At the bottom of the Berecki mountains, in the valley of the Gelence stream, we can find Gelence at a distance of 12 km from Kezdivasarhely and 14 km from Kovaszna, with its 4400 inhabitants.
Orban Balazs the famous traveler of the region discovered and admired many of the beauties of this settlement, he wrote: “The one who only visits Gelence to see its briefly described famous place and would not go for a walk in the valley of the stream, he would rid himself of great pleasure, because, there, lying hidden among the mountains there is one of the most interesting hilly area that one can see. Where the two streams meet and unite - the counter point of the Big and Small Gelence – is as beautiful as the Tusnad pass. In every direction we can see rocks jotting out from the darkness of the pine forests, while the stream rushes down in pretty waterfalls between the rocks.”
Gelence is situated in picturesque surroundings, behind it we can see the mountain range of Musat, Asztag, Bonyo, Zernye, all covered in pine and beech forests.
The first written document about Gelence, mentioning it as a village is in the magazine of the Sepsiszentgyorgy Museum, the ALUTA, according to which the village dates back to 1539.
This settlement is inhabited only by Hungarians, it is part of Haromszek and it is divided into two parts by the Gelence stream, one part is called Lahida by the villagers, the other is called Szaladar.. The number of inhabitants is over 4200. Gelence consists of 18 thousand hectares of land from which 13 thousand hectares are wood.
Gelence is perfectly suitable for winter sports because of its geographic features. There are modern ski and sledge slopes here, and depending on the weather there is also an icerink to be used.
Here in the Eastern corner of the western Christianity and of the Seklers land the small Roman Catholic church which is hidden among the houses there is “to be found a treasure of European importance, a cultural heritage of the last seven hundred years.”
The Roman Catholic church dedicated to the memory of Saint Imre is now a registered monument. I was supposedly built in the second half of the 13th century. Its characteristics from the Roman period represent an inestimable value: the nave is 13 meters long and 8 meters wide, it is built of ashlar, the arch of glory, the two walled windows above the entrance and the southern and western gates. The Sanctuary is also of great interest with its hexagonal shape, ending with three sides of it, strengthened by five support columns, dating back to the late Gothic period, it was probably built in the beginning of the 16th century in the place of its Roman predecessor.
In the northern wall of the Sanctuary there was placed a tabernacle made of carved stone, on the lower frame of which we can see the date 1503, marking the rebuilding in the newer Gothic style.
The renovations made in 1520 were probably done by the monks of the Dominican Monastery of Haraly.
They designed the brick groined vault of the sanctuary and they carved the frames of the gothic windows as well as the stone frame of the door of the new vestry.
In 1766 there were added two smaller parts to the western and southern entrances of the church, an organ balcony and a balcony with seats, but unfortunately during the installation of these, some of the medieval frescos of the nave suffered irreparable damages. The balcony was removed in 1972.
During the earthquake of October, 1802, among other buildings the Gelence church had also suffered and had been severely damaged, so the resident Bishop Veszpremi Pal ordered the Respectable Noble County to build a new church. In January 1858 the church was closed as being under threat of collapse. Though they started to rebuild its roof, attention and money were concentrated on the building of a new church in the Alszeg part of the village.
So the old church was about to be pulled down, and it would certainly have happened if it weren’t for Huszka Jozsef, who discovered the wall pictures under the layer of whitewash, pictures which are unique in their rich characteristics reminding us of the religious beliefs of medieval people. In 1930 there were done major renovations.
However, the state of the building became worrying again by the nineties and it was registered on the list of the one hundred most endangered monuments in the world.
The latest renovations started in 1995 with the help of the Kovaszna county local government, and the work was completed with national support.
In 1999 and 2000 the Hungarian Ministry of Natural Cultural Heritage supported the costs with 4 million Forints.
The church was rightly registered as part of the World Heritage, the mural of the nave were supposedly made in the 1330s. On the murals we can see scenes from the Bible stories, scenes from the lives of different saints. From the series of pictures from the upper part of the western wall they could only identify scenes from the legend about St. Jacob because of the poor state of the pictures and because of the windows that were cut into the walls in the past.
The pictures under them present: the infenticide in Bethlehem, exodus to Egypt, Death of Virgin Mary. These pictures could not be seen before the last renovation as the organ balcony covered them. The Christ-themed pictures on the lower part of the Northern wall continue with the suffering of Jesus Christ: the Entry in Jerusalim, The Last Supper, Washing the Feet, Christ in front of Pilat, the Flogging of Christ and the Crucifiction scene.
An other famous series of murals is the one presenting scenes from the legend of Saint Laszlo.
The series of murals presenting scenes from the legend of St Laszlo were pained starting with the 1400s in the old Hungarian border village churches.
Our eastern heritage is bound with our European characteristics here, both the sacred and the profane ones.
The upper part of the southern wall of the nave used to be completely dedicated to the series of pictures about the doomsday: in the middle the judging Christ with four angels around him, with a sword in his mouth.
The Robed Mary and Baptizing John figures, which belong to the vision of the end of the world, are part of the composition of begging on the two sides of the southern gate. On the eastern part of the wall, next to the arch of glory there is a Paradise-scene, and under it we can see the Resurrection-scene. The last series of pictures on the lower part of the Southern wall presents scenes from the legend about St Katalin.
Due to the fact that this unique monument of an inestimable value had been sentenced to demolition, an other neo-classical church was also built here on the turn of the 19th century.
In older times , in the 18th century the Gelence people were famous howkers. Wood industry was well developed, there were functioning sawmills and pulping machines. Wood was carried on cable netting as well as on industrial railway system from the forest. The shinglers, basket weavers, stone carvers and carving craftsmen were very famous.
On this mountainous settlement many locals still continue the traditional craft of wood industry, in the vast woodland wood exploitation is done in industrial sizes, and in the village the production of wood based articles is flourishing.
Many families work as shinglers, wood had not only been the basic construction element in past but it is essential in the present as well. When it comes to shingling it is also important when exactly the wood had been cut. They say that the good wood is the one cut in the end of the autumn or in the beginning of the winter. Shingles are mainly made of pine and it is used for the roofs of the houses.
A shingle is an about 40 centimeters long, 10 centimeters wide wooden disk which is 2 centimeters high in the middle and it is very thin at the edges. It is characteristic of the shingle that it has grade and dike and it is placed on the roof as flakes on a fish. The difference between the old craft and the modern job is only due to the technological development, as in the old times everything was don manually and nowadays machines make the work easy.
Shingling is begun on the lower right corner of the roof and they continue it in lines so that the lower line is always in front with a few more flakes. For an area of one square meter about 40-45 pieces of shingles are necessary. In order to make the roof stronger they sometimes put double or partially double layers too. These roofs resist for about 20 years.
In Haraly, which is part of Gelence there is still alive an old traditional job, that of the cooper’s. between the two world wars there were 30 coopers here, now only one family knows the secret of this job.
Coopers choose very carefully the wood that they work on, usually they choose trees from the southern mountains, especially larch, the caber of which is covered with white moss. For tubs they used oak tree too, and for barrels they used wattle.
With saws they cut the wood in pieces of the size of the object they want to make. The biggest tubs are about 2 meter deep, the pots are usually about 42 centimeters high. The smallest wooden pots are of 3 liters. The wood used for the sides of the barrels are cut with bent cutters and the ones for its bottom and top are cut with straight cutters. It is interesting that the coopers do not hold the cooper’s plane against the wood, but the wood against the plane.
The bottom of the barrel is held together by nails, they attenuate its outer parts, place it inside the barrel and then they start buckling it. Then they clean the barrel both from inside and from the outside, they make holes on it and place handles and decorative motifs on it.