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  • 1 művészettörténész, PPKE BTK Művészettörténet Tanszék és Central European University, Department of Medieval Studies
  • 2 art historian, Department of Art History of the Pázmány Péter Catholic University and Department of Medieval Studies of the Central European University
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During the 15th and 16th centuries, a number of long inscriptions were painted on the walls of parish churches in the territory of the medieval Hungarian Kingdom. The first known example is in the St Elisabeth’s of Kassa (Kaschau, Košice, Slovakia). The earlier inscription in the north-east chapel describes the events between 1387 and 1439 while it is continued in the south transept with a political manifestation on the side of the new-born King Ladislas V, opposed by Wladislas I. Another wall-chronicle is readable in the entrance hall of the St James’ in Lőcse (Leutschau, Levoča, Slovakia). Here the inscription, dated to ca 1500, commemorates events between 1431 and 1494, including local fires and diseases, the coronation of Ladisla V and Wladislas II and the royal meeting of John Albert of Poland and Wladislas II of Hungary held at the city in 1494. On the other side of the entrance hall, a detailed Last Judgement was painted, as the final act of world history. The inscriptions of Lőcse are usually interpreted as a manifestation of the local identity of the Saxons in the Szepes (Zips, Spiš, Slovakia) region, enjoying special privileges. This is probably also true for the second group of wall-chronicles, to be found in Transylvania in the important Saxon towns. The only surviving example is in Szeben (Hermannstadt, Sibiu, Romania), in the gallery of the western hall (Ferula). Beside some national events (coronation of King Matthias, death of Louis II) it is dealing with Transylvanian affairs between 1409 and 1566. A similar chronicle has been documented in Brassó (Kronstadt, Braşov, Romania), which started the narrative with the immigration of the Saxons and ended with 1571, with a special attention to the Ottoman wars. Unfortunately the inscriptions have been covered after the fire of 1689. Other wall-chronicles are documented by secondary sources in Segesvár (Säsßburg, Sighișoara), Medgyes (Mediasch, Mediaș), Beszterce (Bistritz, Bistrița), Muzsna (Meschen, Moșna), Baráthely (Pretai, Brateiu) and Ecel (Hetzeldorf, Ațel, all in Romania). While all these were written in Latin, a Hungarian inscription has been preserved in the Calvinist church of Berekeresztúr (Bâra, Romania) in the Szeklerland from the early 17th century. Although a misunderstanding of the sources led some scholars to suppose an inscription or an images cycle with secular content in Buda, these passages refer in reality to the Franciscan friary at Chambery. In international comparison, the Gothic wall-chronicles seem to be a rarity; the best example is known from the cathedral of Genoa, where the rebuilding of the cathedral in the early 14th century is connected to the legendary origin of the city, counterbalancing the civil war between the citizens.

Decorating the walls of churches with letters instead of images is certainly aniconic, but not necessarily un-pretentious. Letters always play a decorative function whenever written on the walls. The letters, especially for the illiterate people, was a special type of ornament. Nevertheless, inscriptions, as far as their letters are readable and languages are understandable, tend to be informative. Interpreting their content depends on different levels of literacy. But they work for all as visual symbols. The longish Latin wall chronicles of Late Gothic parish churches were probably understood by the rich patricians; but the large surfaces close to the entrances might have been meaningful for all others who recognized their significance in local identity-building. The illiterate local people of the Protestant villages were unable to decipher the exact meaning of the inscriptions, even if they were in their native Hungarian language. However, these letters were necessarily eloquent for the entire community: the fact itself that there are letters decorating the walls instead of images was meaningful, reflecting the transformation of Christian culture. The letters themselves, legible or not, had a symbolic value which can be decoded taking into consideration their location, forms and context.