Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History

Explore the extraordinary past of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through the pages of the book 'Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History.' Uncover political events, economic development, and cultural heritage of these Banat towns through richly documented stories. Follow the evolution from the earliest days to the present, delving into the intricate threads of political intrigues, economic transformations, and cultural ascensions. Experience the past through the eyes of the author as the pages of the book unfold before you, providing a unique perspective on the life and legacy of these significant locales.

Arača Church and a settlement near Novi Bečej
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Old luxury and a forgotten story: Arača Church and a settlement near Novi Bečej

One of the oldest cultural monuments in this area are the ruins of the monumental church of Arača (located about twelve kilometers from Novi Bečej and Vranjevo in the northeast direction). It is believed that the preserved remains date back to the church built in 1228, but it was erected on the site where there was already a church between the ninth and eleventh centuries, as evidenced by fragments of decorative sculpture with motifs of triple braids.

According to the earliest written records, dating from the first half of the thirteenth century, it was a Benedictine monastery. It is not known who and when it was built, but it is known that at the church council in 1256 in Esztergom, Abbot Nikola participated from the Arača monastery.

Based on style and construction methods, Šandor Nađ concluded that the walls are of a three-aisled Romanesque basilica from the thirteenth century and that the church was looted and destroyed in 1280, with the Benedictine monks fleeing. The same author determined that Queen Elizabeth of Anjou restored the church in 1370, at which time a tower was built in front of the north apse. Although the church had the foundation of a three-aisled basilica, the added bell tower was in the Gothic style.

The main characteristic of the church's exterior is the massiveness of the flat wall surfaces articulated on longitudinal facades vertically strengthened with buttresses. The apses are divided into five sides by arches on half-columns.

The construction material is mainly red brick. Structural elements are made of gray sandstone, as well as decorative elements (windows, portal, apse cornerstones, etc.) using Byzantine techniques. Columns, their bases, and capitals, as well as corbels, are made of hewn stone. The red marble used on the portal comes from the vicinity of Esztergom.

The structure of the building and the construction technique are particularly interesting because they involve vaulting not only of the side aisles and apsidal conchs but also of the wide-span central nave, which was not common in Hungary before the end of the twelfth century. The construction technique is believed to have been primarily adopted from Lombardy with French influence.

The exterior of the church was not plastered but appeared polychromatic due to its construction material. The western façade is adorned only with the portal and a large rose window. Excavations have shown that the portal protruded as a small vestibule with a gable roof with a triple tympanum (triangular relief-decorated part), which can be seen in a developed form in the Studenica Monastery. It is considered a "decisive example in the development of this type of portal in Hungary, the richer initial and final stages of which are represented by Esztergom and Jak."

Unlike the portal, the rose window is a more developed example of the thirteenth century. A similar rose window is found in the royal chapel of Esztergom. Columns and pillars are articulated according to ancient tradition. Prominent leaves at the corners of the plinths suggest the twelfth century, while a stronger and taller form of the base suggests the thirteenth century.

The second construction period from the time of Queen Elizabeth of Anjou is visible in the upper parts, especially in the northeastern massive tower with two rectangular floors and a third octagonal one. Gothic elements are particularly prominent in the windows of this tower.

Overall, the composition of the building is quite complex and complicated, which could also be explained by the history of Arača.

Excavations and studies of the complex around the church have revealed that the earlier church building, which existed in the same place, stood on the north side with an expanded terrace where the Benedictine monastery church of Arača was later built. It has also been confirmed that the monastery surroundings were inhabited as early as the Middle Ages.

During the excavation of the Arača remains in 1897, an Arača memorial plaque was found, which, due to its execution method, "primitiveness of workmanship, and Latin inscription, evokes in the examiner a sense of the barbaric continuity of late Roman sculpture. After all the upheavals and cataclysms of the migrations of peoples, it certainly surprises."

On one side of the plaque is depicted (presumably) the original church, which was also of the basilican type with an atrium and a bell tower, which — according to some assessments — suggests that it was also a larger basilica. Allegedly, in the Middle Ages, new churches were frequently built or earlier church buildings were renovated in the place of the former temple. This assumption is supported by: "foundations built in a late-antique manner, with bricks of late Roman manufacture and type, as well as alternating use of stone, mortar, and brick."

On the other side of the Arača memorial plaque (divided into two unequal fields) — in the upper, larger part, a priest is depicted with a beard wearing a stole and an epitrahil, blessing with his right hand, and holding a book to his chest with his left hand. To the right of the priest is an inscription in four rows. This inscription has been interpreted in several ways, but all agree that the upper part of the plaque contains a prayer text, while the lower part contains a curse on anyone who would desecrate the plaque. The Arača memorial plaque is located in the National Museum in Budapest.

After the Turks arrived in Banat and conquered Arača in 1551, that church (which had been converted into a fortress for defense against the Turks) was burned down and was not rebuilt, but rather, an attempt was made to protect it from further deterioration only in the late nineteenth century.

Besides the church of Arača, there was also a settlement of the same name that existed as far back as the Middle Ages. The medieval settlement was concentrated to the east of the church, while to the west of it, there was a settlement from the Turkish period.

According to a papal tithe census, Arača existed as a settlement and a Catholic parish from 1332 to 1337, with a priest named Andraš Marton. Later, from 1417, it was in the possession of the Serbian despots Stefan Lazarević and later Đurđe Branković, who settled these areas with Serbs not only for their officials and servants but also for other inhabitants. Thus, the settlement became Serbian and remained so until the liberation of Banat from the Turks. In the Peć Inventory of 1660, the following were recorded: Priest Kosta, Prince Petar, Vujica, Miroslav, Dimitar, Ognjen, Boža Jovin, Petar Stojanović. Princess Dafina was also recorded as a contributor.

Due to the harsh living conditions in Banat after the expulsion of the Turks, entire villages were abandoned due to heavy obligations and taxes. This is confirmed by the report of the Spanish envoy Tašner from May 1719, in which he says: "that village princes refuse obedience and flee with the people themselves." This also happened with the population of Arača, who, according to Tašner's report of May 5, 1720, "abandoned their home forever and went into the world." In fact, the population dispersed to nearby villages.

Thus, Arača became a desolate place until 1826 when the area, otherwise suitable for settlement (situated on a hill that the Tisza River and its tributaries did not flood), was settled by Hungarians who came from Jászág and Kunšág (provinces in Hungary). As the process of creating larger settlements in the form of villages offered opportunities for an easier life, the new settlers in Arača did not stay long. After a few years, they dispersed to nearby villages: Beodra, Vranjevo, and even Novi Bečej.

The building material is mainly red brick. Structural elements are made of gray sandstone, as well as decorative elements (windows, portal of the apse, etc.) using Byzantine techniques. Columns, their bases, capitals, and consoles are made of hewn stone. The red marble used on the portal comes from the vicinity of Esztergom.

The structure of the building and the construction technique are particularly interesting because they involve vaulting not only of the side aisles and apsidal conchs but also of the wide-span central nave, which was not common in Hungary before the end of the twelfth century. The construction technique is believed to have been primarily adopted from Lombardy with French influence.

The church's exterior was not plastered but appeared polychromatic due to its construction material. The western façade is adorned only with the portal and a large rose window. Excavations have shown that the portal protruded as a small vestibule with a gable roof with a triple tympanum (triangular relief-decorated part), which can be seen in a developed form in the Studenica Monastery. It is considered a "decisive example in the development of this type of portal in Hungary, the richer initial and final stages of which are represented by Esztergom and Jak."

The rose window, unlike the portal, is a more developed example of the thirteenth century. A similar rose window is found in the royal chapel of Esztergom. Columns and pillars are articulated according to ancient tradition. Prominent leaves at the corners of the plinths suggest the twelfth century, while a stronger and taller form of the base suggests the thirteenth century.

The second construction period from the time of Queen Elizabeth of Anjou is visible in the upper parts, especially in the northeastern massive tower with two rectangular floors and a third octagonal one. Gothic elements are particularly prominent in the windows of this tower.

Overall, the composition of the building is quite complex and complicated, which could also be explained by the history of Arača.

By excavating and studying the complex around the church, it is observed that the earlier church building, which existed in the same place, stood on the north side with an expanded terrace where the Benedictine monastery church of Arača was later built. It has also been confirmed that the monastery surroundings were inhabited as early as the Middle Ages.

During the excavation of the Arača remains in 1897, an Arača memorial plaque was found, which, due to its execution method, "primitiveness of workmanship, and Latin inscription, evokes in the examiner a sense of the barbaric continuity of late Roman sculpture. After all the upheavals and cataclysms of the migrations of peoples, it certainly surprises."

On one side of the plaque is depicted (presumably) the original church, which was also of the basilican type with an atrium and a bell tower, which — according to some assessments — suggests that it was also a larger basilica. Allegedly, in the Middle Ages, new churches were frequently built or earlier church buildings were renovated in the place of the former temple. This assumption is supported by: "foundations built in a late-antique manner, with bricks of late Roman manufacture and type, as well as alternating use of stone, mortar, and brick."

On the other side of the Arača memorial plaque (divided into two unequal fields) — in the upper, larger part, a priest is depicted with a beard wearing a stole and an epitrahil, blessing with his right hand, and holding a book to his chest with his left hand. To the right of the priest is an inscription in four rows. This inscription has been interpreted in several ways, but all agree that the upper part of the plaque contains a prayer text, while the lower part contains a curse on anyone who would desecrate the plaque. The Arača memorial plaque is located in the National Museum in Budapest.

After the Turks arrived in Banat and conquered Arača in 1551, that church (which had been converted into a fortress for defense against the Turks) was burned down and was not rebuilt, but rather, an attempt was made to protect it from further deterioration only in the late nineteenth century.

Besides the church of Arača, there was also a settlement of the same name that existed as far back as the Middle Ages. The medieval settlement was concentrated to the east of the church, while to the west of it, there was a settlement from the Turkish period.

According to a papal tithe census, Arača existed as a settlement and a Catholic parish from 1332 to 1337, with a priest named Andraš Marton. Later, from 1417, it was in the possession of the Serbian despots Stefan Lazarević and later Đurđe Branković, who settled these areas with Serbs not only for their officials and servants but also for other inhabitants. Thus, the settlement became Serbian and remained so until the liberation of Banat from the Turks. In the Peć Inventory of 1660, the following were recorded: Priest Kosta, Prince Petar, Vujica, Miroslav, Dimitar, Ognjen, Boža Jovin, Petar Stojanović. Princess Dafina was also recorded as a contributor.

Due to the harsh living conditions in Banat after the expulsion of the Turks, entire villages were abandoned due to heavy obligations and taxes. This is confirmed by the report of the Spanish envoy Tašner from May 1719, in which he says: "that village princes refuse obedience and flee with the people themselves." This also happened with the population of Arača, who, according to Tašner's report of May 5, 1720, "abandoned their home forever and went into the world." In fact, the population dispersed to nearby villages.

Thus, Arača became a desolate place until 1826 when the area, otherwise suitable for settlement (situated on a hill that the Tisza River and its tributaries did not flood), was settled by Hungarians who came from Jászág and Kunšág (provinces in Hungary). As the process of creating larger settlements in the form of villages offered opportunities for an easier life, the new settlers in Arača did not stay long. After a few years, they dispersed to nearby villages: Beodra, Vranjevo, and even Novi Bečej.

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