Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Transylvania's Other Export

My experience with Unitarians didn't begin with the Russian-Polish-Medieval-Unitarian wedding at the Celebrity Goat Farm. There are lots of former Jews in Unitarian congregations and they get nostalgic so, as a Jew, I sing for them fairly frequently.

Once a local UU minister asked for Transylvanian songs. Transylvanian? I know Slavic songs but Transylvanians are not Slavs. The minister said oh well, anything Eastern European would do, so I sang Macedonian love songs for them and in return got an earful of the following.

In the early years, Christians could choose to believe that Jesus was an "entity sent by God on a divine mission" and/or that nobody was going to the fiery pit (see right). A millennium-plus later, Thomas Starr King explained:
Universalists believe God is too good to damn people, and Unitarians believe people are too good to be damned by God.
Heresy, which in Greek means choice, became a bad word in 325 CE when the Nicene Creed warned Christians: if you don't think Jesus was God, we may kill you and stuff. Fast forward to the Reformation.

Transylvania turned Protestant around 1520, when Lutheran missionaries arrived. I wish I had a picture of THAT to show you, but since I don't, picture "Washington Crossing the Delaware" except with book-bearing Lutherans and no boat.

Sigismund the Elder of Poland and his daughter Isabella believed in religious tolerance. Isabella became Queen of newly independent Transylvania, and in 1540 gave birth to Janos Zsigmond a.k.a. John Sigismund, just a few days before the death of her husband. At right, "Queen Isabella's Farewell to Transylvania." Another story.

David Ferenc a.k.a. Francis David (left), Isabella's court preacher, invented Unitarianism because he found no biblical basis for the Trinity. His sermons, especially a really good one he gave while standing on a rock, wowed area inhabitants into converting en masse. The Unitarians are a bit rueful about having to share their religion's ancestral home with the more famous Dracula (Vlad Tepes, see right), but what can you do? They seem pretty good natured about it.

Anyway, John Sigismund himself converted, becoming the world's first and only Unitarian king, and he issued an Edict of Religious Tolerance and Freedom of Conscience, strengthening his mother's earlier and similar edict.

Sadly, the king died a few years later and of course religious freedom eroded. The pictures here (the ruins of a castle and prison in Kolozsvar) are from a pilgrimage in 2003 to commemorate the killing of Francis David in 1579 for his faith. Despite centuries of persecution, Transylvania and adjoining parts of Hungary are today still home to more Unitarians than anyplace but the U.S.

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At 8:53 AM, Blogger Isabella said...

It seems your music leads you to some very interesting places (metaphorically, if not literally) with obscure histories. Being of Polish ancestry myself, I'm fascinated by Poland's "exports" of historical figures over the centuries. Please tell the story of Isabella's farewell.

(Scanning your previous entries, I notice you mention Latcho Drom — I loved that film. Have you read "The Rom" by Roger Moreau? It similarly traces the path, the cultural evolution, of gypsies.)

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Ilona said...

This is a beautiful place you've created here!
Anyway. About Transylvanian music: The whole region enjoys Gypsy music, so that is probably what would please any number of people making requests.

Good place to start: or
Marta Sebestyen -many music clips to listen to...
this one associated with my Amazon acct.

At 10:07 AM, Blogger Ilona said...

Hate to bother you again- but look what I found!Maramaros: The Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania -is this great or what?

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

Fascinating stuff!

I checked out Ilona's suggestion- the reviews provide more interesting information. It appears as if I've found a new path to wander down- this piece and the one on Lafitte really grabbed my attention.

As Macarthur said, 'I shall return.'

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Kimberly said...

Thank you. This is fascinating. While I knew about the fundamental theology behind Unitarianism and Universalism, I didn't know where and when they began.

Lovely place you have here! I'll be back when I have time to read from the beginning.


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