One of the most important establishments in the life of a community is the church. It is a place for connecting, self-inspection, remorse, repentance, purification and forgiveness. The house of God is the scene for the most elevated events of our lives, of meeting and dedication, pledging vows, communion and farewell. It is a place where we are never alone, for we are guarded by heavenly power and the community to which we belong. The past generations were well aware of this, to whom building and embellishing the house of God was more important than other things. They may have travelled afar and drifted to the other side of the world due to historical circumstances, but the first thing any group of people forming a community did, at home and far from home, was to jointly build a church. And as they prepared their body and mind to meet the Lord, they embellished the white walls to the best of their abilities. Provincial ecclesiastical art, even when it relied on learned masters, maintained its links with the art of the community. From the hands of the local men who carved the psalm boards and painted the choir, and from the hands of the women who embroidered the linen cloths for the church, vines “sprang”, flowers “grew” and birds “flew”. The flower stems on coffered church ceilings were borrowed and “blossomed” on dowry chests, and the pomegranates on the Communion tablecloths once bequeathed by landlords went on to adorn the bedcovers in the “best rooms” of peasant homes.
The power and efforts of the artisanal community in the Carpathian Basin is attested by the fact that over a thousand works were submitted in the competition published on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. The anniversary was also an opportunity to assess the areas where church art and craftsmanship meet and create wonders. The works included a wide range of genres, including church furniture, communion vessels, painted ceiling panels, embroidered textile, priests’ gowns, book covers, cemetery crosses, carved crests, reliefs, baptismal gowns, festive dresses, memorabilia, honey-cakes and painted eggs. The organisers had set out to involve folk crafts in contributing to the renewal of the objects of churches, community halls, church institutions and rites used in the great turning points of life. Many of the objects made for the anniversary were donated to the churches.
The minister’s gown is a fine example of tradition and innovation. Its form complies with church specifications, yet the seamstress gave a twist to the braided passementerie ornaments in every item she made. The motif would be the organ ornament of the Calvinist Great Church in Debrecen, the main motif on a ceiling panel, a bunch of grapes symbolising the Eucharist, or a feminine tulip.
Whether inspired by Catholic or Protestant tradition, or festive custom, the works – such as a chalice cover with the embroidery in the pattern of a pelican or Luther’rose, or a Calvary scene or a triptych with the holy family – attest to the artist’s assiduity, devotion and service invested in the creation.