation around 1545 the mural frescoes were covered with lime wash as they were considered the “Bible of poor and uneducated people”, Protestantism bringing along education for the masses and the Bible translated in German by Martin Luther. Recently, part of this frescoes have been brought back to light and among them a marvellous one of Saint Elisabeth of Thuringia.
The altar in the Church is not the original one but a more “modern” baroque one dating since 1720. In XVIII century Transylvania was the most Eastern part of the Habsburg Empire and the Baroque altars of Transylvania are a testimony of the West European roots of this region. As a parallel in the same period of time, around 1720, when this church was already 200 years old a Spanish Franciscan missionarry, Fray Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares founded the city of San Antonio in the Texas territory.
Around 18 volunteers and half a day of work brought some dignity to this 500 years old church, at the end we said a prayer and served a snack together in the sound of the church bells.
Later, a local Saxon guy called Willy came with his Communist Romanian made tractor in the 1970`es in Brasov to collect the waste.
I asked him about the tractor and he said is very reliable, cheap to maintain and fuel efficient. The little 40 years old tractor contributed somehow to the atmosphere of travelling back in time this villages are capable to produce.
The Ormenis Fortified Church is not on the main tourist path of Transylvania but if someone is interested it can be visited through a private tour.