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The Black Church of Brasov

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

At the end of 2022, I spent one month traveling in Romania, Turkey, and Greece. I spent a little over two weeks in Brasov, Romania, volunteering with an organization call Firm Foundations Romania. You can check out my last post to learn more about what I did there.

. . .

My first night in Brasov, I met the other volunteers in downtown Brasov for dinner. "Take an Uber to the Black Church," Steffi, one of the leaders of the foundation had told me. "We'll meet you by the fountain." The Black Church?

It was a cold, foggy night, and I couldn't see a black church or the fountain when I arrived. Later, I learned that the Black Church is a landmark in town named not for the color of its worshippers, but for its history. The fountain was actually a few hundred yards away in the Council Square (Piața Sfatului). "Black Church" was just the easiest way for Steffi to get me—newly arrived and jetlagged—to the right place.

Beautiful beneath the stars.

The History. Biserica Neagră (the Black Church) has a long history. According to Uncover Romania and the Romanian Journal, the Catholic Church started construction on the church in 1383. It was going to be called the Church of Saint Mary, after the patron saint of Brasov, and it would be big. Construction was delayed due to frequent attacks by the Ottoman and Tatar armies, but, with the exception of the tower, Biserica Neagră was finally finished in 1477. In the original plans, the church was going to have two towers, but due to a lack of funds, the first and only tower was completed 37 years later in 1514.

Still, the church is impressive. At 90 meters long, 25 to 37 meters wide, and 65 meters tall, and with a capacity of 5,000 people, Biserica Neagră is the largest hall church east of Vienna and one of the biggest medieval churches in Eastern Europe.

Unfortunately for the Catholic Church, in the 16th century, the local Saxons of Transylvania followed the Reformation and transformed the church into an Evangelical (Lutheran) parish. In 1544, Johannes Honterus became the first Evangelical priest. Today, his statue stands beside the church and his image is seen in many places around town.

A statue of Johannes Honterus stands beside the church.

You can clearly see the Gothic and Baroque influences in these images.

View of the Black Church from the Black Tower (more on that below).

The Name. The history of the Black Church doesn't end there, though. In 1689, the church was partially destroyed in a fire that also destroyed much of the town. Only the walls, the font, and the treasury from the vestry survived. The church has been known as the Black Church ever since. Its reconstruction lasted nearly one-hundred years. During this time, the roof was expanded and the interior lost some of its Gothic influences, gaining a Baroque touch.

Today, the church is open for visitors every day except during services. German-speaking Lutherans hold services here every Sunday and on holidays.

Some other interesting facts about the Black Church include:

  • The Black Church has the richest collection of Anatolian carpets across Europe. Most date from the 17th and 18th centuries when merchants brought them back from trips to the East and donated them to the church to thank God for bringing them back safely. Sometimes, too, rugs were seized, as a sort of tax, from foreign traders who passed through the city.

  • The Buchholtz mechanical organ in the Black Church is the largest, unique and functional organ in southeastern Europe. The organ has 3993 pipes and 76 registers.

  • One of its oldest pieces, the pulpit, dates from 1696. It is decorated with the sculptures of Moses, the four Evangelists, and the representation of Agnus Dei.

  • The church contains small exhibitions from the towers about the history of the church and the life of Johannes Honterus. It also contains the beautiful old funeral stones of senators and judges who were once buried inside the church.

The altar at the front of the church.

In the middle and third photo, you can see the impressive pipe organ.

The nice thing about staying in one place for an extended period of time when traveling is that you get to see the same monuments more than once. I walked past the Black Church many times while in Brasov—it was impressive in the day or night, rain or shine. During the first week I was there, Vincent and I walked to the top of Mount Tâmpa and took pictures on the way. The Black Church is impressive from above, too.

View of the Black Church from Mount Tâmpa.

In the above photo, you can see that the Black Church stands beside the Council Square (Piața Sfatului) in the center of town. That circular thing in the open space (in the upper righthand corner of the photo) is the fountain where I met Steffi and the others my first night. At the middle top of the photo on the hill is the semicircular White Tower, which was built to protect the city between 1460 and 1494. A little lower on the left side is the Black Tower (the smaller square column—it looks white in this image), which was built around the same time.

I can see from this photo how there could have been two towers on this church.

View of the Black Church from the Black Tower. Mount Tâmpa (with the Brasov sign at the top) stands to the right of the church in this photo.

View of the Black Church from the White Tower. Mount Tâmpa stands behind.

I love the Brasov sign on the hill behind. (Mount Tâmpa isn't really all that big, though it is a good climb.)

This beautiful image isn't mine. It's by Jorge Láscar.

As you can see, if ever you visit Brasov, you must see the Black Church! (In fact, you really can't miss it.)

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Jeff Walker
Jeff Walker
Jan 19, 2023

"The Catholic Church needed to impress the locals." Why? What evidence or research did you find that supports this statement?

Jessica Cyphers
Jessica Cyphers
Jan 24, 2023
Replying to

Lol, I thought so, too! Thank you as always for reading and asking!

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