Putna Monastery

Putna Monastery (Romanian: Mănăstirea Putna) is a Romanian Orthodox monastery, one of the most important cultural, religious and artistic centers established in medieval Moldavia; as with many others, it was built and dedicated by ruling prince Stephen the Great. It is situated about 30 km northwest from the town of Rădăuţi, near the Putna River. The story goes that it was built in a general area picked out by Stephen's advisor, Daniel the Hermit. The exact position of the church was left up to God when Stephen went to the top of a hill and fired an arrow— wherever it fell the church would be built. A section of tree trunk containing the arrow hole is still kept in the monastery museum and a cross marks the spot from which the arrow was shot. Apparently, a forest was cleared for the building of the monastery.

Right after Stephen the Great won the battle in which he conquered the Chilia citadel, he began work on the monastery as a means to give thanks to God, on July 10, 1466 - the church was to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The terrain on which the monastery is built is believed to have been previously occupied by a fortress. A chronicle of the time mentions that Stephen bought the Vicovu de Sus village in exchange for 200 zlots, and awarded the land and revenue to the treasury of the monastery. The edifice was built between 1466 and 1469 and consecrated in 1470; to it was added a few more buildings: a princely home standing on the southern side, outer walls and defense towers; all of them completed in 1481. A few years only after the completion of the buildings and fortifications, a dreadful fire destroyed most of the church, the outer walls and the princely home. The following years, the prince and founder rebuilt the church that soon recovered its former lofty appearance. In 1536, another conflagration seriously damaged all the buildings; there followed a new restoration completed in 1559, on the initiative and at the expense of ruling prince Alexandru Lăpuşneanu (1552-1561; 1564-1568).

Despite subsequent restoration work, partial or complete, time, earthquakes and landslides caused a lot of damage to all the monuments Putna Monastery consists of leaving their indelible marks on them, so that the church more especially required renovation and repairs. It was destroyed again in 1653 by the Cossack army of Timuş Hmelniţchi, the son-in-law of Prince Vasile Lupu. In 1653, the church, which had been built in the 15th century, was pulled down to its foundations and replaced in 1653-1662 by ruling prince Vasile Lupu and his successors, by a new building which, with slight alterations, has lasted to this day. In this period, the princely residence and the precinct walls were also enlarged and repaired. However, this important restoration did not last more than three quarters of a century, for in 1739; Putna Monastery was destroyed by a powerful earthquake, which made it necessary to start ample restoration work between 1757 and 1761, upon the initiative and with the endeavors of Metropolitan Iacov Putneanul.

Another important stage in the building of the monastery in the past was marked by the restoration work effectuated from 1854 to 1856, when the precincts were enlarged and new walls were erected, 23 m to the north of the previous ones. New cells were built parallel to the wall; the old princely residence was demolished, a new building - including a kitchen, a refectory and cells - was erected, together with a new abbey on the western side and a chapel on the north side. Restoration work on the monastery was started again towards the close of the 19th century, under the supervision of the Austrian architect K.A. Romstorfer.

Ample scientific restoration work was under way in 1969, when the church, the treasury tower, the entrance tower and the belfry - built in 1882 to replace a 15th-century tower - were restored in succession. Between 1974 and 1977, the former abbey standing on the western side of the courtyard was replaced by a wooden building, a museum housing art collections, while the cells built in 1854-1856 on the northern side were replaced and renewed.

The size and complex plan, the rich decorations (carved stone, terracotta and paintings)as well as the appearance for the first time in the ecclesiastical architecture of Moldavia of the exonarthex and of arches arranged slantingly in the vaulting of the pronaos are the basic characteristics of the earlier church of Putna Monastery, making of it a brilliant prototype in which the most important achievements of the previous epoch perfectly combine with the valuable renewing contribution of Stephen the Great's master builders who erected the monument.

The church was unusually large for its time, but the explanation was that it was built to be the burial place of Stephen the Great, his family and his successors. The thick walls are made of massive blocks of stone, and twelve buttresses support the walls. Originally there were only six, and the other six were added during the 17th and 18th centuries. Although the present church follows the ground plan of a typical 15th and 16th century Moldavian church, it has many architectural and decorative features that are typical of 17th century churches. The exterior walls are not the smooth façades of earlier times, but two rows of blind arcades go around the building, smaller ones above the twisted stone cable, and tall ones below it. The tall windows of the exonarthex, three on the west façade and one each on the north and south façades, follow the shape and size of the tall blind arcades. Their upper parts are decorated with intricately carved stone tracery. All the other windows are much smaller, with pointed arches and square carved stone frames. It had been usual to have only one window in each of the three apses, but here there are three windows in each apse, another late influence. It seems that the church was initially painted both on the inside and on the outside, but unfortunately, none of the frescoes could be preserved.

A short time after it was built, Putna Monastery became an important center of Romanian medieval art and culture. As early as 1467, scribes, calligraphers and miniature painters who had learned their craft under Gavril Uric came from Neamţ to work at Putna Monastery. Besides skillful calligraphers and miniature painters, many embroiderers, icon makers, weavers, silversmiths, sculptors in wood and book-binders toiled on in the quiet atmosphere of the monks' cells at Putna. Special mention should be made of the sumptuous and elegant Four Gospels created here, adorned with miniatures in which perfect drawing combines with a motley color scheme in which gold prevails, as well as the fine embroideries (epitaphs, iconostasis curtains, coverings of tetra-pods and of graves, stoles, etc.), many of them on show in the museum of the monastery.

Sources: Wikipedia, Braşov Travel Guide, Romanian Monasteries.