Rare Books

Theological miscellany (1780)

Medieval History
Tree paper, black and red (cinnabar) inks
Printing, binding, pressing, calligraphy, miniature illustration
L = 22,2 cm; La = 19 cm.

    Theological miscellany copied by Deacon Teodor Ursu from Noul Săsesc (Neudorf) in 1780

    Place: Noul Săsesc (Neudorf), Sibiu County; Copyist: Deacon Teodor Ursu; Beneficiary: The Christian-Orthodox community in Noul Săsesc; Research: Ginel Lazăr, PhD; Proofreading: Alexandra Mărășoiu, Monica Lazăr; Non-destructive investigations of the materials: Cristina Carșote, PhD, Migdonia Georgescu,PhD, Irina Petroviciu, PhD; Restoration: Expert restorer Cristina Petcu. Photo: George Nica, Ginel Lazăr, PhD



    Noul Săsesc, also known as Noul (Nova Villa, in Latin), Sächsisch-Neudorf, in German, or Szászújfalu, in Hungarian, is a small village in the south of Târnavelor Plateau, in the locality of Laslea, Sibiu County, Transylvania, Romania, about 70 km away from the Făgăraș Mountains. It is relatively close to Sighișoara, between the town where Vlad Dracul was born and Mediaș. The village is surrounded by steep hills of 600-650 meters, naturally protected by the geographical configuration of the area. Archaeological traces prove that the village has been inhabited since ancient times. Its current history dates back to the 13th century, when the first Transylvanian Saxon colonists came to the area, as a result of an ample process of colonization that lasted for two centuries (the 12th and the 13th century). The Hungarian kings started to negotiate with the Germans in the Rhine area for recruiting those who wanted to emigrate. According to the documents issued by the Hungarian kings, German colonists benefitted from the right to found settlements, to work on the received plot of land (both the topsoil and the subsoil) for themselves and for the king, as well as to organize themselves from the administrative and confessional point of view. 

    The first documentary attestation of the Transylvanian Saxons in Noul Săsesc dates back to 1305, according to a document kept in the archives of the Evangelical Church in the village. Although they were the majority, the Transylvanian Saxons were always surrounded by the Romanians, who lived in the south of the village, where they formed a strong cohabiting minority embracing the Christian-Orthodox values, which miraculously ensured their survival, despite the hardships they encountered throughout time. Both the Transylvanian Saxons and the Romanians seem to have been the serfs of the nobleman in Mălâncrav. The Transylvanian Saxons were colonized there because the Romanians were only a small community of serfs and could not meet all the working needs related to the nobleman’s estate. Thus, the Transylvanian Saxons also became serfs, dependent on the Hungarian count in Mălâncrav.

    In Noul Săsesc the population belonged to the three well-known Christian rites, namely the Evangelic one, the Catholic one and the Orthodox one. Later on, the Greek-Catholic rite was formed, as a result of the fact that the Orthodox Romanians were attracted to Austria’s sphere of influence. Despite feudal dependence, the Transylvanian Saxons and the Romanians were considered free people from the legal point of view, which is confirmed by the fact they did not need the nobleman’s permission for getting married. 

    During the interwar period, huge reserves of natural gas were discovered in the area. When they started to be exploited, there were some benefits for the village, but not profitable enough for its inhabitants.   

    We thank those who have helped us with our documentation activity, telling us about local events and stories. We would like to mention the family Ioan and Maria Munteanu, the teacher of Mathematics Elena Țerbea, born Munteanu, baptized in the Catholic rite in the old church on the hill. At the same time, we are grateful to the Orthodox parish priest Ioan Șincu and especially to the teacher of History Horia N. Ursu, born in Noul Săsesc, the author of the only Romanian monography about his native places. Mr. Horia Ursu, who lives in Cluj, talked to us on the phone for tens of minutes, telling us about the history of the place and of the community, with a passion that can also be remarked in his book entitled Acolo, printre dealuri (There, among the Hills), printed in Cluj-Napoca in 2012. Moreover, Mr. Horia Ursu, currently a pensioner, has gladly received the invitation from the National History Museum of Romania to participate in the opening of the exhibition dedicated to the exhibit of May 2017, in his capacity of the descendant of the deacon and Orthodox parish priest Teodor Ursu, who copied the Theological Miscellany from Noul Săsesc (Neudorf) in 1780. The exhibit of May 2017 was precisely the manuscript copied by Deacon Teodor Ursu. 

    The religious book was professionally photo-scanned through the “Manuscriptum” Project in 2015, investigated from the physical-chemical point of view and restored in the specialized laboratories of NMRH between June 2016 and April 2017. After completing the historical research, the Theological Miscellany was exhibited, and the opening of the exhibition on the 4th of May 2017 was a real success due to the presence of the teacher of History, Horia Ursu, a great-grandson of the 18th-century deacon, who evoked interesting aspects from the life of the Romanian minority in Noul Săsesc, appreciated by the public and by the reporters who attended the event, which was also successful due to the historical importance of the exhibited book – a monument of cult theological literature, an explosion of Romanian national feeling within its ancient hearth.



    The Romanians in Noul Săsesc, traditionally organized in the Orthodox rite, are mentioned by the Conscription made in 1733, under the authority of Inochentie Micu-Klein, as testifiers of the Holy Unification. The 60 people mentioned in the cited source were all Greek-Catholic, thus proving the efficiency of the Austrian missionaries’ work for the unification with the Roman Church. The Unitarian Romanians hoped that they would benefit from more rights. Many of them, however, came back to their traditional faith after the action against Unification led by the Orthodox priest Visarion Sarai in 1744. The church where the service for the 60 Unitarian Romanians was held already existed in 1733, but it was obviously much older. 

    Tradition mentions that the first Orthodox church was erected by the Greeks, many centuries ago. The old church on the hill, preserved today as a historical monument, waiting for better times for restoration, bears on its frontispiece the year of its consecration, 1806. It was built on the site of the old one, which was probably bombed, like so many other places of Orthodox worship, by the cannons of the Austrian General Adolf Nikolaus von Buccow, at the middle of the 18th century. It is known that both Orthodox and Unitarian priests were holding the service in the old church on the hill, and the graveyard in front of the church was used by both confessions. The situation changed at the beginning of the 20th century. “The Greek-Catholics remained on the hill, after the Orthodox majority built the church in the center of the village. Anyway, the Unitarians could not have built their own church, due to their smaller number of believers.” (Horia Ursu, Acolo, printre dealuri – There, among the Hills, Cluj-Napoca, 2012, p. 40). The Orthodox church in the center of the village was built around 1905, according to the inscription on the left side façade.

    Deacon Teodor Ursu’s notes within the Theological Miscellany, an original manuscript, the object of our exhibition project, specify that he was a Greek-Orthodox parish priest in Noul Săsesc around 1784, when more and more of the Romanians living in this village were coming back to their Orthodox belief. 



    In the collection of old books of the National History Museum of Romania, a manuscript copied by Deacon Teodor Ursu from Noul Săsesc is exemplarily preserved. The book is a Theological Miscellany, made up of two main parts: the former contains Hagiographical Histories and Patristic Literature, whereas the latter includes The Holy Confession of the Eastern Church, with Questions and Answers. The orthography is Romanian, with Cyrillic alphabet. This kind of book had an impressive circulation all over the Romanian space, aiming both at reinforcing all the Romanians’ Orthodox belief and at unifying the religious language. Furthermore, the manuscript is a monument of the Romanian literary language, copied by a cultivated deacon, hardly known among the Romanian theologians in Transylvania during the second half of the 18th century.   

    Deacon Teodor Ursu was born in Noul Săsesc, as it is specified in several side notes on some manuscripts he copied. In the Theological Miscellany of NMRH, on the back fixed flyleaf, it is mentioned that the manuscript was finished towards the autumn of 1780 and sent for binding to Sighișoara, on the 16th of October 1780. It was bound in a Transylvanian Saxon workshop for four silver thalers. In his notes, the author uses the variant Toader (Teodor). In the first volume of Copyists of Romanian Manuscripts up to 1800, Bucharest, 1959, Academician Gabriel Ștrempel mentions the Transylvanian copyist as the author of several significant notes, gathered in another collection of the Theological Miscellany type, completed between 1782 and 1784. Thus, at f. 127 v. and 199 v., he calls himself “Toader Ursu Noianul or Toader Noianul“ (Prof. Horia Ursu, the author of the monography about Noul Săsesc, the great grandson of the scholar in the 18th century, informs us that his grandfather was also known as Noianul (an original inhabitant of Noul), a name used by the author in his book when it is about the Ursu family, which he is a descendant of). At f. 177 v., in the Miscellany studied by G. Ștrempel, Toader Ursu writes that he married Măriuța, the daughter of priest Theodor from Daneș, on the 30th of January 1784. At f. 9 v. - 10 r. (the manuscript of NMRH), the author specifies that he was a Greek-Orthodox priest in 1784. So, Deacon Teodor Ursu got married at the end of January 1784 and became a parish priest in Noul Săsesc after ordination. 

    The Theological Miscellany owned by NMRH has not been known to the specialists in Romania up to now, it was not mentioned in Gabriel Ștrempel’s book and this is the first time when it has been exhibited for the bibliophilic Romanian public. The presence of the religious manuscript in the collection of NMRH is a reason for joy, because thus we can better know the literary activity of Deacon Teodor Ursu, who later became a parish priest in his native village, where he was leading the Romanian Orthodox minority in Noul Săsesc. He managed to reinforce the belief of the Romanians living among the Transylvanian Saxons, although they were permanently subjected to political, ethnical and religious persecutions in Transylvania. The scholar priest’s effort was made in a special historical context, when the intellectuals from the Romanian communities in Transylvania, namely the priests, were serving the common interest of the Romanians living in the intra- and extra-Carpathian space.