Moldavian Catholics (13th century)

In the 13th century the Cuman state adopted Catholicism and during this time the Kingdom of Hungarian settled Hungarians, Székely and Saxons in the area that was to become Moldavia. It is likely that some of the current Catholic population have their ancestry from the Cuman times.

The populations of Cumania and then of Moldavia were seriously depleted by frequent invasions and plundering by foreign armies over the centuries. Early documents name 33 Catholic localities of which only 11 are still there today, in addition some medieval Hungarian toponyms of villages and towns still continue in the Romanian place names.

It is known that during the 14th to 17th centuries there were both Hungarian and Romanian Catholics, and that in 1646 three hundred of 1,201 Catholics had Romanian names. The survivors of these medieval Catholics may be those who still speak Hungarian in a few villages around Sabaoani north of Roman and a few villages south of Bacău, amounting to some 20,000 persons. Their Hungarian dialect has /s/ replacing /sh/ and /z/ replacing /zh/ and is thought by Hungarian linguists to be an archaic form of Hungarian separated from the mother country for many centuries. The surrounding villages contain communities of non-Hungarian speaking Catholics who are most likely related in ancestry.

The opposing view is that most of the population was depleted after the invasions and the current population is boosted by a mix of Transylvanian Székely and Transylvanian Romanians, based on the Transylvanian Romanian dialect spoken.

Moldavian Catholics and identity

They use various terms of csángó, Catholic, or Romanian for their identity, further confusing the nationalist interpretation assigning a Hungarian or Romanian identity. The groups in these villages know they have a different identity to the surrounding peoples, partly defined by their religion, but they have also been part of the Moldavian Romanian nation for more than 600 years, and have lived through the founding of Romania, they have multiple identity; being nationals of Romania, belonging to a group known as csángó and religiously Catholic.

1211 After taking Transylvania the King of Hungary settled Székely and Saxons for military and political reasons east of the Carpathians, as far as the Siret valley. The land was part of Cumania (the land of the Cumans or Kuns) and many villages still have place names of Magyar origin dating from this period.

At the beginning of the 13th century, the Pope sent Dominican missionaries to the Cumans in order to Christianise them. Theodoric was ordained as the first Bishop of the Cumans.

1225 Hungarian frontier-guards arrived and became the ancestors of present-day Moldavian Hungarians.
1227 Roman Catholic Episcopate was established in Cumania.
1234 Pope Grigore IX ordered Teodoric, bishop of the Cumans, to name a bishop of Wallchian origin. This suggests that there were Romanians of Catholic faith at this time.
1241 Batu, the grandson of Genghis Khan, destroyed Cumania and devastated Hungary. Few people were left alive in what used to be Cumania. Over the following century the deserted area was slowly to be taken over by Romanians and Slavs.
1359 Bogdan Voda of Maramureș crossed the Carpathians and founded the principality of Moldavia.
1371 Roman Catholic Episcopate was established in Siret by Prince Latcu of Moldavia.
1413 In the reign of Alexander a new bishopric was founded in Baia
1670 Petru Parcevic (bishop of Băcau) says that the less than a third of the inhabitants of Moldavia had survived through the frequent invasions and plundering of foreign armies and in particular that of Gengis Khan.
1634 – 1653 Voivode Vasile Lupu asked Rome for a spiritual leader for 12,000 Moldavian Catholic believers.
1641 Apostolic Vicar Peter Diodat gave a detailed account of the settlements of the Moldavian Catholics and the number of their inhabitants.
1646 Bandinus recorded 1,201 Catholics, 300 of which had Romanian names. Of 33 localities mentioned only 11 still exist today.
1671 Del Monte (Italian missionary) records that the Moldavian Catholics’ native language was Romanian.

Szabófalva and five other villages wrote a letter of complaint about the missionaries’ abuses of power that stated “if the injury is not redressed they will put themselves under the orthodox bishop’s authority”.

1680 Vito Piluzio reported to Rome that the inhabitants of some Catholic settlements had all left. For example Sabaoani was uninhabited from 1687 to 1744.
Published on 12th August 2018