The Cathedral of St. Mary in Oradea
The Roman-Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary is the largest Baroque church in Romania. Bishop Pál Forgács began the construction of the cathedral, which was solemnly inaugurated on 25 June 1780. The consecration of the church was performed by the Bishop of Transylvania, László Kollonits. The cathedral was designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Battista Ricca, and it was later remodeled by Frantz Anton Hillebrandt, a Viennese architect. Ricca’s Italian and Hillebrandt’s Baroque classicist ideas jointly influenced the construction process. The Episcopal Baroque Palace belonging to the cathedral was also designed by Giovanni Battista Ricca. The building was intended to be a small replica of the famous Belvedere Palace in Vienna. The Episcopal Palace was opened as a county museum on 17 January 1971, known as Cris Country Museum, where archeology, history, science, ethnography and art exhibitions were held. The museum’s approximately 400,000 artifacts include Neolithic and Bronze Age objects, ancient Egyptian and Greek tools, Western Transylvanian folk costumes and utensils used in the region.
Since both the cathedral and Episcopal palace were built in Baroque style, some features of Baroque architecture will be highlighted in the following. The Baroque art, which appeared in the second half of the 16th century, is closely related to Counter-Reformation, its purpose lies in arousing religious devotion and reviving the Catholic faith. Antique elements are characteristic of Baroque architecture; other features of this construction style are, for instance, the powerful light-shadow effects, pomp, pathos, and solemnity, plenty of gilding, monumentality, sensuality, picturesque, magnificence as well as spectacle. The main aspiration of Baroque is to connect the earthly and the celestial worlds seeking to unfold the mystical world behind reality. The ’sky-high’ domes and the ’heaven-opening’ frescoes of the temples serve this purpose.
The imposing Cathedral of St. Mary gives every visitor the opportunity to admire the beauty of Baroque architecture. In addition, visitors can immerse themselves in the inner silence of the cathedral. Leaving the noisy world behind, the ones entering this church can experience sacredness. That is to say, visiting the cathedral offers a beautiful and lasting experience for lovers of architecture, culture, and for those interested in spirituality.
We visited the cathedral and the Episcopal palace on a Sunday afternoon in early March. At the entrance we stopped for a few moments to admire the monumental wrought iron gate, which is absolutely breathtaking. Then we entered the newly renovated Baroque Complex. First, we walked around the Episcopal Palace, which is famous for its many windows. According to popular belief, the external windows of the building are reminiscent of the days of the year. In front of the church, there is a statue of St. Ladislaus, which originally stood on the main square. Near the statue there is another, smaller statue of Saint Ladislaus, which is also the oldest rock statue in Oradea. An interesting fact about the statue is that for 52 years it was hidden underground, it was placed at its current location only after the year 2000. According to the legend, Saint Ladislaus was buried in the church standing in the former fortress of Oradea, that is why during important celebrations a procession takes place with his herm. This gilded silver bust, closely reflecting Saint Ladislaus’ features, preserves a part of the king’s skull.
The voluminous, yellow-plastered, 61-meter-high towers of the Cathedral give the visitor a glimpse into the exquisite interior of the building. From the foyer we entered the splendid, richly decorated interior space. The peculiar hues, the play of light and shadow, and the joint effect of paintings captivated us immediately. Next to the main entrance, we visited St. Ladislaus’ relief.
We could experience the characteristically baroque longing for the transcendent most intensively through the cupola painting depicting the heavenly triumph of our Lord. Johann Nepomuk von Schöpf's work is not only a masterpiece of art but it also faithfully reflects the Christian worldview. Although we were not able to enter the sanctuary, in the twilight we could take a look at the main altar depicting the Assumption of Mary, the marble statues of St. Stephen and Saint Imre standing beside it, the colorfully painted windows, depicting Saint Ladislaus and Saint Elizabeth, the sacrificial altar made of white marble, and the pulpit decorated with seven bronze reliefs. Both the main altar and the side altars depicting St. Ladislaus and the Holy Family are the works of Vinzenz Fischer. We admired the statue of the Immaculate Virgin on the right side of the transept and a Crucifix with the Corpus on the left. After that we took a look at the 4-4 altars in the aisle depicting St. John of Nepomuk, St. Stephen, St. Borbala, Apostle John, the Trinity, Holy Cross, Archangel Michael, and St. Paul and St. Peter’s farewell. We could easily identify the figures on the slowly fading altars with the help of bilingual briefings. In the church we also visited the bust of Peter Pázmány, the bronze statue of Bishop Arnold Ipoly and the painting of dr Szilárd Bogdánffy, as well as the Renaissance tombstones of two bishops of Oradea, Zsigmond Thurzó and Andrea Scolari. We could admire the organ, which was the gift of Mary Theresa, only from the distance, as the stairs leading to it were closed because of the restoration.
After visiting the sights of the cathedral, we immersed ourselves in the silence of the temple and we let the beauty of the place enchant us. Then, spiritually strengthened, we left behind the baroque splendor, returning to the bustling city.
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