THE SZEKELY GATE / by Melissa Pinkstone

 

The Szekely Gate is a delicatly carved wooden gate which dates back to Medeivel times, and can be found deep in the mountians of Transylvania. Székely crafts are of Hungarian heritage and are famous for carving wood, which is the most extended form of traditional art, along with weaving fabrics. The Sun and Moon are the symbols of the Székely; they appear on the flag and also, in stylised form, in their carvings.

The best known carved items are the Székely gates. They used to be made of good quality oak trees and less frequently of pine trees. Among the gates built ages before in large areas of eastern Europe the most numerous and technically interesting are preserved in Transylvania. The traditional Szeklers’ hospitality does not allow gates to be closed. They are open to everybody, both happy and miserable, like the open and philanthropic hearts of Szeklers. This is expressed frequently by the inscriptions on the arches of the gates: “Peace to the newcomers, blessing with the leavers”.

The Székely gate comprises two parts: the small gate, also called the pedestrian gate, is used for people to walk into their garden. It usually has a welcoming message engraved on it, often saying “God brought you” which means that whoever enters the garden is welcomed by the owners of the house. Next to it, and kept as one single unit, there is the large gate, also called the carriage gate, opened only when carriages stacked with hay or wood need to enter the yard.

This ancient art with a system of mythical symbols and richness of form is still practised and still inspires Hungarian Szeklers of Transylvania in creating their home environment and preserving their traditions to this day. Most remarkably each gate was and still is a unique individual work of art, one of a kind, but serving the same practical purpose: keeping the “outside world” outside and guarding the sanctuary of the home within. It is not by accident one finds the runic inscriptions on front of the gate “The Lord has brought thee here” while on the other side departing guests can read “The Lord be with thee”.

Hungarian motifs carved into the wood include upward scrolling or spiralling lines, the tree of life, sun as central motif, runic symbols, five and eight petal rose, pomegranate and cornflower.

Other gates that have withstood the ravages of time have been mostly carved from oak as is the custom even today. In the top centre under the roof and pigeon loft (representing peace), the traditional sign of the sun, symbol of Úr is carved and under it the ancient greeting ISTEN HOZOTT. Besides individual decorations, the main post which separated the large wagon gate from the small walk-in gate, displayed the family history in runic writing (rovásírás). Each generation added it’s share of history and when all sides were filled, a new supporting post was hewn from oak and placed on either side of the walk-in gate. There is a custom of carving, in runic writing, family history into the gateposts. In addition to the inherited symbols and decorations, a greeting, name of the homestead builder and date of completion is also carved into the gate and remains a tradition.