Sunday, March 2, 2014

#706 Bucovina Painted Monasteries, Moldavia, Romania

Described by Lonely Planet at a 'bucolic paradise of remote villages' with 'rich folklore, natural beauty and turbulent history', Moldavia is famous worldwide for its medieval painted monasteries. 

Erected by Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great) and his son Petru Rares, the fortified monasteries were a haven for many prosecuted in Hungarian-ruled Transylvania, and have miraculously survived centuries of war, including the 1538 defeat by the Turks. Many an army would gather inside the monasteries' defensive walls, and in order to educate the illiterate who were unable to enter the churches, biblical stories were portrayed on the outer church walls in colorful cartoon-like frescoes.
The greens of Sucevita, the blues of Voronet and the reds of Humor all used natural dyes such as sulfur for yellow, madder for red, and cobalt or lapis for blue.

Every monastery faces east so that the light of God shines into the church with the rising sun, and was composed of three parts -- the first room (called the pronaos), the tomb room, and the altar room (called naos, where women were forbidden to enter). Each monastery was dedicated to a saint, whose patron day formed an important festival. Within the monasteries were nuns and monks who trained novices serving 3-7 years before being ordained. The Hapsburgs closed the monasteries after occupation in 1785 and forced the inhabitants to become civilians, and similar persecution occurred under communism.

Voronet Monastery is famous for its Last Judgement fresco, taking up an entire wall with angels rolling up the zodiac to indicate the end of time. The Resurrection and Genesis are also displayed on a different wall.

Humor Monastery is famous for its internal frescoes, it wooden ramparts and because it has no tower. It also has a Last Judgement painting and a picture representation of the first part of the Orthodox Calendar as well as various scenes of martyrs.

Moldovita Monastery has the typical large fortified enclosure with towers and gates, and is famous for the yellow of its frescoes. The grounds are particularly lovely and its walls depict the defense of Constantinople in 626, as well as the Last Judgement (again).

Sucevita Monastery is one of the more isolated churches, but because it is in such a spectacular location, its 1100m alpine location, and being one of the largest and finest monasteries it does receive many visitors. The western wall is bare of any frescoes supposedly because the artist fell of the scaffolding while attempting to paint it and scaring any successors to continue. The red and green are strong here and the first fresco you are likely to see is the Virtuous Ladder with the 30 steps from Hell to Paradise. This church also has pictures of the Jesse Tree.

Other monasteries include the Solca Monastery, Arbore Monastery, the Putna Monastery, the Dragomirna Monastery as well as others further south nearer to Targu Neamt.
Sucevita Monastery/Castle
Source: Lonely Planet Romania and Moldova 3rd Edition 2004

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