The Coronation in Alba Iulia

Period: approx. 1922 | Previous story | Next story

The outbreak of the First World War revived the possibility of the unification of Transylvania with Romania. But at the beginning of the war, the national mindset of the unionist groups differed from that at the end. Public opinion in the capital, of Transylvanians established in Bucharest, and of government members envisioned the following development: Romania would sign an alliance with France, England, and fatally, Russia. The Entente would lead to victory in the conflict with the Central Powers, and Romania would receive Transylvania and Bucovina as a reward for its contribution to the victory. The unification was to be completed at the official level, but also ceremonially, through the coronation of King Ferdinand in Alba Iulia.

As often remarked, the First World War caused “the entrance of the masses into history”. From Transylvania, the unification with Romania was proclaimed by the resolution of the Great National Assembly of Alba Iulia, a representative institution of the Romanian nation from this province. The political leaders of Bucharest appreciated the importance of the assembly held on 1 December 1918. Nevertheless, they considered another course, according to which the new state framework would not have become recognized in international law without Romania’s war sacrifices and without recognition of the new territories through treaties signed in the Peace Conference in Paris. Consequently, the event planned at the beginning of the war remained important.

The great European royal houses preserved medieval traditions of coronation: the monarchs of France, Great Britain, Spain, and Russia were crowned.

In the history of Romania, a state not belonging to the category of “great monarchies”, coronations were not connected so much to the installation of new monarchs as to crucial events in the life of the nation. Carol I was crowned as King of Romania on 10 May 1881, four years after the proclamation of independence. Ferdinand I was crowned two years after the signing of the Trianon Treaty recognizing the unification of Transylvania with Romania.

Alba Iulia was already connected symbolically to the name of Michael the Brave and, since 1 December 1918, the city had consolidated its appellation as city of the Union. All these arguments supported the opinion, dating back to 1915, that Alba Iulia was the only place suitable for the coronation.

Between 1920 and 1922 occurred several changes occurred to the initial agenda of the ceremony. The organizers had to adapt the schedule according to the size of the invited public and the diversity of denominations of the higher clergy. The church of coronation, later called Coronation Cathedral, was built in Alba Iulia. Nevertheless, the ceremony was not held in the church, but in front of its bell tower. For two major reasons. Initially, each member of the Royal House, state dignitary, prelate or military in the list of invitees had his assigned place in the church. However, if the event had been organized in a confined space it would have been rendered exclusivist. This was deemed improper for an event meant to send a message of shared nationhood. It was estimated that the ceremony was attended by around 30,000 people from Transylvania and 15,000 military, former combatants from the war. The second reason was that the invited Roman-Catholic and Greek-Catholic bishops obeyed a warning notice sent by Pope Pius XI concerning the canon forbidding the attendance of the Orthodox religious service, allowing them to attend only the civil part of the coronation ceremony.

In the end, the four metropolitans representing the provinces of the new Romania sang the Doxology of coronation and consecrated the crowns and the other royal insignia.

The public event was marked by magnificence and symbolic content. All the accessories of the events were meant to express the integration of the dynasty into the history of the country. The sovereign was wearing the uniform of a general of the First Hunters Regiment. One of the insignia of royal might, the mace, having a medieval princely tradition, was adorned with allegorical representations of the provinces of Great Romania. The crown was the one used at the coronation of Carol I in 1881, made from the steel of a Turkish cannon captured in 1877 by Romanian soldiers at Plevna. The crown of the queen, made of gold, was shaped in the fashion of crowns of Byzantine empresses. The mantles of the sovereigns, made of brocade, with ermine lapels, and golden chains and buckles, belonged to the same Byzantine tradition. All the royal insignia were gifts made by the nation, illustrating thereby the constitutional principle of the powers of the nation exerted by the monarch through “entrustment”.The coronation of King Ferdinand and Queen Mary took place on a dais, under a splendid canopy placed in front of the bell tower, on 15 October 1922. Performing the gesture of Napoleon, previously imitated in Romania by King Carol I, Ferdinand put the crown on his own head. Then, he took the golden crown and set it on the head of the queen, who had knelt.

The event made a great impression through the high level of internal and external representation reflecting Romania’s prestige at that time. From the members of the Royal House of Romania came the prince and heir Carol, accompanied by his wife, Helen, Princess of Greece. The Romanian Princess Mary had recently become Queen of Serbians, Croatians, and Slovenians, and Princess Elisabeth was Queen of Greece. The royal houses of Great Britain, Spain, and Italy were also represented. The Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, France, and Belgium had sent special envoys. Thirteen other countries, among which the United States of America and Japan, had delegated plenipotentiary ministers, and the Vatican had sent Cardinal Francesco Marmaggi, the apostolic nuncio to Bucharest.

Among the Romanian dignitaries participating were Ion I. C. Brătianu, president of the Council of Ministers, members of government, presidents of the parliamentary chambers, members of parliament, Nicolae Iorga, Alexandru Averescu, members of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the leadership of the Romanian Academy, the rectors of universities, and 33 generals.

With its brilliance and importance for state affairs, the coronation in Alba Iulia mirrored the magnificence of the present, and all the hopes, and, conversely, all the threats of the future. (V.M.)

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