The history of Ferentz’s Cross
Surrounded by great Empires, the small borders of Moldavia were constantly attacked by its neighbors. Two of these big empires, the Turkish and the Austrian, started the Austro-Turkish war in 1716. The Austrian Empire declared war on the Ottoman Empire in 1716 because Carol the 6th of Habsburg wanted to expand the borders of his empire far to the east (towards the Ottoman Empire).
The Ottoman Empire started the war against the Austrian Empire by crossing the Sava river into their borders and trying to surprise the Austrians. In two short battles, Eugen de Savoia crushed the Ottoman army, once in Petrovaradin, then he conquered Belgrade in 1717. Suddenly, the Austrian Empire was a favorite in winning this war.
Because the Austro-Turkish war was not far from Moldavia, inside the country the masses started to fight against the government, the same government imposed by the Ottoman Empire. Moldavia was paying tribute to the Ottoman Empire, and one of the conditions was that the ruler should be Phanariot (Greek from Constantinople). Moldavians saw in this war a big opportunity to move away from the Ottoman domination, not only because the ruler was not Moldavian, but because the Austrian Empire was winning the battles against the Ottomans. The rich started to rise against the prince, trying to arrest him, they even send letters to one of the generals of the Austrian army to come in Moldavia and help catch the prince by conquering the Neamț Fortress and the fortified monasteries.
The Austrian army conquered almost all the fortified monasteries in the country, Moldavia’s most important assets in case of a war. The monasteries were small fortresses, able to hold small armies and defend the Moldavian borders. This decision made the ruler of Moldavia, Mihai Racoviță to flee from the capital city of Iași to one of the few fortified monasteries that were still under Moldavian occupation – Cetățuia Monastery.
In January 1717, the Austrian army led by the Belgian captain Francois Ferentz Ernaut arrived in the capital city of Moldavia, Iași. Their objective was to capture Mihai Racoviță and to conquer Iași. No army was protecting the city because the ruler already fleed to Cetățuia Monastery, and unfortunately for the Austrian army, instead of finding the ruler, they decided to take a short break from the war. Tired of staying in cold, the Austrians decided to try the Moldavian wine and to warm up inside Iași’s inns.
This decision of not finding the ruler as fast as possible changed the fate of things. Mihai Racoviță not only remained without men to fight against the Austrians, but the Moldavians were fighting him too. As a last resort, the ruler sought help outside Moldavia’s border, to the Tartar army. These Tartars were Russian mercenaries, ready to help the Moldavian ruler in return for a large sum of money. They were known as great fighters. Their army was often referred to as “The Golden Horde” because of how fast they could change the faith of a battle.
The tartar army crushed the Austrians on the 10th of January 1717, at the gates of Cetățuia Monastery, right before Captain Francois Ferentz Ernaut and his men conquered the fortification. In just 3 hours, the Tartars killed all the Austrian soldiers and captured their captain. The Austrian army was defeated, even if they were better equipped than the Tartars: the Tartars used archers while the Austrians had rifles.
In the next morning, Moldavia’s ruler sentenced the traitors to death and bought the war prisoners from the Tartars, including the captain of the Austrian army, Ferentz. All these men were buried in a mass grave at the gates of Iași, on the evening of 11th of January 1717.
In the memory of the 600 men who were buried in this mass grave, the ruler of Moldova added a cross on top of it. The monument took the name of the Belgian captain that led the army, being called Ferentz’s Cross.
After more than one hundred years from its construction, the history of Ferentz’s Cross was forgotten. In 1886, the local paper was asking the City Hall to reconstruct the monument and to hide the soldiers’ bones that started to emerge from the ground.
Today, Ferentz’s Cross reminds us about the tumultuous history of Moldavia, and how enemies were treated during those times. It is one of the hidden jewels of Iași. Not many locals know what is buried underneath the cross, or the history behind it.