Restoration of the church

The restoration, which began in August 2018, was primarily aimed at preserving the church. The project is a prime example of multidisciplinary preservation: a collaboration between architects, civil engineers, building services planners, wood and painted wood restorers, wall restorers, stone conservators, archaeologists and art historians. The project, entitled “Restoration of St. Michael’s Church in Cluj-Napoca”, was carried out in cooperation with the project management company Regional Consulting & Management BT, the design company M&M Design SRL and the company KÉSZ Construcții Romania. The works were carried out on the basis of the building permit No. 332 issued by the Cluj City Hall on 16.03.2018. The client was the Roman Catholic parish of St. Michael, which was represented by Ft. Sándor Kovács, archdeacon parish priest (preparation phase), Ft. Stelian Veres, parish governor (2018), Ft. Loránd Kemenes, Archdeacon Parish Priest (2018-2020), Ft. László Attila, Archdeacon Parish Priest (2020-) and Ing. Judit Márton, technical inspector. The participating companies are, without claiming completeness: KÉSZ Construcții Romania (general contractor), M&M Design SRL (design), Restitutor Proiect SRL (design), Irod M (structural inspection, design), Boldizsár Construction (carpentry), Imago Picta (masonry restoration), Lorsan (masonry), Refakt (stone restoration) etc.

The scaffolded interior of the church during restoration

The last major renovation was carried out between 1956 and 1964 under the leadership of Lajos Bágyuj. At that time, the popularity of cement-based materials was the deciding factor, and this had a significant damaging effect on the limestone quoins that make up the entire exterior of the church over the decades. Therefore, the primary task of the current restoration was to remove these and replace them with a lime-based material that matched the type of stone material. Cracks in the walls were similarly injected with a lime-based material to stabilise them. In the first phase, the roof structure was repaired and the cladding replaced, while the most challenging stone restoration work began: cleaning, completing and structurally reinforcing the external and internal stone surfaces.
First, the first three western sections of the south and north longitudinal walls were scaffolded, where it was possible to examine the actual condition of the ascending walls up close. At this point, it became clear that the previously assessed condition was several times more serious, and that the restoration of these walls proved to be a critically fast-paced task, even for four years. After cleaning out the 20th century joints and mortar, the restorers used a fine-grit method to remove deposits from the entire wall surface, all while preserving the building’s antiquity and patina. After cleaning, the deep separations and cracks were reinforced with rust-cemented metal clips, and similarly, metal anchors were installed on the interior rubble-stone masonry surfaces, as recommended by the structural engineers. In the next phase, work continued on the western façade and the western gallery and the first western row of shopfronts, while services were held in the eastern part of the church and in the sanctuary until 29 September 2019. The arches supporting the former north-west tower are believed to have been critically damaged in the 1763 earthquake, and were subsequently repaired to make them invisible. One of the main challenges was to reinforce and fix them. In addition, the prevention of a next earthquake was also a concern for the civil engineers. As a solution to this, and for a major reinforcement, four steel space-grid beams were installed transversely between the cantilever walls above the nave vaults, thus protecting the building from horizontal loads.

The restored sanctuary

In the next phase, the eastern part of the interior of the church was scaffolded up to the sanctuary and the removal of the non-historic modern plasterwork and the reinforcement of the vaulting could begin. The cracks in the walls and vault were reinforced by grouting, and helibars or spiral bars were inserted into the masonry of the stave’s naves, in addition to the metal shafts, also for the purpose of fixing. In parallel with the masonry and restoration work, we carried out a masonry survey, which included the discovery of the organ casing in the north nave, the observation of the historical periods and stratification of the south-west tower, the systematic collection of carving marks and the preparation of surveys. After the masonry was cleaned, a new lime-based spoon-backed plaster was applied to the cleaned masonry – a type of plaster with a slightly corrugated surface used in the re-plastered walls of medieval churches, on walls that were originally plastered and painted butter-coloured.
The walls of the sanctuary were in the worst structural condition, with the perimeter walls tilting outwards and the buttresses separating. In many cases, the new-age water springs of the buttresses had cracked to such an extent that they could have been detached earlier by a major wind. At the same time as the exterior work was being carried out, the interior was also being reinforced. After removing the plaster of the sanctuary, a sensational stone carving was discovered. On the one hand, an in situ sacristy niche was uncovered, which certainly dates from the 14th century and was built at the same time as the sanctuary. On the other hand, a wall survey revealed a secondarily incorporated gold, red and blue painted fixture tower detail. Today, the vault of the main sanctuary is a 20th century reconstruction, however, during the restoration we also identified the earlier 18th century lintel. Following the removal of the Altar of the Three Kings (1747-1750) in the south side sanctuary, the previously unknown entrance to the sanctuary’s spiral staircase – there are three spiral staircases in total: the southwest staircase, the sanctuary’s spiral staircase and the double spiral staircase on the north side – was discovered. It has been disused for several decades or even centuries, so that after its clearing, the former, much deeper walkway of the church, from which the stairs started, could be observed here. In the sacristy, a Renaissance fireplace and a washbasin were found, after the demolition of the 1950s outhouse and the excavation of the plaster. The building services were progressing with emphasis in the longhouse, providing an opportunity for archaeological research. Wiring should be placed under the stone slabs, 20-50 cm deep along the walls. The excavation allowed the wall pillars below the ground surface to be viewed and documented.
The neo-Gothic tower of the church showed a 20 cm subsidence, which was measured with the help of 3D scanning and a new steel staircase was built. The new staircase has made the church tower and the balcony level lookout permanently accessible to the public. Since the 1960s, the tower has been used to store the stone artefacts, medieval and modern carvings, which were highlighted during the previous renovation. Before the new staircase, these stones and the newly highlighted ones (about 350 in total) were moved to the attic to serve as material for a future exhibition. In the base of the tower, at the top of the staircase leading directly to the tower, the previously concealed parts of the northeast doorway arch were also excavated and the subsequent walling was removed. The north-east doorway now opens into the chapel under the tower, but originally served as an external doorway. The south side of the tower was added to the axis of the gate. Interestingly, this side of the tower is connected to the church building itself by leaving the medieval façade wall exposed and only the new 19th century wall rises above the crowning cornice. It can be admired today.
Conservation was the main focus of the work, but in some cases reconstruction was necessary. On the buttresses of the western façade, the funnels are decorated with small creeping leaves and cross-hatches, which have deteriorated over the decades. Here, in a small number of cases, the heavily damaged or completely missing ornaments have been reconstructed by stone restorers on the basis of existing/original ones. Reconstruction was also chosen for the exterior of the tower, in the case of the funnels under the balcony, and damaged parts of the plinths of the Schleuning Chapel, as shown, had to be repaired by the reconstruction method.
Every monument is unique and unrepeatable, and a thorough survey and planning in advance of a restoration is never sufficient to determine the true situation and value, i.e. the past of a building is revealed only during the actual construction works. This is exactly what happened in the case of St. Michael’s Church in Cluj-Napoca, where during the construction phase every step had to be carefully considered for the management and presentation of the values found and discovered. Inside the church, the walls, freed from plaster, offered the opportunity for investigations in which carvings and traces, secondary to the masonry, were documented and related to history. In this way, the remains of previously unknown or demolished parts of the building became visible, such as the medieval organ tracery in the northern nave or the bases of the northern side chapel and the Schleuning chapel, which also have a difference in level. During the interventions, 3D surveys and scans were carried out and all changes, excavated details and work phases were documented photographically.