Moldoviţa Monastery

Moldoviţa Monastery is a Romanian Orthodox monastery situated in the commune of Vatra Moldoviţei, Suceava County, Bukovina, Romania. The Monastery of Moldoviţa was built in 1532 by ruling prince Petru IV Rareş, who was Ştefan III cel Mare's illegitimate son. It is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993.

Alexandru cel Bun built the first monastery in Moldoviţa on the banks of the Moldoviţa River at the beginning of the 15th century. The site chosen was far from other villages, in the middle of the forest. He donated lands and Tartar slaves to the establishment, and the first community around the compound was created. The monastery is mentioned for the first time in a document of 1402, and successive other documents tell of new donations. There is no record of how, or when, the monastery was destroyed, but possibly an earthquake ruined it at the beginning of the 16th century. Only low stone ruins remain of the first church. It was built of rough blocks of stone on a triconch plan, with three apses. Originally, it had only a chancel, a naos and a narrow pronaos. When the monastic community increased in size, a second, much larger, pronaos was built to the west end of the edifice.

The Moldoviţa Monastery, the one we can see today, was rebuilt on safer ground. The monastery consists of a fortified quadrangular enclosure with towers, thick walls (6 m high, 1.2 m wide) and brawny gates, with a magnificent painted church at its center. The second (after Humor) and the last church with open porch, hidden place above the burial-vault, recesses in the apses and niches under the cornice - elements specific to the monuments of Stephen the Great's period.

The church is built on the usual triconch plan of three apses used for all monastic establishments. The church is rather long, as it has, besides the obligatory chancel, naos and pronaos, a burial chamber and an exonarthex. A graceful octagonal lantern tower with four windows stands above the naos, and a hidden treasury room was built above the burial chamber. The open exonarthex with large openings is its most distinctive feature. The long façades are smooth, except for a row of small niches that surrounds the whole church. The three apses are decorated with tall niches that reach almost to the eaves. The four big pronaos windows have pointed Gothic arches and stone tracery in the upper part. The other five windows are much smaller, with slightly pointed arches and a square frame of crossed rods.

The church was painted in 1537 both inside and outside. It is said that Moldoviţa's frescoes were painted by Toma of Suceava in 1537, but the significant stylistic differences between various scenes indicate that there must have been several painters at work in Moldoviţa. The exterior painting of the Church of the Annunciation is the best preserved among all the painted churches of Bukovina. Especially on the south and east façades, there are paintings that have not been faded by the passage of time, and that are able to suggest how bright the decorated façades were during the reign of Prince Rareş.

Just under the eaves are 105 niches, each painted with an angel. On the western pillar, just to the left of the entrance and the tall opening of the south façade, there are three Military Saints on prancing horses and with either a lance or a sword in hand. Farthest up is St. George, then St. Demetrius and St. Mercurius. On the south façade is the Akathistos Hymn as usual. The 24 stanzas of the Hymn cover four registers. First come the twelve historical stanzas that recount the birth of Christ: The Annunciation, The Conception, The Virgin Mary Meets St. Elizabeth, The Doubting of Joseph, The Birth of Christ, The Way of the Three Magi to Bethlehem, The Adoration of the Magi, The Return of the Three Magi, The Flight to Egypt, and The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

The inner painting is faithful to the tradition, but The Crucifixion (placed in the naos) is considered the most valuable work on this theme from the churches of Bukovina. In the apse of the altar, the scene from The Last Supper presents Jesus Christ in the center. The richness of the figurative and decorative elements is impressive, what the painting of Holy Mary is concerned, placed in the arch of the pronaos. The same can be said about the Gracious Mother of God, painting placed in the tympanum of the portal. The color specific to Moldoviţa Monastery is yellow.

The small museum in the north west corner, which houses several fine tapestries woven from pure gold and silver thread. It also preserves 15th-century manuscripts in which important references are made to the way the monastic school was organized, to the cultural activity in general. The Tetra-Evangelistary (1613) and a Psalter (1614) were written in a decorative hand here. Petru Rareş' princely throne (16th century) is the most valuable work of this kind in Moldavia. Of utmost value are also the embroideries donated by Stephen the Great (15th century). There is also a silver-chased Evangelistry presented by Catherine the Great, empress of Russia, which has not only a highly artistic and religious value, but also an intrinsic one, as each and every page of this book was made from the skin of an unborn lamb.

Sources: Wikipedia, Braşov Travel Guide, Romanian Monasteries.


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