One Piece of Wood Monastery

Placed against a natural environment imbued by the peace and serenity generally associated with a secluded monastic site, this nun monastery lies 26 km south of Râmnicu Vâlcea, in a valley surrounded by oak wood hillocks.

One Piece of Wood Monastery draws its name from a small wooden church, made of a single old oak tree. Erected in the first decades of the 16th century, it has been consecrated to the Assumption. In connection with the former wooden church, the legend has it that it was in the hollow of an old oak tree that a monk found an icon of Virgin Mary, who asked him to raise a small church from the wood of that very tree. The icon has been preserved to the day, and is, undoubtedly, the most valuable asset of the monastery. It is 1.5 m high and 1.10 m wide; it was silvered in 1812. The icon of the Holy Virgin arose a controversy among experts, as some of them upheld that it was made as early as the 4th century in Greece, others placed its painting either in Constantinople or at Mount Athos, around 1453, while some others would claim that the icon was painted later on, in the second half of the 16th century. Probably the second version is closer to the truth, given the good relations established between the Romanian speaking provinces, and the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Mount Athos. The way in which the icon may have reached Wallachia has yet to be cleared up.

The present wooden church, raised on the site of the one which had been destroyed by a fire in the 18th century, is 13 m long, 5.50 m wide and 4 m high. It is surrounded by a belt carved in wood, it has an open porch and no belfry. This wooden piece of jewellery, designed by the gifted peasant artisans of the region is especially picturesque the more so as it matches with the five century old oak trees surrounding it. The iconostasis with artistic carvings made of lime tree, the wooden icons adorning the church in the dim light of the flickery candles create a special atmosphere of holy piety and reverence to God, to its founders, its builders, its painters and, not in the least, to the 50 nuns who devotedly serve this church.

The monastic site comprises also a stone church whose foundation dates from 1634-1635. It is related to either ruling prince Matei Basarab, or to a high dignitary of his time, Preda Brâncoveanu by his name. Starting from the faded inscriptions of the votive paintings in the narthex presenting the church founders, Matei Basarab and Preda Brâncoveanu, experts tend to believe that the two of them share the merit of having set up the edifice.

The church in its present form bears the stamp of Matei Basarab's architectural foundations, i.e. Arnota, Căldăruşani, or Brâncoveni monasteries. Unlike the religious edifices erected by Neagoe Basarab and Constantin Brâncoveanu in Wallachia, or by Stephen the Great in Moldavia, Matei Basarab's monasteries' and churches' art style is quite simple, easy to grasp, and thus accessible to people at large. They were designed to serve people, not to impress them by their magnificence. They impose nevertheless by the harmony of their proportions, as well as by the beauty and acurateness of their design and location. This church has a three-cusped plan, with an octangular altar and a porch with carved stone columns. A tooth brick belt and another belt which is simple and superposed divide the church into two successive parts on the outside. In the tympanon of the blind arches there are small rosettes whose colour, though now faded, resembles to the fine exterior decorations at Cozia and Curtea de Arges monasteries. The cornice is made of brick and coloured in yellow, green and brick red.

In 1684, the windows were restored by order of prince Şerban Cantacuzino (known for the printing of the first Bible in the Romanian language, in 1688). He also added the portal and a porch with octogonal columns carved in stone along with mural paintings. In 1715, prince Ştefan Cantacuzino restored the belfry of the monastery, located at the main entrance and resembling the one at Hurez Monastery, as well as the princely residence (present abbey house), with Brâncovan stone pillars supporting the belle vue, along with Byzantine paintings. The tombs of Şerban Cantacuzino's wife and son are to be found within the church. As the restorations in 1938-1940 were conducted by the Ministry of the Air and Marine Armed Forces, the monastic site has become symbolically a shrine of prayer for the aviators and sailors who seek comfort and protection from the Holy Virgin. One Piece of Wood Monastery holds a precious collection of old books, icons painted on wood, old religious objects and attire.