Zolna (Zolná) is a part of Zólyom (Zvolen), a formerly independent municipality in the Zólyom (Zvolen) district, Besztercebánya (Banská Bystrica) region, Slovakia. It lies 8 km northeast of the center of Zólyom.
It is famous for its fortified early Gothic church dedicated to St Mátyás (Matthew) the Apostle which is surrounded by a 13th-century fortified wall. It is decorated with Gothic wall paintings dating from the 14th century.
Zólyomi Tóbiás came from the Kürtösi family, who accompanied King Béla IV to Dalmatia in 1242 when he was fleeing from the Tartars. One of his sons, Bitó (Bythou, Bytho), took part in the suppression of the Borsa rebellion alongside King András III and was seriously wounded during the siege of Adorjánvár. Bitó and his brother Comes Zobratha (once mentioned as Madách-Zobratha) were rewarded for their war merits by winning Zolna, which adjoined their relatives’ estates, together with a part of the neighboring Számpor.
In 1311, Archbishop Tamás of Esztergom permitted the Comes of Bitó and Zobratha to found a church in Zolna in honor of the first martyr St Stephen. However, the building is older, and experts date it between 1260 and 1280.
Bitó was murdered in 1312 by Radványi Tamás, the Radvansky ancestor, a castellan from Zólyomlipcse. His brother Comes Zobratha also died without a son. Zolna was inherited by their cousin’s son, Zolnai Tamás, son of Oszlári Madách’s son Benedek (1278-1328).
According to the papal tithe registers of 1332 and 1337, the parish priest of the village was János, who paid 4 marks in taxes (“Johannes plebanus Sancti Stephani 4 marcas solvit”). In 1347, the parish priest of Zolna, Miklós, signed a letter of privilege with the crusaders of Buda-Felhéviz, which was signed by Comes Bitó and Zobrata, concerning the foundation of the church in Zolna.
After Zolnai Tamás, the estate passed to the Kürtösi line of the family in 1351, namely the grandsons of Madách’s son Pál, the orphaned János sons – Master Jakab (János’s son Jakab was the king’s lawyer in 1402), Péter, Kelemen, Domonkos, István. One of them is the ancestor of the family that survived in Zolna from the 15th century.
From the end of the 14th century, it became part of the royal estate of Végles, founded by King Lajos I, but the church remained in the hands of the Zolnai family until 1709 (they became Evangelicals around 1561 and the church was taken back by the Catholics only in 1709).
The church has a single nave, oriented, with a polygonal nave. It has a tower on the west side, decorated with Romanesque twin window frames with broken window divisions (now supplemented in 2022). The walls of the nave of the former church were raised in 1311, and Gothic arches were added. A further extension of the sacristy is attested by the lower part of a heavy buttress of the presbytery, which is now inside.
The exterior façade of the church was painted white with red squares. In the period 1360-1390, the interior of the church was decorated with Gothic frescoes, some of which can still be seen today. On the north wall of the nave are paintings from the Passion cycle, the most beautiful being the Deposition from the Cross and the Resurrection.
According to researchers, the painting of St. George is the oldest fresco in the church. The triumphal arch is decorated with the images of the bishops St. Valentine and St. Nicholas. It is interesting to note that the names of the painters of the frescoes are recorded: “Miklós son of Maso and János son of Querhen, together with several others, made this picture”. The most recent paintings were added to the church at the beginning of the 16th century. A valuable ancient relic of the church in Zolna is a bell that stands on a separate belfry. According to its Latin inscription, it was cast in 1514.
In the 16th century, the presbytery was reinforced with columns on the corners, and the church was surrounded by a stone wall with loopholes to protect it from the Turkish threat. After the Catholics recaptured the church in 1709, it was given a new patron saint: St. Matthias. At the end of the 17th century, a wooden balustrade was built in the western part of the nave and furnished with Baroque furniture.
The church was damaged during the fighting in 1944. The southern side of the tower and the nave, the roof of the nave, and the eastern side of the sacristy were hit. Here the whole Gothic vault fell down. After the war the church was abandoned and the frescoes were damaged by unknown persons. In 1948, frescoes from the 1400s were discovered on the dome of the sanctuary: the painted arch of the dome depicted four Hungarian saints: St. László, St. Imre, St. István, and St. Erzsébet.
Unfortunately, the entire dome of the sanctuary was whitewashed in 2009, so it is no longer visible. The church was restored in the 1970s. The corner pillars were removed, while the restoration of the paintings was not completed until the 1990s. An archaeological survey was conducted in 1993. A complex restoration of the building began in 2011.
Near the fortified church, we can see the Zolnay fortified mansion which was built on medieval foundations, converted into a castle in the 17th century, and then rebuilt in 1760, and was severely damaged in 1944. Today it is still in an abandoned, dilapidated state.
Source: Hungarian Wikipedia; and in Várlexikon: Zolnay László: A Madách család eredete (Nógrád Megyei Múzeumok Évkönyve IX., 1983); Zolnay László: A régi zólyomi ispánság építkezéseinek történetéhez 3. Közlemény (Ar Hunrarica, 1978/2); Read:
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