Szentbenedek (Mănăstirea) is in Transylvania, in Kolozs County (Romania). The place is famous for the Renaissance castle of the Hungarian Kornis family, it is located on the small hill overlooking the village. The castle is one of the largest and most interesting Renaissance fortifications in Transylvania. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
We do not have much information about the earliest period but we know that there had been a church under the castle from the 12th century. The settlement was first mentioned in 1308. It had already been a fortified place before Prince Báthori István gave it to the Keresztúri family in 1573. The castle was enlarged by Keresztúri Kristóf between 1573-1593. We can see the initials “C.K.” and the year “1593” above the entrance gate, it indicates the work completed by Keresztúri. Kornis Boldizsár gained the castle by marriage in 1602.
Kornis Boldizsár became the Chief Comes of Inner-Szolnok County in 1603, and he was the general of the Transylvanian army as well. After the death of Prince Bocskai István, he was considered as a possible successor of the late prince. The Kornis family used to be the supporter of Prince Báthori Zsigmond. When Báthory Gábor became prince of Transylvania in 1608, Kornis Boldizsár received a new property from him, it was the village of Ördöngösfüzes. Also, Boldizsár was appointed as the commander of the Hungarian Székely border guards. You can read more about the Székely people here:
Boldizsár returned to live in Szentbenedek in 1608. A year later he became a baron but he was executed in 1610 by the prince. All his properties were taken away, too. However, Prince Bethlen Gábor gave a pardon to them and he gave their lands back in 1617. Keresztúry Kata, the widow of Boldizsár took over Szentbenedek in that year. She appointed Bethlen Gábor and Kornis Zsigmond as the stepfather of her child, and later the property returned to the Kornis family. Then, it was rebuilt inside and outside during the 17th century.
The castle used to have Renaissance doors and its great hall’s floor was a nicely painted wooden floor. Also, a painted wooden ceiling was constructed over the great hall of the castle. Kornis Gáspár had a second floor constructed in 1673. His architect, Molnár Albert built a nice, curved flight of stairs leading to the second floor, supported by wooden pillars.
It was Governor Kornis Zsigmond who had a square-shaped gate tower constructed in 1720. The road leading to the entrance was guarded by two stone unicorns. We have a detailed inventory of the castle’s objects and estates from 1696 and from 1784. It was difficult to heat the castle so it was not inhabited in the 19th century: a more comfortable stately home was built next to it.
Jókai Mór, the great Hungarian writer visited the castle in 1877 and noted that there was a certain “silent and melancholic atmosphere” in it, he must have foreseen the tragic fate of the buildings in the 20th century. Its last major renovation was in the 1880s by its owners, the Kornis family who had owned it until 1948. The last renovation of the castle was carried out by Count Kornis Viktor (1839-1905). He had the castle modernized, too. Unfortunately, the castle suffered heavy damages after WWII when it was pillaged by the villagers. They threw out Kornis Károly, the owner out of the castle, after this, they built a pile of Hungarian books in the yard, then burned it. It was how one of the largest libraries of Transylvania perished.
After 1945, a school was operating in the castle but nobody paid attention to the necessary renovation. The castle was taken over by the communists in 1948. They used the building in 1950-51 partly as a grain silo and partly as a school. It was the time when they burned the library of the castle in its yard, book by book. Later, only a few sections of the walls were restored, and the roof of the tower gate. There had been no further renovation for a long time, so the school also ceased to exist around 1989. As for the “new palace”, it was still intact in 2005-2010, even the rooms were habitable. Then, all the gutters were stolen, and the tiles on the roof were not replaced so the entire roof structure began to rot, and a huge section of it collapsed. Now, all the buildings are decaying, the ruins seem to have left only minutes, not years.
Countess Kornis Gabriella sued the building back from the Romanian state in 2007. The countess passed away in 2014, now it is his son who owns the buildings. One of the unicorn statues (the symbol of the family) was pulled down in 2016 by criminals. Now, the two unicorns had to be carried to a safe place. The COA of the Kornis family used to be on the wall some 7 years ago but now it has been destroyed, too.
Sadly, the locals use the yard of the stately home as a garbage deposit. The Hungarian volunteers and Boyscouts coming from Szamosújvár, Válaszút, and Dés usually collect several hundreds of kilos of trash every year. The Kornis Kastély Egyesület (Kornis Palace Association) was founded after 2019 with the goal to save the castle and the stately home.
There were 737 inhabitants in the village in 2002, there were 96,9% Romanians, and 3,1% Hungarians. What has done the 20th century to Szentbenedek castle? Look at the photos and decide it for yourself. Look at the 3D video made by Sárvári Tibor. He based his work on the conditions of the castle as it stood in 1907-1910:
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Here are more pictures of Szentbenedek, many thanks to Imre Lánczi who had taken most of them: