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Coronation Cathedral Of Alba Iulia

Alba Iulia, Romania

If December 1st, 1918 marked the birth of Romania as one country, one territory, one land, the consecration of the Coronation Cathedral of Alba Iulia on October 8th 1922, followed in short order by the coronation of King Ferdinand and Queen Maria, on October 15th 1922, marked another two equally important aspects of the Union: the people all becoming one under the reign of God and pledging allegiance, as one, to the first monarchs of the newly born state.

This monumental church that, at the height of the season, attracts hundreds of visitors daily, is an irresistible attraction for devout Christians, people passionate about history, and lay art enthusiasts alike. All of whom, entering it with an open mind and an open heart, never fail to appreciate its triple significance: a place of worship dedicated to both the Holy Trinity and the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, an awe-inspiring marvel of architecture and art, and a historically charged center of utmost political importance.

As the name itself suggests, this latter significance is most prominent in the public conscience, and rightfully so, as the ceremony of coronation truly had the markings of an unforgettable event, one meant to last well into the future. To begin with, the coronation itself didn’t take place inside the church, but in the courtyard, owning to the fact that the church was Orthodox, whereas King Ferdinand was Catholic, and did not wish to be crowned under the authority of the Orthodox church. The religious element was well represented, though: on the chosen day, the Patriarch of Romania, Miron Cristea, held a special Mass that included consecrating the two crowns to be worn by King Ferdinand and Queen Maria. The King accepted his crown in the churchyard, outside the belfry, on a scaffold set up for the occasion, draped in red linen and topped with a coronation canopy of red and yellow brocade on a white backcloth. The crown he set on his head with his own hands – rather than those of a priest – was a powerful symbol in itself: it was the Steel Crown made from the barrel of a Turk cannon captured during the War of Independence. He then proceeded to set a golden crown on the head of his wife, Queen Maria, reverently kneeling in front of him.

The Coronation was, indeed, a moment of great solemnity and beauty, undoubtedly matched by the majesty and splendor of the cathedral itself. An edifice of Byzantine style, it was built in a little under two years at the suggestion of the great scholar Nicolae Iorga and financed by the royal family. It was largely modeled after the Royal Church of Targoviste, the place where Romanian rulers of old used to be enthroned. The wide narthex with large archways hosts, in its lateral niches, four marble plates commemorating key events in the history and spirituality of the Romanian people: the printing of the New Testament in 1648, the short-lived Union of 1600 achieved by Michael the Brave, the martyr death of Horea, Closca and Crisan in 1785 and the spiritual reunification of all Romanians. True to its name, the cathedral also encloses paintings of the two monarchs, which were covered with a layer of paint during the Communist regime, but fully restored after its fall.

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