by Theresa Merrick, UUCM member
We (Scott and Terry Merrick) were pleased to find that UUPCC offers several accompanied tours into Transylvania to see the Unitarian churches, including your own partner church, as well as castles, fortresses, villages and scenery. This sounded interesting to us so we signed up. We were a group of 10 people, led by a very nice and competent John Dale and our interpreter, his wife, Csilla. On September 20, we fit nicely into a van which drove away from the Bucharest airport in terrible rain to our first hotel in Bustoni. On the way up we were told that this area was used in the movie "Cold Mountain."
The next day we saw nearby the summer residence of King Carol I, a Germanic Victorian castle and beautifully kept up. We went to Brasov which is quite a vibrant city with a big city square. It was full of people setting up lights and sounds for a show. We stayed overnight in Segesvar and the next day went to Marosvasarkely, a big town to see the very old Teleki Museum which has one of the 7 extant original copies of our Declaration of Independence, and manuscripts of Servitus. They have a large Cultural Palace here that is decorated in very colorful Art Nouveau. Back to Segesvar and up to the walled citadel on top where people also live, have shops, restaurants. One restaurant advertises that it is the spot where Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula) spent his childhood.
We heard a speaker who talked about the recent flash floods in the Niko Valley, some rising 7-9 meters in an hour. 17 people died. Soon people from other villages came to help clean up. We went to Biertan, another Gothic fortress church from 1290; now it is Lutheran (German still used there). This church had a "divorce apartment," where a couple were confined to sort things out with no contact with others.
That afternoon we set off through the Niko Valley to drop people at their partner churches, us at the home of Levente and Erika Lazar. Both were very busy as Levente had 2 churches to celebrate Thanksgiving and Erika had 3! Levente took us to see the Sovata church and Janos Fazakas, Lay-president, met us there and took us to a lovely lunch and then deposited us with Orban Pal, also Lay-president, and his wife Marika, for Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
In the church we put up Lou Anne's greeting poster and we set a little table under it with all the little gifts we had brought. People were sweeping, putting down rugs, setting flower pots on window sills and trying to make an unfinished church look as good as possible for the Thanksgiving (and premier) service in the new church. We were asked to say a few words so we wrote something about our own Thanksgiving tradition. Levente translated sentence by sentence. We did not understand anything in the service except an occasional "Amen." They sang lots of hymns - VERY SLOWLY.
On Monday, Levente came for us and took us to Torda, about 2 hours' drive to see the Plaque which states that in 1568 King John Sigismund (the only Unitarian king) proclaimed toleration of different faiths. On Tuesday (9/27), we met our tour members; then we went to Szekeleyudvarhely and the annual Unitarian gathering. Lots of Seki gates, providing a pathway for the procession.
Seki gates: In this area of Transylvania many of the names of towns begin with Sekely--(an old tribal name) which is pronounced Seki e.g. Sekelyudvarhely is pronounced Sayki oodvarhayly (or something near that). Many homes in the area have these entrance gates, some simple, some very complex but all beautifully carved. Some are very old, some newer as e.g., one made by Orban Pal for a boy's school near Sovata. They are quite famous as a kind of folk art of the area.
Unitarian gathering: Once a year, in the late spring or early summer, all the bishops, ministers and other Unitarians from Transylvania gather at the meadow outside Sekelyudvarhely for a special ceremony. They come in uniform and costumes, some with horses and they march in through the passageway of Seki gates (about 20 I think) to the top of the hill for this ceremony which lasts all day.
We went to see an orphans' school in Illejefolva. Now the orphans are in small family units instead of the terrible Ceaucescu asylums. Went to a resort in the Eastern Carpathians, picnicked at a lake and started back to Bucharest. We stayed the night at the Airport Residence hotel and officially the tour was over.