Haranglab Pilgrimage
August 16, 2004

Photos by James Hayes-Bohanan, unless otherwise noted

We began Monday morning with breakfast at Sandor and Tunde's house, followed by a brief walk around the somewhat larger village of Desfalva (Deaj in Romanian). In their house I found this Hungarian flag, American flag, and globe. Based on previous conversations, I do not think the American flag was upside-down on purpose. Just to prove my point, Tundeka was still wearing the hairband that Paloma had given her a couple of days before. She is a very fashion-conscious and independent four-year-old, much like one I remember in my own house a few years back. She looked especially striking in front of her family garden.
International Tundeka

A neighboring church is particularly beautiful in the morning light, seen through Sandor and Tunde's grape vines. This is as good a place as any to mention that all of the wine served locally appears to be produced locally.

On our walk we found -- among other things -- a well for the local horses, the same church with a different crop, and a fancy house with a combine parked out front.
A well Another church Combine

One of our fellow travelers mentioned that aesthetics seems to be very important. This is not a shallow aesthetic, but rather a deeply-rooted sense of pride in one's home, work, garden, and neighborhood. One example I noticed was that Sandor carefully and with great effort maintains the ditch in front of his house, even though its distance from the building meant that his efforts would have little direct benefit, other than high "curb appeal" for his home.

Another charming example is this well-appointed gutter I noticed during our walk about Desfalva.

To walk around Desfalva with Sandor in the morning is to realize how important his ministry is to the entire village. The people regard him highly, and are pleased to meet his guests. Haranglab and Desfalva each boast quite a simple general store/cafe/bar. A sign on the wall indicates a drinking age of 18, but it is not taken very seriously.
Chance meeting The store

Vulcanizare We spent much of Monday visiting other Unitarian churches in the vicinity of Haranglab. Our first stop was an unplanned visit to a tire shop in Dicsoszentmarton, which gave me a chance to roam around a somewhat urban Transylvanian neighborhood. With its adobe and tile appearance, the tire shop itself could have been some place in Mexico; the effect was even more pronounced because the sign in Romanian was easily intelligible to a Spanish speaker. The linguistic situation in Transylvania is an interesting one. Because both Communist-era and subsequent governments have taken various measures to assert Romanian national identity, many signs are in Romanian, which Pam and I have some ability to read. Because the region belonged to Hungary only 50 years ago, many people speak Hungarian, which is completely unrelated to most other European languages.
Our driver Denes presented the cause of our delay, which I did not mind at all, since it gave me a chance to see a bit of a different neighborhood. It was during our idle time here that I noticed the odd coincidence of the license plate on one of the vans.
The culprit Coincidence?


In the neighborhood of the tire shop, I noticed a few interesting contrasts between local vernacular architecture and the stark constructions of the Ceaucescu era. To the left, I wonder if the Christ figure is seen to suffer more because of the ugly, abandoned refinery in the background. Below, a fence separates charming old homes from the noise and dust of a side street, while a massive block apartment looms in the background. Moving ethnic Romanians into buildings of this kind were a key means of diluting the local Hungarian population during the Ceaucescu era.

Our first visit was to the Unitarian church in Magyarsaros, which has a excellent examples of several common church features, including a free-standing bell tower (haranglab) and a garden of memorial staves. The detail at right is of the Hungarian Unitarian symbol of the dove.
A haranglab in Magyarsaros Staves

The Magyarsaros church yard includes this striking memorial for the two world wars.
Memorial Memorial

The interior of the Magyarsaros church building features a wrap-around balcony, a Hungarian flag, ornate embroideries, and a typical chandelier of wood, in the same style as the candle stick we have in the Bridgewater church as a gift from Desfalva. A flag in the foyer of the Magyarsaros church honors the congregation's partner church in Victoria, British Columbia.
Magyarsaros Oh, Canada

From Magyarsaros, we returned to Dicsoszentmarton, this time to visit the ancient church there. The church was organized as early as the thirteen century, and the building includes some parts dated to 1599. This church is partnered with the congregation in Cedar Lane, Maryland, which I visited when I was the Director of Religious Education at nearby Silver Spring UU.

As with most places we visited, beautiful flowers abounded.

The church entrance features one small bit of irony. The welcome mat at the main door is the front floor mat from an automobile. This would not necessarily bear mentioning, but the mat features the brand name, "Dacia." This small car is the simple family car of the communist era, but its name is significant. Dacia was a part of the Roman empire that controlled Transylvania before the millenium of Hungarian rule. Dacian names and words are generally used by Romanians who wish to refute Hungarian claims on the area, so it is ironic to see the word in front of a Hungarian church.
Entrance Dacia

It is the inside of this church building that is truly amazing. In addition to the carved chandeliers, pristine organ, and lovely embroideries, there is a symbolic haystack made of wheat, plus a ceiling of 98 intricate paintings, a few of which are shown below.
Dicsoszentmarton Wheat light


The image above is especially meaningful to me as one who attempts to play the violin at times, and who has enjoyed the playing of the Transylvanian minister and physician Dr. Judit Gellerd, founder of the Partner Church movement.

To the left is a matrimonial moment captured just outside the church. We are not certain what this figure was for, but we liked it! 

Our driver Denes enjoyed posing with this flower at our lunch stop in Dicsoszentmarton. Some of our ladies were also pleased to pose behind the flowers from the window of the bathroom. They did so just in time -- a few minutes later an entire troupe of costumed singers (young women and men) was occupying the room, smoking and joking around.
Denes and flower Ladies' room

Various Eastern Bloc countries were notorious for heavily polluting industries, even after the West had developed cleaner manufacturing technologies, and Romania was no exception. Dicsoszentmarton was among the most polluted of Romania's cities, and Ceaucescu had a knack for locating the ugliest facilities near the most charming places. Several people reported to me that the environment is much cleaner now, because air pollution has been greatly reduced, but I strongly suspect that soil and ground water contamination will need a lot of work. This is something I intend to research in future visits. The photos below were taken immediately adjacent to the garden restaurant where we enjoyed a lovely lunch. Incidentally, cooling towers are common at industrial sites, but they do not indicate any use of nuclear power.
Ugly Cooling tower

After lunch, our group returned with our guides to Sandor and Tunde's house in Desfalva, where we enjoyed some relaxation and where the entire group got a chance to explore the village in which our family had been staying. Sandor led some of us on a tour of his church in Desfalva and of the church lands and cemeteries that overlook the town.

On the left, driver Denes is talking with Kristin while Paloma plays with her jump rope. Denes was wearing a shirt that day with the code number of Peter Medgyessy , the infamous head of the Hungarian secret police from the Cold War days. The stains on his left shoulder are symbolic of the stains on Medgyessy's heart. Ironically, he resigned as prime minister of Hungary three days after I took this photo. We were on our way to Hungary at the time, and it was an unusual feeling to be driving toward a country whose government had just fallen, listening to the news in a language we did not understand. Our guides were interested but calm, so we did not worry about it, and I noticed no signs of unrest when arrived. Apparently, the fall had been expected.
Denes, Kristin, and Paloma Denes

Relaxing in Sandor's yard are Julie and Rev. Georgy (background), with Chloe, Tundeka, and Reika on the blanket. On the garden side of the house is a simple, solar-heated shower for a quick wash after a long day of gardening.
Hannah, Tundeka, and Reika Shower


Like many churches in Transylvania, the Unitarian church in Desfalva has a number of ancient artifacts that were kept hidden (sometimes buried) during the Ceaucescu period. Among the best is this communion cup depicting the Garden of Eden, which dates from the 1630s.

At left, Jan is holding a communion stein of similar vintage.

Sandor is shown clowning with the collection box while Reika interprets and Csilla looks on. Unitarian churches in Transylvania rely on donations to these boxes and rental of church lands. During the service, the minister typically waits on a special pew near the pulpit for his turns to speak. In Desfalva, the minister's pew is ornately decorated with tulips and the dove-and-crown symbol of the church.
Collection Pew

The hymnals in the Desfalva church are covered with lovely embroidery. The house gable to the right has a common architectural detail that I could not help but associate with a grounded electrical outlet.


During our walks about town, we met many friendly people with horse-drawn carts, some of whom were visiting the village well.
Horse cart

Horse at well Horse

During our walk we met the man who carved the candlestick we light during each Sunday service at the Bridgewater church, in recognition of our partnership. He is shown smiling with Pam. We look forward to his visit to Bridgewater in November (if Homeland Security allows him to come!) To the right is one of many people I saw working with scythes, either harvesting hay or taking good care of their home lawns. I was impressed by how much work gets done by people of all ages and both sexes, using only hand tools. I got so inspired that I purchased a scythe for use on a small meadow on our property in Bridgewater. Of course, a hand mower of this kind is now a special-order item in the U.S.
Carver Scythe

Each of the three churches in Desfalva has land above the village that is rented to farmers and is the location of their cemeteries. A cell-phone tower has been built at the intersection of church lands. Some of the cemeteries have a commanding view of the village and surrounding lands.

Tower Cemetary

Rev. Sandor thought that the aging hippies in our group might be interested in a certain crop grown for fiber amidst the corn on the church lands. As you can see, he was correct. (Do not worry: we reluctantly left it on the ground!)
Hemp Flashback?

When we realized that we would not be going back to Haranglab, Pam and I asked if we could make one more visit, particularly because we had not taken any photographs inside the church. Sandor agreed to take us, but he wanted to make it a quick trip, so he told his kids to stay home. Eight-year-old Sandeka was not to be left behind, so he grabbed his bike and set off on the three-mile ride. We followed him much of the way, but left him along about a mile from the village. He made the trip back by himself, too. I was impressed that we were in a place where a child could safely ride so far without any real supervision.
Following Bike boy

As any parent could predict, four-year-old Tundeka was not about to be left behind on this adventure. After some family discussion, it was decided that she would help her dad drive to town.

Although a bus does come to Haranglab from the city a couple of times per day, traffic is extremely light on this road, the only way in to Haranglab. Below, our family took turns getting our picture by the town sign.
Welcome! Welcome

We have learned from past travels that children can be friends even if they do not speak the same language. One theory is that kids do not really listen to each other when they play anyway, so each child can talk without the problem of being misunderstood! In any case, by our last evening in town Paloma and Tundeka were getting along famously. Here they are entering the Haranglab church grounds for the last time. Paloma is wearing her UU chalice-dove shirt, while Tundeka is still wearing the hairband that Paloma had given her a couple of days before.
Tundeka and Paloma
A bit later, Tundeka fell as we returned from the church yard. As with any parent in a church community, Pam picked up and comforted the child of our new friends.
Tundeka and Pam

Our return to Haranglab for photographs of the church was impromptu. We were fortunate that a church leader was nearby with a key! The church interior was recently repaired and repainted. The pipe organ does not work, but a small electronic organ works well. At right, Sandor is shown in the pulpit below the crown, sometimes called a "preacher crusher" in jest.
Entrance Pipe organ Crown

Organ Three organists!

Sandor and Sandeka stand in front of the "men's side," with the pulpit and Lord's Table in the foreground. To the right is a 1936 memorial in Romanian that is the center of the village. It appears to honor war dead from Haranglab, but we have not confirmed this.
Interior Memorial