Top: elaborate carving on an old gate, one of a series leading to the grave of Orbán Balázs (writer and historian) at Szejkefürdő; carved gate with chatting bench in Korond. Center: a plain gate in Korond; front and back of carved gate at church in Csíkkarcfalva. Bottom: gate at Illyefalva; gate welcoming visitors to Zágon.
Originally called nagykapu (large gate), fedeles kapu (roofed gate) or galambbúgos (pigeon cooing) gate, it acquired its current designation in the early 1900s.
A székelykapu consists of a smaller walk-in gate – known as kiskapu or little gate – for use by people, and a wide and latticed high gate, nagykapu or large gate – that will accommodate wagons piled high with hay. The dimensions of the nagykapu are about twelve and a half feet by twelve and a half feet. A dovecote always runs atop the entire width of the nagykapu, and is sometimes found even over the kiskapu, which measures about 3 feet wide and about 6 feet high. Next to the walk-in gate there may be a small bench (sometimes called a szakállszárító or “beard drier”) with an overhang. That is where the owner and his wife might sit on a Sunday afternoon as they chatted with their neighbors.
In the Catholic areas of Transylvania, I noticed that many székelykapu have two small metal crosses affixed to the top, one on each end, as do the houses.
In olden times, not everyone who wanted to do so could erect a székelykapu. First of all, only a Székely (a Hungarian from the counties of Csík, Háromszék or Udvarhely Counties) was permitted to do so, and only a privileged Székely could erect a large gate. Serfs (jobbágyok) and landless people (zsellérek) were allowed to erect only a small walk-in gate.
The oldest still standing székelykapu, found in Sepsiszentgyörgy, dates back to 1773. They are now becoming popular in truncated Hungary too.
These gates are constructed entirely of wood, even using wooden pegs instead of nails. Oak is the preferred material because it is durable. The leaves of the gate are made of lighter pine wood and are either latticed or solid. The wood is left to dry for a year before being carved.
Carving a székelykapu is the work of an artist. Using a chisel and carving knives for the finer details, the vertical posts as well as the surface above the small gate are elaborately decorated. There is no carving on the body of the gate itself. Roses or a string of leaves are popular motifs for the posts, while tulips, stars, palmettes and other flowers are used on the frame.
Older gates may have round openings above the small gate (see the one from Illyefalva in the collage). Other decorative motifs above the small gate include the sun and moon (motifs of Székely identity, with the sun signifying blessing). There may be birds, flowers, and the Hungarian or Transylvanian coat of arms.
Sometimes one may see a painted carved gate. Red, white, green and blue were the colors use originally, dating back to the 18th century. Only later did other colors come into use. At times, the colored surface is covered with white dots. But traditionally, there were many more plain gates than decorated ones.
They may look similar, but no two carved gates are the same, since they are all individually designed and executed. Often the name of the owner and his wife will be mentioned, as having erected this gate “with the help of God” on such and such a date. There is often also a good wish or message for those about to enter, such as “Béke a bejövőre, áldás a kimenőre” (Peace on the one who enters, blessing on the one who leaves).
The job of putting up such a gate is a community effort, taking 10 or 12 men to erect. It is also a significant event in the life of a family, usually marking a wedding, when a young man marries outside of the community. The gate becomes part of the family, sharing their joys and sorrows.
As mentioned above, székelykapuk are now beginning to appear in truncated Hungary too, a part of our common heritage.