Catedrala romano-catolică “Sf. Mihail”

COD LMI: AB-II-m-A-00129

Date(s) of Construction : sec. XIII-XVI

It is the most valuable architectural monument in Transylvania, marking the peak of Late Romanticism, being a prominent example of this movement in Eastern Europe. Its architecture was never imitated, but a few formal details were copied on occasions.

The construction started sometime in the 11th century, probably around the midcentury, and it presented as a three-aisle basilica, with a semi-circular apse to the East. This first phase ends with the attack of the Mongols in 1241, when the cathedral and the citadel were destroyed. The stories of Monk Rogerius, the future Bishop of Spalato (Split) are suggestive for this moment: "… we arrived in Alba, we found nothing but the bones and heads of those killed, as well as the collapsed and scattered walls of the churches and palaces sprinkled with plenty of Christian blood."

After 1246 the citadel ceased to belong to the royalty and it was donated to the Catholic Church, becoming an Episcopal chair. It was then when the construction of the cathedral began. The new cathedral was built in a "connected system", with two towers on the West wing, framed by an atrium, with a transept and a tower over the square, a loft with a semi-circular apse and apsidiole near the transept, this type of plan being a novelty for Transylvania. It was in this phase when they reused in the tympanum the oldest Roman sculptural element in Romania – the Majestas Domini (Christ in Majesty) relief – this element having been used in a previous stage.

On February 21, 1277 the Saxons in Sibiu rebelled against a tax instated by the Episcopacy in Alba Iulia and stormed into the cathedral during service, killing approximately 2000 people and setting fire to the edifice.

Gothic elements appear after this moment. The portal on the West side was built at the end of the 13th century, preserving Romanic elements, but a gothic loft was erected in the first half of the 14th century. Iancu de Hunedoara built the superior floors of the Southwest tower.

The Lázói chapel was built in 1512, followed by the Várday chapel in 1524, setting the tone for the Renaissance in Transylvania.

Between 1565 and 1715 the church passed to the administration of the Calvinists and in this context the new owners destroyed the decorative elements at the interior. However, parts of the painting are still preserved in the Southern transept, in the depth of the Italian influence window jambs, dating from the first half of the 14th century. The lateral apse in the North preserves a painting dating from the 16th century in which four saints are depicted, but only the third and the fourth saint were identified as Saint Andrew and Saint Eremit Anton.

Between 1601 and 1603 the cathedral was robbed several times, and the Southwestern tower went through a fire. Prince Gabriel Bethlen rebuilt the tower and added the last floor, with a Renaissance style cornice.

After 1715, along with the strengthening of the Austrian domination in Transylvania, the cathedral once again passed on to the administration of the Roman-Catholic Church. Baroque elements appear and in 1728 they built a sacristy. The church is endowed with an organ dating from 1877 and counting 2209 pipes, the instrument being still functional today.

The cathedral hosts funeral monuments dating from the gothic, the Renaissance and the Baroque. Among those buried in the cathedral we mention Iancu de Hunedoara (†1456), his brother Ioan Miles (†1442), his oldest son Ladislau (†1456), Queen Isabella (†1559) and Prince Ioan Sigismund (†1571), princes Andrei Bathory (†1599, his head being buried here), Ștefan Bocskai (†1609), Gabriel Bethlen (†1629), Gheorghe Rákóczi I (†1648), cardinal Gheorghe Martinuzzi (†1551), Giovanni Morando Visconti (†1717) – the first architect of the bastionary citadel of Alba Carolina, etc.