Museum of Ethnography
H-1146, Budapest, Dózsa György út 35.
Phone: +36 1 474 2100
Author: Krisztina Sedlmayr
Photo: Krisztina Sarnyai
The name ‘Kemse’ is a familiar one among ethnographers and sociologists: in 1937, the volume A sunken village in Transdanubia. The life of Kemse made waves for its exploration of the problems faced by the tiny Calvinist community. Among topics covered was a decades-long decline in religious life, evidenced by waning church attendance.
The congregation had been most active during the 1830s, the decade that witnessed the construction of its church. In keeping with the local style, the building featured an archaic foundation-less, wooden ‘platformed’ construction, wattle-and-daub walls, and a decoratively painted ceiling and furnishings. When in 1913, the nave was slated for demolition to make way for a more modern brick building, it remained the last church of its kind in the Ormánság region. Some of the building’s richly painted interior, however, was spared destruction and was offered for purchase by the local school teacher to the Museum of Fine Arts. The deal—which included the ceiling, choir loft panel, pulpit, communion table, and chair-was later extended to the Ethnography Department of the Hungarian National Museum and a purchase brokered by ethnographer István Györffy, who would subsequently process the material. The panels of the Kemse choir loft eventually found their way into the permanent exhibition of the museum’s Hall of Industry.
NM 81.79.110. Kemse, Baranya County. Circa 1834
Prior to demolition, Calvinist pastor and theology professor Sándor Csikesz wrote a detailed description of the church, taking particular note of the rich array of Hungarian botanical motifs and, with regard to the choir loft panel shown here, the stemmed chalice motif, a remnant of Hussite influence (“husszita reminiscentia”). Photographs were also taken. The one of the church exterior offers a clear view of the wall structure and platform beams. That of the interior, though somewhat ravaged by time, represents a very valuable record of its layout. Today, the Kemse church’s ceiling coffers and choir panels, communion table, and cathedra are preserved in the storeroom of the Museum of Ethnography’s Ecclesiastical Collection.
NM F 55515. Wood-platformed Church, Kemse, Baranya County, Photograph by Ferenc Losonczy, 1913
The ceiling and choir were likely made by Jakob Száitz, a carpenter of German ethnicity who also worked on the interior for the nearby Adorjás Reformed Church. The L-shaped choir loft featured five panels each on its western and southern sides and three on its shorter side. These were bordered at the top by a hand ledge and at the bottom by sawn, painted boards, and were separated one from the other by vertical moulding. The painted images were of cheerful, almost profane subject material: urns with flowers, rosettes, an umbrella, fringed textiles, a scissor-legged table. These were painted over backgrounds that alternated between white and stronger colours.
Of the original thirteen coffers, the museum now preserves seven. The one seen here is fashioned from three painted pine boards, originally enclosed in moulding. Visible on it are the emblems of the Calvinist worship service—a covered pitcher and chalice on a round-topped communion table—boldly executed in coloured tempera. The Biedermeier-style still life is completed by fringed curtains, a matching fringed tablecloth, and a pair of roses.
NM F 65792 Calvinist church interior, Kemse, Baranya County, Photograph by János Kovács, 1913
Today, the pulpit of the ‘sunken’ village’s church stands in the permanent exhibition of the Debrecen Reformed College Museum, an installation in which the Calvinist religious community looks proudly upon the region’s last wood-platformed church of the Ormánság region. Displayed alongside the painted Zopfstil pulpit are both the photograph, and a lengthy expository text. Restoration of Museum of Ethnography’s own seven panels commenced this year under the direction of museum conservator Anita Éder. This was the first to be completed for display.