Situated in HargitaCounty (Romania), in the valley of the river called Kis-Homoród at 530 meters high, the village of Homoródkarácsonyfalva offers a strikingly beautiful sight with its two churches towering above the long rows of houses. Homoródkarácsonyfalva lies between the villages of Homoródalmás and Oklánd, and is bordered by the Rika-hegység (Rika Mountain) in the east, and by the watershed of the two Homoródrivers in the west. Its Szelídgesztenye liget (Sweet chestnut gardens) is unique in Székelyföld (Székely Land). On the initiative of Sándor Ürmösi, a painter, a bathhouse called Dungó-fürdő (Dungó Bath) was built at the turn of the century – and rebuilt in 2007 – 800 metres far from the village in the direction of Oklánd. Its water, which is mildly sulphurated, ferruginous, and salty, can be used as an excellent complementary treatment for curing indigestion and locomotor disorders.
The first two historic records about Karácsonyfalva known to us occurred in 1333 and 1334 in papal tithe records, as “villa Karachni”, and “villa Karasun”. According to László Murádin, the name of the village is derived from a compound word, with the proper name Karácson as the first part, and falva as the second part of the compound.
At present, the village has about 500 inhabitants working in the fields of agriculture and animal husbandry. The famous local profession of lime-burning, which was popular in the past, is not pursued any more in the village.
Sándor István Jánosfalvi, the Unitarian pastor of the village in the nineteenth century, wandered all over the settlements along the River Homoród, and made precious, invaluable records in his work titled Székelyhoni útazás a két Homoród mellett ([Travels in Székely Land along the two Homoród rivers], in manuscript from 1858, then published in 1942 in Kolozsvár), precious records, which would all have become lost had not been it for his work. Balázs Orbán, in his well-known, monumental work titled A Székelyföld leírása I. Udvarhelyszék ([The description of Székely Land, Part I.: Udvarhelyszék], published in Pest, 1868-1873) frequently relies on Jánosfalvi’s work. Jánosfalvi mentions Homoródkarácsonyfalva as the centre of the settlements situated along the River Homoród.
Based on the plans of Nándor Hargita, a teacher from the settlement of Székelyudvarhely, the Unitarian congregation of Homoródkarácsonyfalva had a two and a half metres high memorial column erected in 1904 in memory of Queen Elizabeth of Bavaria, who was assassinated in 1898. The message on the column has survived to the present day and reads thus: “Erzsébet nagy királyasszonyunk áldott emléke mindaddig él, míg egy magyar szív dobog." (In English: “The blessed memory of our great Queen Elizabeth will live as long as there is one Hungarian heart beating”).
The Gothic church of Homoródkarácsonyfalva, which was built in the 13th century and bears Romanesque stylistic traces as well, is situated in the middle of the village, on the eastern side of the main road on a hill. The church is attested as a parish church in the papal tithe records as early as 1333. Surrounded by a circumference walls the church has still preserved the semicircular sanctuary vaulted by a dome and the western entrance which is dated to the first period of the building activity. The moulding of the southern entrance and the enlargement of the windows could have taken place in the 14th century. The western entrance was moulded simultaneously with the erection of the robust tower of the church, and is decorated with a relief of Agnus Dei in the lunette, the engraving of which dates it to 1496. A stone bearing Hungarian Rune inscription fulfilling formerly decorative purposes was walled up in the lintel of the upper loophole window in the northern wall of the tower. The undeciphered inscription might have been engraved into the stone throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. Following the Reformation, the Catholic population of the village converted to Unitarian denomination in the 1560s, and consequently the church also became Unitarian. The inscribed dates of 1646 and 1649 found on the northern buttress of the sanctuary might signal the large-scale reconstruction, which encompassed the surmounting of the walls of the nave and the erection of circumference walls.
The southern entrance covered with shingle roof was moulded in 1752, and the painted wooden coffered ceiling decorated with flowers was made in the same year. The tower was stilted, and was also given its simple Late Baroque stucco decoration by the Unitarians in 1804-1806.
On the frescoes depicting the story of St. Ladislas, the Nativity, The Adoration of the Magi and St. Helen
Research work was launched starting from the northern wall of the church, in the framework of a project established for surveying the frescoes, the wooden architectural elements and furniture of Transylvania. The face of a saint king was recovered in the research. The uncovering of the frescoes took place on the first week of April 2006 with the financial support of the Foundation for Homoródkarácsonyfalva (Homoródkarácsonyfalváért Alapítvány). The earliest fresco scene was painted beside the triumphal arch, 140 cm high from the level of the floor. Now a part of this fresco is above the pulpit where the Nativity scene can be witnessed in a very random irregular framing.
The relatively newer period of the work of decoration took place at the the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries. It was also on the northern wall and just below the original level of the top of the wall where the St. Ladislas’ Battle of Kerlés (in 1068) was depicted. The Battle of Kerlés constitutes the core of the cult of King Ladislas, which has become common knowledge as the legend of the saint. The first scene of the fresco of the story of St. Ladislas illustrates the King holding “audience”, a scene which is rarely represented on similar fresco cycles of the Legend. A figure witha moustache can be seen on this scene kneeling in front of the saint king sitting on the throne. Directly beside the kneeling figure stands a bishop, whose hands indicate benediction, in the entrance of a stylised building symbolising the city of Várad. The scene of the battle is to be divided into two parts. In the middle of the turmoil St. Ladislas pounds down one of the Kumans hugging the neck of his horse with his battleaxe. The new window carved in 1853 destroyed some details of the chasing scene. As a consequence, the figure of St. Ladislas has lost, and only the spear pierced into the escaping Cuman can be seen on the surface of the wall east from the window today. The figure of the Cuman shooting his arrow backwards and that of the abducted girl has been preserved intact. The clothing of St. Ladislas has changed in the wrestling scene. Instead of his armour, he is wearing loose-fitting, red clothing with fur ermine edge, the helmet on his head is also missing, and only his crown can be seen. The scene of the Beheading corresponds with the scene of the story in Gelence and that of Homoródszentmárton as well, the latter is only known from the drawings of József Huszka left for us. The Resting scene is also separated from the Beheading scene by a vertical line. The intensity of the hues of the fresco has barely changed throughout the centuries; it unfolds in its original beauty to us.
In the Middle Ages, the last period of illustration might have co-occurred with the erection of the church tower in 1496, according to our assumption. On the basis of the traces we presume that at this time not only the interiors, but the entire façade of the church could have also been decorated. The decoration of the tower which is known for us is not figurative representation, but quoins and window frames emphasising the corners.
The frescoes of the interior of this period have been revealed in their entirety in the nave only. The scene of The Adoration of the Magi and the figure of Empress St. Helen have been found on this fresco.
The decoration of the sanctuary has not been revealed yet
The Catholic church
In 1768 the Catholics intended to reclaim the church on the basis of their ancient rights, but the military did not allow the reacquisition of the church by the Catholics. In 1783 the new Catholic church was built by the Unitarians as a result of a government decision.
The sanctuary and the nave of the church are covered by rich Rococo stucco decoration completed in 1785. There are monuments of excellent quality among the furniture of the church. Antedating the church building the main altar was not originally designed for this church having been erected in the 17th century. The right side-altar of the nave was completed in 1646, and is counted as one of the most qualitative and earliest examples of Transylvanian altar architecture.
The beautiful wooden sculptures of St. Nicholas and St. Augustine bishops will be replaced in the church after their restoration.