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A doctor, a phone call and an ambulance. How a village awakens to life

At the initiative of a son of the village, with the work of volunteers, the centuries-old church in the cemetery of Brusturi is saved.  

By Ruxandra Hurezean

It was in March when Bogdan Pintea climbed the 97 steps, up to his grandparents, in the cemetery in the village of Brusturi. The trees, the grass, the secular oaks, the plum trees at the head of each tomb, gave to awaken to life. Only the old wooden church continued to decompose, under the weight of the rains and the beating of the wind. The roof peeled off like a rotten skin, piece by piece. Even on the pedestal it was no longer well, it had tilted to the east side. It seemed like he could always go downhill. 

Bogdan left dejected from there. It was the church where until the fourth grade he went every Sunday with his grandparents to mass, then for Christmas and Easter. The next day he made a call to the Salaj County Directorate for Culture and Heritage and asked if the wooden church in Brusturi could be repaired. It's old, but it wasn't known exactly how old: some said it had been built in 1401, others that in 1701 and there were other variants. Many years were seen in everything: in the roof that was about to collapse, the painting that was wiped away from so much moisture, in the shaky foundation. 

A lady from the institution, whom Bogdan would later know and become partners in the work of resurrecting some monuments — told her, briefly, that the restoration documentation lasts, that the church requires many interventions and that everything would cost over a billion lei. The discussion discouraged Bogdan, but he said that at least he tried to do something. 

In July he went with his family to the seaside on leave. From time to time, over the joy of summer, the image of the wooden church in agony came to his mind. On their return, they stopped at Hațeg to visit the places. They slept there for a night and wandered the surrounding villages, visited the churches, some of them renovated. At Strei, near the church, he saw a billboard. On it was described the story of monuments saved by an association. They called themselves "Ambulance for Monuments Transylvania South". They also gave a phone number. Bogdan wrote it down.

Back home, he called the Ambulance. Ileana Burnichioiu replied, one of the essential cogs of the association, who asked for photos of the church. It didn't have. Troubled by the state in which he had found the abode, he had forgotten about the photos. It may have been a reflex of pity that you have in the face of a dying man. He immediately called the priest in the village and asked him to go up to the church and photograph her, then send the pictures. He sent them on. After seeing them, the people from the "Ambulance for Monuments" called Bogdan. They told her that yes, they would save her. But for this we need them and those in the village to mobilize, to collaborate with the city hall, the county council, with the sons of the village. There was a need for community.

When I met Eugen Vaida, the founder and coordinator of the "Ambulance for Monuments", he would tell me from the head of the place what it takes to save a monument: an NGO like theirs that would make the necessary documentation, because it is about monuments and it is not about play, about a local community to provide accommodation and food for volunteers and craftsmen. by the authorities in the area or by the owner to buy the materials necessary for the safety of the monument. For the rest, the work that the Ambulance does does does not cost anything, it is voluntary.

Bogdan went to work. He talked to the priest, made a page on a social network for the sons of the village. Eugene and Ileana came to Sălaj, inspected the church, went to the County Council with the request to support their initiative. 

Cristian Popa, the priest from Jac – brusturi village being just a beast – is young. He was only a year old when he came there. First he convened the church council and told the councilors that there was an opportunity, perhaps unique, to save the old wooden church. Councillors were skeptical, they said the village was small and aging. But the following Sunday he went to the new church in Brusturi and at the end of the service he again supported the case, more pressed: "Folks, we are given the unique chance to save our church from the hill, where your estates and ancestors rest and where you will also rest. We just need to provide those who will be working on it with meals and accommodation." They received the news as a shock", says the priest Cristian now. " Father, but we are old, our houses are like in the countryside, we have no water and sewerage, we have the toilets in the yard. How could we handle the young people of the city? They are taught with conditions! We're not going to cope!"

Bogdan Pintea

The priest tried to encourage them, answered all their doubts, and in a short time, accustomed to the idea, and after overcoming the first fright, they began to respond to the call. At the next service one stood up and said that he could accommodate 5 or 7 volunteers, another — that he was giving money. Then, one by one, others stood up and the village woke up that it wanted to. 

The County Council found funds to contribute, as well as the Orthodox diocese, the city hall and especially the sons of the village. Doina Cociș, the "lady from the Directorate for Culture" with whom Bogdan had first spoken, joined them, with all the forces. So they organized a charitable concert in Zalau, and the money raised, about 6,000 lei, went to the account to save the church. The community collected 30,000 lei, and the County Council gave 45,000 lei.   

In October 2018, the "Ambulance" arrived. When Auntie Mia saw the car with the voluntary girls who were going to work at church, "another shock." Then he said to himself, "Tulai Lord! What can fetuses do, how could they work like that? Great must be the care of the Upper One to succeed!" The village began to follow with a flea-like heart the descent of the volunteers and the denunciation of their church of rotting. When they saw how the "fetuses" carried the woodwork on the stairs and how skillfully they beat the shingles, they were filled with amazement. They lived to see this one too. 

The village takes courage

Bogdan Pintea

"Here was an anthill! You have no idea what the place looked like. 30-40 volunteers came, plus the village. They all wanted to lend a helping hand. They carried him, they moved him, they handed the materials from hand to hand, they cleaned the place. Auntie Mia made donuts, coffees. And other women in the village began to cook, to offer food. They took courage, after meeting the young people," Bogdan describes those days. " They weren't that tender," Auntie Mia would say later.

Eugene, the architect, Bogdan, who is a professional doctor, and Cristian, the priest, teamed up and together they bore the brunt of organizing the action. They found a pension to accommodate most of the volunteers (when you have 30-40 at once, you can't really stay them in the village), and with the money raised they paid for the food brought in catering regime from Zalau. In addition, the villagers also began to offer a meal. They found that young people like their food, that they feel good about themselves and are not picky, as they thought. 

"The church is important, but it is equally important that the village has united and proved that it can do something it did not think it could. I think this is a very big win. Now they know that it is possible, tomorrow they will find out and another village will find out that it is possible and so we wake up as many as possible that here, we can, we succeed!", says the priest Cristian Popa, on the porch of the parish house in his adoptive village.

A city kid, raised on the block, like his wife, Ana, one day felt that they were suffocating among the concrete and began to look for a village where to go to live. And they found it. Now they say it was "the best decision they ever made." 

What binds them

Eugen Vaida, the team coordinator, took the young volunteers on Sundays to visit the sights and historical monuments in Sălaj. Discover together a county about which Eugen would tell me: "I have known many areas in the country, many types of communities, but those in Sălaj have something special. They are the most dedicated, the united and the most concerned about their past. In fact, about his village, Brusturi, Bogdan told me that he had, in the '80s, the highest percentage of intellectuals coming from rural areas in Romania. There was this desire, to do school! And obviously, otherwise an educated man appreciates the heritage of his native places!"


"It means I woke them up"

Autumn came and there were days of bad weather ahead. One night, rains were announced and Eugene and a few young people left for the church in the middle of the night to cover it with foil. "They were so dedicated to their work that they worked both night and day and Saturday until it got dark. We're all amazed at what they can do and that's without getting paid. There's just willpower there. The desire to be useful, to do the right thing", says Bogdan.

They finished in November. The roof looks impeccable. The shingles made in Maramureș were beaten by ambulance volunteers over the wooden body of the church in Brusturi, just before the "collapse", that is, in the stage called by experts, "precolaps". I mean, on time.

"The hat and boots are the first to be repaired. This is how a monument is saved, starting from the hat and boots, after that the others can come. But first the roof and the foundation," says Eugene.

The following year, Bogdan Pintea and his village decided to rebuild the foundation of the church. It had been wrapped in concrete in the '70s. The concrete held moisture and removed the stones from the church foundation. In a pebble, the back of the church was still held, Bogdan tells us. They found the craftsman Vasile Pop from Oas Country, who works with the "Ambulance" and brought him to restore the "boots". He worked patiently, removed the cement, erected the church on two tractor jacks and re-placed the stone, piece by piece, in a stable foundation under the old church. 

But there's still work to be done. And Bogdan and the priest say that they still have a difficult mission: they must inquire how they can reconstruct the painting on the walls of the church. Painted in a naïve style by Ioan Pop from Unguraș, in 1800, initially in bright colors (as the villagers remember) and with a rich floral repertoire, the painting deserves to be restored because it also has a cultural, not only religious role. 

The involvement of people to continue the projects is important, says Eugene: "If they continue to do something at the monument, after we intervened, it means that our intervention succeeded. It means I woke them up."

In fact, a study that "scanned" all the monuments to which the "Ambulance" intervened, in the 6 years since it has been operating, shows that over 50% of the communities have continued the works. So, they did what they set out to do. They achieved the goals. I mean, people's hearts.  



It was before Christmas, the end of the pandemic, when they arrived again in the village. Up on the hill, in front of the Monument Church rescued two years ago, the young people from the "Ambulance" returned. He had hardly climbed the whole village of elders in Brusturi and was waiting for them with a large, warm and salty necklace. With caroling song. On a winter day, on a white table, the women spread out dishes cooked by them: cabbage rolls, pies, coils, all fasting, and only "homemade", made by their own hands, from their pantries. "We prepared them as with us, how to make the fasting cabbage rolls and everything we knew they do. Or ate and they liked it we enjoyed it very much! And we caroled, we and them on us, our hearts were raised in our chests!" remembers Auntie Maria, Ana remembers, they all remember.  


Bogdan Pintea is a gastroenterologist at Satu Mare. He has a wife, a three-and-a-half-year-old child, a father and a house to care for in Brusturi, his grandparents' house. He has medicine in his blood, transmitted from his mother. But the incident with the church in Brusturi changed his life a bit. He showed him that he was needed for other diseases as well. During the pandemic, Bogdan did a master's degree in restoration, and his dissertation is even about the wooden churches in Sălaj. 

During the restoration of the church in Brusturi, Bogdan met other young villagers eager to save monuments. Together with Bogdan Ilieş, Corina Caraba and Valeria Lehene, he founded an association that they called Arhaic, which became part of the Ambulance network – "Ambulance for Monuments Sălaj".

Together with a team of fools, he starts to save in his turn, in the summer, on holidays, as much as possible, monuments. So far, they have intervened at six wooden churches of those in urgent need. And summer is not over yet. 

History of the church

The church, a category A historical monument, is located in an area of the village withdrawn from the main road, on the crest of a hill, the "Church Hill". With approximately the same position towards the village and the valley, it appears in the Iosefin Rise, in the eighteenth century and in the second Elevation made by the topographers of the Habsburg Empire.

The first researches dedicated to the wooden church in Brusturi took place in the interwar period, during the extensive investigation actions carried out by Professor Leontin Ghergariu on the wooden churches of Sălăjene. The church is also mentioned in an ample work of a researcher from Bucharest, Ioana Cristache-Panait, who, during the communist period, walked by bus through the villages of Sălăjene and inventoried all the wooden churches. 

At the top of the door frame there is an inscription dating from the church, but which could not be fully deciphered. Difficulties in reading the inscription encountered several researchers.

On the occasion of the intervention from the roof in 2018, a dentrochronological study of the church was also made, carried out by Botár István, which correctly dated the church: it was built between 1717-1720. 

Who are the rescuers

The Association "Ambulance for Monuments" was founded in 2016 by Eugen and Veronica Vaida. Together with Ileana Burnichioiu and all the ambulance volunteers, 70 monuments have intervened so far and generated the establishment of eight other territorial ambulances, which cover about 50% of the country's territory. 

In 2020 they received the audience award in the Europa Nostra competition, the association is recognized today as one of the most active and successful organizations working in the field of heritage in Eastern Europe. 

Eugene and his team of volunteers

Their most important objectives are to increase the level of philanthropy and create new audiences for heritage, to create a model of cooperation and funding mechanism between the beneficiary, public authorities, NGOs and communities through a functional public-private partnership and the inauguration of a network of ambulances at national level. And they have enough work to do: in Romania, over 3,000 heritage monuments are in a state of degradation of which 600 are in a state of collapse and precolaps. 

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1 Comment

  1. După un drum de aproape 18 ore , pornind din București, am ajuns la Brusturi, pe o vreme ploioasă. Acolo m-am alăturat echipei lui Eugen . Nu ne cunoșteam. Dar nu asta era important, îmi doream să fac ceva , să fiu voluntar. Un loc foarte frumos, unde am revenit după un an cu familia, la ” locul faptei”. Bogdan Pintea, părintele Cristian, sătenii, sălăjenii sunt cei care au salvat memoria străbunilor o dată cu bisericuța!

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