The Roman Catholic Church of St. Michael (Hungarian: Kolozsvári Szent Mihály-templom, German: Klausenburger Michaelskirche) is one of the most representative monuments of Gothic architecture in Transylvania. The building was erected in the Central Square in Cluj and is one of the emblematic monuments of the city. It is inscribed on the list of historical monuments in Cluj County, elaborated by the Romanian Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in 2010.
By an act issued on August 19, 1316, Carol Robert de Anjou granted a series of privileges and freedoms to Cluj, among which was the right of the city to freely choose its priest and parish priest. Freedom that had to be materialized by building a parish church.
The church was erected on a plot of land that served as a cemetery and where there was a chapel dedicated to St. James. Very little data remains on the erection of the building. The main document preserved is one issued by the papal court at Avignon, in January 1349, which forgave the sins of those who would help financially build the house. The construction took place in two phases: the first began in 1316 and was completed in 1390, followed by a second phase between 1410-1487. In 1390 the altar was completed.
Two towers were designed for the main façade, but only the north-west one was built between 1511-1543. In 1697 the tower was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the Baroque style in 1744. It had to be demolished in 1763, after an earthquake had damaged it greatly, being in danger of collapsing. In 1837, the construction of the current clock tower, in neo-Gothic style, began on the north façade, being completed in 1860. The tower remains today as the tallest church tower in Romania.
During the Protestant Reformation the edifice served various religious communities in turn: thus, between 1545-1558, it was the Lutheran church, between 1558 and 1566 it became Calvinist, and from 1566 it became the Unitarian church, thus remaining for a period of 150 years, until it was forcibly attributed to the Roman Catholic community as a result of the Counter-Reformation. After returning to the Catholics, the church was restored under the influence of the Baroque by artists Johannes Nachtigall and Anton Schuchbauer, under the guidance of the parish priest János Biro. At the same time, the two artists made the pulpit.
Over time, the building witnessed various important moments: here was baptized Matthias Corvinus, Queen Izabella handed over the royal insignia to Emperor Ferdinand I. and Gabriel Báthory.
Starting with the 18th century, several buildings were built around the church, the shops that the parish rented ensuring in this way an additional income. With the systematization of the Central Square, in 1890, these buildings were demolished, under the pressure of public opinion, in order not to hide the church between them. At the same time, the baroque portal in front of the church was moved in front of St. Peter’s Church in Cluj. Instead, the parish was compensated with some lands in the central area of the city, lands on which the church erected the 2 buildings “in the mirror” on the current Iuliu Maniu street.
The building is a Gothic hall-type church, with a cross-vaulted choir on the ogives and flanked by side altars. The vault, the stained glass windows and the sculptures are distinguished by the specific grandeur of the Gothic cathedrals. Above the entrance gate is a coat of arms representing St. Michael, below it is the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary and the Kingdom of Bohemia. Their existence is explained by the fact that Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg (1387-1437), under whose reign the building seems to have been completed, was a Roman emperor and, at the same time, king of Hungary and Bohemia.
Of special artistic importance is the Schleunig chapel, located in the southwest corner of the building (to the right of the main entrance), dedicated to Archangel Michael. The pointed ceiling of this chapel was completed around 1481. Inside the chapel are preserved the most important frescoes of the church. The chapel is named after Gregorius Schleunig, who was a commoner of the city between 1450-1481.
The door frame of the sacristy, the Renaissance stone sculpture, dates from 1528, being commissioned at that time by the parish priest of the church, Johannes Klein, and made by a German craftsman. The neo-Gothic altar, the work of the master carpenter Lajos Back, was awarded at the 1873 World’s Fair in Vienna. In the center of the altar is carved the Virgin Mary, along with St. Stephen and St. Ladislaus. Most of the frescoes from the 14th-15th centuries could no longer withstand the passage of time and human intervention. Many of them have been damaged during various religious reforms to suit new ideas. The church was decorated with numerous statuettes and reliefs, of which there are still very few, most of them being destroyed.
The various restorations of the church showed several murals executed in the first part of the 15th century. A last restoration of the church took place between 1957-1960, when some of the paintings of the 14th-15th centuries were brought back to life.