The first Romanian School in Brașov, the proof that Church and knowledge were once one and the same

Fate was good to us, people who hid under the imaginary mat the most beautiful memories of their childhood, and carried our steps through a temple of knowledge. The sweet-sour smell of the old books protected by the institution is welcoming the guests into the First Romanian School in Brașov. Only afterwards, the smile and the wise voice of the priest Vasile Oltean claim their right and greet the guests. The PhD priest Oltean is the headmaster of the educational institution that became – what else? – a museum. Although the official title suggests a red tapist, the clergyman is more than a manager, because for 49 years – without a day of leave – he has been nurturing the patrimony he has under his “wing” and he has been continuously analysing the 6000 volumes and 30.000 documents, many of them, extremely old and priceless.

“Yes, they are insured, by God”, the priest Olteanu told us, when asked about the fate of the precious codices, about which he talked to us for several hours. The First Romanian School is located in the yard of Saint Nicholas church in Brașov, both being found in the historic neighbourhood of Șcheii Brașovului – the proximity of the two institutions is not coincidental, because since the Middle Ages, God’s people have been the most erudite members of the communities and – most importantly – they were the ones perpetuating knowledge.

The “mother” of today’s Romanian schools is located in Brașov

“We are the oldest school in the country. I knew that the school dated from the XVIth century – according to the history of education, because this is how it is wanted. But – let’s say, for everybody to understand – that the Church and the School were built in 1495. We also have a papal bull of Boniface the IXth, from 1399, in which it is written the fact that the «schismatics of Șchei were receiving education from pseudo-teachers» (this bull, dated December 25th, 1399, confirms the existence of a worshiping and orthodox education place in Șchei – editor`s note). Can you imagine what a terrible argument, from 1399? Likewise, we have manuals from the XIth-XIIth century. If we had manuals, how come we did not have a school at that time?” explained, breathlessly, Vasile Oltean, the beginnings of the First Romanian School. From his initial explanations, we understood we had in front of us an encyclopaedic personality, passionate about everything related to the birth, evolution and fate of Romanian books.

The „First Romanian School” Museum in Brașov Photo: Marius Donici

The „First Romanian School” Museum in Brașov Photo: Marius Donici

The fact that one of the most expensive assets in the world is information, because it offers power, is already a truism that does not challenge anyone anymore. Each country had its “black” period of eradicating books, the “weapons” with white pages that sharpened a man’s mind, an endeavour considered dangerous by the leaders who wanted dull subjects. Romania did not escape this disaster either, disaster that “stepped with its boots” in God’s place and burnt the hundreds of years old codices. But some priests did not comply, their desire to protect the book being more powerful than the fear of dying.

“The courageous priests buried the documents in tombs, in graveyards. Our priest, Ioan Prișcu, got them up in the tower of the church, blocked the door of the tower’s entrance without anybody knowing. Only in 1962, professor Colan, recently returned from prison, was hired as an unskilled carpenter – although he had three licences and two doctorates -, and he got up the tower to take a board. Pulling out a board, the small door created collapsed and 6000 old books and 30.000 documents were discovered. That is how we acquired this very rich spiritual potential, confirmed by the books and the documents we possess. Through them, we understand the value of the School in historical context.

The language of the first Romanian books is the current language, because it has been preserved in Church, and here it never changes, not even a word

Since time immemorial, Church represented the supreme cultural factor, and the most lettered scholars were wearing the cassock. One must note that the statute of priest was acquired after a period longer than that necessary for formation in other professions: notary – three months, professor – six months and priest – nine months. In our country, Church also had a role in preserving our language.

The priest Vasile Oltean, the headmaster of the „First Romanian School” Museum in Brașov

The priest Vasile Oltean, the headmaster of the „First Romanian School” Museum in Brașov

“The language of the first Romanian books is the current language, because it has been preserved in Church, and here it never changes, not even a word. There is one thing to sit in the church for 20 minutes at a Catholic Mass, and another thing to sit for seven hours at a liturgy, an evening service and everything else that we have. After seven hours spent in church, do you think that a man goes home and argues with his wife in another language? It is still Romanian. Even swearing is ecclesiastic with us”, joked Vasile Oltean.

They cry that churches are being built, but did someone cry when alehouses were being built? What is the value of an alehouse? Better yet, they cry that churches are being built to the detriment of hospitals. Well, Church itself is a hospital, because a spiritually healthy man is also physically healthy

What is the Church’s contribution now in preserving and enriching the Romanian culture? Our interlocutor told us that this institution still has an important contribution, particularly because priests represent, especially in Ardeal, totum factum.

The „Anton Pann” classroom, the place where the well-known poet (1796 – 1854) taught

The „Anton Pann” classroom, the place where the well-known poet (1796 – 1854) taught

“There has always been a junction between cults in Church and, if the clergyman did not preach and limited himself only to the liturgical text, the Christian was going home incomplete. The priests’ contribution exists even today, but some do not see it – how many poor people are helped and how much they are involved. The church does not boast and does not go in the street to say: «Look what I have done!», but it has the natural modesty and good sense of the cleric. (…)

But we do not want to see the role of the Church; we get the icons out of schools, we denigrate priesthood. An institution that has kept this nation united for 2000 years, through language, culture, and value, is now hit by smart people! It never did anything wrong. If a priest makes a mistake, because he is also human, he must be punished like any other citizen. They cry that churches are being built, but did someone cry when alehouses were being built? What is the value of an alehouse? Better yet, they cry that churches are being built to the detriment of hospitals. Well, Church itself is a hospital, because a spiritually healthy man is also physically healthy.”

The Romanian culture, preserved through knowledge and devotion

In a society in which the long arm of globalisation becomes more and more clutching, preserving national values becomes an ideal with which not too many young people resonate. Accepting the influence of other nations is not, of course, to blame except in the case when authentic values are being forgotten. Therefore, knowledge and interest for our own history represent the trustworthy shield.

A plaque written in Cyrillic

A plaque written in Cyrillic

“When you do not know your history, of course you become insensitive to the history’s values. I also notice in manuals formulas of cancellation of the student’s affection towards history. How? There are texts in manuals with such an elevated language, that they do not understand anything. There is also the denigration of values. They wrote that Decebalus had sensual lips and that Trajan had a fringe… Assertions from manuals that are to blame. And we extol others. But now we are all scholars.”

Due to the fact that the discussion concerned education and Romanian books, the reference to the deacon Coresi (? – 1583) was inevitable, especially because his efforts to print Romanian books have not been recognised to their true merit. Coresi printed in Brașov – a replica of his printing press can be found in the First Romanian School – no less than 39 titles of Romanian books, in hundreds of copies, each title having about 700 pages, a unique heritage in the world at that time. The works printed by the deacon Coresi were not only used by each church in the country and he succeeded to cover the whole perimeter of the Cristian life – by offering the world liturgical books, catechetical books (that show the moral teachings of the Christian religion), dogmatic and homiletic books (that show the principles and rules of the religious oratory) -, but to the greatest scholar of his time we also owe the literary language that we enjoy today.

Please, my brothers, read and count well because you will see for yourselves that the lily and the treasure are hidden in it

“He is the founding father of our literary language and I allow myself to say that, because I know, as a philologist, what a literary, grammaticalized language means. Any philologist can confirm that a grammaticalization of a text is done within at least 1000 years and a language becomes literary after 1000 – 2000 years. But I allow myself to quote a short text from Coresi, for you to hear the Romanian language of that time, and to draw the same conclusion as I did. I quote from «Tâlcul Evangheliilor» (i.e. «The moral of the Gospels»): «If I read, if I counted well and I found out their moral, I enjoyed them all. And I printed for you, my brothers, to be of use in learning. And please, my brothers, read and count well because you will see for yourselves that the lily and the treasure are hidden in it.»

Vasile Oltean, showcasing the press of Coresi

Vasile Oltean, showcasing the press of Coresi

I tell you this, as a philologist: no country in the world has today a language from the 14th century. If we were to turn to Shakespeare, who was born in 1564, his language could not be read by any Englishman, only by specialists, with the help of a dictionary. (…) The deacon Coresi came from Târgoviște in Ardeal, a region haunted by a religious peril. The Lutherans, Calvinists, Hussites appeared, being rejected by Catholics. The orthodox did not have either a Metropolitan Church, or an episcopate. They were speaking Slavonic in church (11th – 16th century, in the «darkness of words», as Coresi was saying). The villager was going to church, the priest was “mumbling” in the altar in Slavonic and neither the villager nor the priest understood anything. It was not a comprehensible language. And here it comes Coresi, after 500 years of Slavonic spoken in church and “allows himself” to print religious books in Romanian. In terms of that time, this was heresy, because it was replacing the sacred language with a vulgar one, something prohibited.

Taking as example a text from Corinthians, the deacon Coresi offered a strong and unbeatable argument to justify his “daring”: “It is much better to say in a church five words on my understanding, than a darkness of words in a foreign language”.

Valuable books, even under our nose

Few Romanians know that Anton Pann (1796 – 1854) was a teacher at the First Romanian School, which today has a classroom named after him (pictured above), one of the most prolific Romanian poets. That being said, we are not in the wrong when we say that stepping in the first Romanian classrooms equals a consistent lesson of history, because the volumes protected for hundreds of years by the institution are extremely rare and very important. Many of them have been donated by the princes Alexandru Lăpușneanu and Constantin Brâncoveanu because, as the clergyman explained to us, the leaders did not keep their library at home, but in the princely foundation. We had the chance to see valuable books in the showcases: Cazaniile lui Varlaam, Evanghelia de la Govora (1642), Apele metalice din România Mare (1843), all the Romanian old Bibles – which not even the Romanian Academy holds -, The Sankt Petersburg Bible (the first Bible of Russia), and last but not least, an unusually made Bible, which makes it even more unique.

Gospels written on unborn kidskin, part of the First Romanian School collection

Gospels written on unborn kidskin, part of the First Romanian School collection

“We have a unique original in the South-Eastern Europe, a codex aureus, written on unborn kidskin, covered with golden foil. The specimen was written in Râșca monastery, near Suceava, in 1560 by Matia Logofătul, the chancellery man of Lăpușneanu, and eventually donated. It comprises of more than 700 pages, each having golden foil. Why unborn kid? Because their skin did not have the respiration pores open and it was easy to write on it, and the skin was sticky, so it was easy to put the golden foil without glue. If you had put glue, it would have exfoliated, because the glue was made from wheat flour and it would have fermented.”

Raluca Băncioiu

Raluca Băncioiu

She's a graduate of the MA program in Translation of the Contemporary Literary Text. She's an optimistic person and a true familist
Raluca Băncioiu

Ultimele postari ale lui Raluca Băncioiu (vezi toate)

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