Densus Church

Not far from the town of Hateg, on the way to Caransebes in the south-west of Transylvania, some 55 km south of Deva, a sign in Totesti village leads towards the Densus Church, one of the oldest still standing churches in Romania that attracts attention of curious visitors. As one drives towards the Densus village, the old tower of the church is spotted from the distance, which does not prepare one for the wonderful, unusual and strange church that is about to be discovered.
Densus Church is Orthodox church dedicated to Saint Nicholas that has been originally constructed in the 4th century, largely from stones “borrowed” from the nearby Sarmizegetusa Dacian site. The unique architecture of the present Densus Church dates from the 13th century and includes stone columns from the Roman forum, buttressing the walls of the church, making it one of the most important landmarks of the Hateg County in Romania, proposed for the UNESCO Patrimony since 1991. Remains of the Roman tablets adorn the pathway and the entrance to the Densus church, while two stone lions connected with their tails “guard” the central part above the altar of its unique facade. The Densus church also houses fragments of frescoes the only of their kind in Romania, depicting medieval saints and knights. As soon as one enters the Densus church courtyard, passing by the parochial house where Nicolae Densusianu used to live, who is known for his work of Prehistoric Dacia, remains impressed by the different architectural style not usually found in Romania.

The Densus church was built in a late Romanesque and Gothic style, some placing its construction by the Densusianu family in the 13th century, while others vaguely place it in the 4th century, its exact dates still remaining a mystery. The existence of the Densus church stretches back to the Roman and Dacian times, the church being built from river stones, bricks with Roman inscriptions, funerary stones, sewerage tubes etc., all taken from the Ulpia Traiana Augusta Sarmisegetusa, the nearby former Roman Dacian capital, making the church features a strange look, but rising admiration and astonishment. In its turbulent history, the impressive Densus church collected numerous tales and legends about its existence. Some believed the Densus church was a pagan monument, some that it was a temple of Mars, while others believed it was a mausoleum of the Roman General Longinus, killed by the Dacians during one of the Roman campaigns against Dacia. After the Roman administrative withdrawal, the Densus temple became a Christian church, and sermons were held there.

In the cold darkness of the Densus church interior you can hardly distinguish fragments of the old paintings belonging to Stephen of Densus from the 14th century. The paintings in Densus Church are the most appreciated frescoes created according to the Byzantine tradition that can be found in Transylvania. The particularities of Stephen’s work direct us with the thoughts on the paintings of Saint Nicholas Church in Curtea de Arges (also completed in the 14 century), making us assume that Stephen was a representative of the Wallachian art in Transylvania. To the east of the Densus Church there is a deep semicircular apse, both from inside and outside. Entire roof construction of the Densus church is made of stone slabs. The interior of the Densus church is also very unusual, the tower being supported by four pillars made from Roman altars. The nave of the Densus church’s base is square, topped by a stone tower, above its central part. Some researchers believe that the Densus Church had also served as a small monastic community because of the church’s intricate architecture and due to an interior paintings dated 1473 mentioning priest Daniil and “mother Stanca”, destroyed by Reformists during Middle Ages. Elegant and unique in its appearance, the Densus church is surrounded by old crosses and funerary stones of the village cemetery, some belonging to the Densusianu family members. As a final touch, as if to make everything even more amazing, from the little hill on which the Densus Church is placed you can admire in the distance, the majestic white peaks of the Retezat Mountains.

Like the Sarmizegetusa site, the Densus church is sparsely visited, although extremely attractive and interesting.