The fortified church of Gelence (Ghelința) is in Transylvania. It is located in Székelyföld (Székely-Land), a Hungarian village in Romania. Its church of Saint Imre is from the 13th century, it was built in 1245.
The mural paintings of the church in Gelence show us paintings from the life of the famous Hungarian king, Saint László (1040-1095 A.D.) that were painted in 1330. Saint László (Ladislaus) was perhaps the greatest Hungarian chivalric king, a knight whose figure lived on in legends among the people.
The most popular story describes Ladislaus’s fight with a “Cuman” warrior after the Battle of Kerlés (at present-dayChiraleș, Romania) in 1068. In the battle, the united armies of Solomon, Géza and László routed a band of Pechenegs (Besenyő) or OghuzTurks who were plundering the eastern parts of the kingdom. According to the version recorded in the Illuminated Chronicle, László spotted a pagan warrior fleeing from the battlefield with a captive Hungarian maiden. Ladislaus pursued the “Cuman”, but he could not stop him. On László’s advice, the maiden pulled the warrior off his horse, allowing the king to kill the “Cuman” after a long fight on the ground. Archaeologist László Gyula says that murals depicting this legend in medieval churches preserved the elements of pagan myths, including a “struggle between forces of light and darkness”.
There are several Saint László murals in the Carpathian Basin and mainly of course, in Transylvania but the oldest ones can be found here. They display scenes of the legend: Saint László’s oath, the march to the battle, the battle, the chase of the Cuman, the duel with the Cuman and the beheading of the enemy. We can see the signs of late-romanesque style which were rather realistic.
The Illuminated Chronicle tells us this story as it follows:
[The] most blessed Duke Ladislaus saw one of the pagans who was carrying off on his horse a beautiful Hungarian girl. The saintly Duke Ladislaus thought that it was the daughter of the Bishop of Warad, and although he was seriously wounded, he swiftly pursued him on his horse, which he called by the name of Zug. When he caught up with him and wished to spear him, he could not do so, for neither could his own horse go any faster nor did the other’s horse yield any ground, but there remained the distance of a man’s arm between his spear and the Coman’s back. So the saintly Duke Ladislaus shouted to the girl and said: “Fair sister, take hold of the Coman by his belt and throw yourself to the ground.” Which she did; and the saintly Duke Ladislaus was about to spear him as he lay upon the ground, for he wished to kill him. But the girl strongly pleaded with him not to kill him, but to let him go. Whence it is to be seen that there is no faith in women; for it was probably because of strong carnal love that she wished him to go free. But after having fought for a long time with him and unmanned him, the saintly Duke killed him. But the girl was not the bishop’s daughter.
Gelence was first mentioned in 1538. The church was rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries in Gothic style. It was the time when the church was reinforced by an outer stone wall and the bell tower was built, too. (The outer wall was built in this form in the 17th century.)
There were several places in the church where scripts, written by the ancient Hungarian Székely Runatic alphabet were found. A row of these scripts is located at the northern part of the church, at the mural painting that is depicting Jesus’ Passion. Above the 3.8-centimeter rovan signs we can read the number 1497.
The church of Gelence is said to be the nicest Székely fortified church that was built in the Gothic style. Also, we can find painted Renaissance ornaments adorning the frames of the doors.
On the opposing hilltop called Nagy Vártető (Great Castle-Top), there is a ruined fort where the villagers had taken shelter against the Ottomans. Its wooden ceiling was made in 1628.
Around the village, there are five ruins of castles and palaces, manors and old buildings.