Churches of Moldavia (1993)

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With their painted exterior walls, decorated with 15th- and 16th-century frescoes that are considered masterpieces of Byzantine art, these seven churches in northern Moldavia are unique in Europe. Far from being merely wall decorations, the paintings represent complete cycles of religious murals on all facades. Their outstanding composition, elegant outline and harmonious colours blend perfectly with the surrounding landscape. 

This page      Page 2 (Voronet)      Page 3 (Sucevita)      Page 4 (Moldovita)      Page 5 (Humor) 

Bucovina is a Romanian region situated north of Moldova, the former Bessarabia, now the sovereign Republic of Moldova.  The name Bucovina dates back to its annexation by the Habsburgs in 1774, meaning a land covered by beech forests.  After the First World War the region was given back to Romania in 1918, only to be annexed by Stalin after World War II and incorporated in the Ukraine.  It has now been given back to Romania.  This is the land where the painted monasteries are located.  

Romania 1928. Fortified Castle of Sfatia. Romania 1928. Fortified castle of Cetatea Hotinului. Romania 1928. Fortified Castle of Cetatea Alba.

The painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina unite more than anything else in Romania the culture, history, religion and architecture in a rare harmony with the surroundings.  These monasteries with their original paintings, sculptures and other ornaments give a picture of the Romanian people's religious and historical outlook on the world, as it appeared through five centuries of battles for national and religious freedom against the Turkish power.  These monasteries were orthodox bastions, hidden away behind walls in remote valleys and deep forests - and they still exist today like a bead of pearls.

Romania 1941. Putna. Romania 1941. Dragomirna. Romania 1941. Milisauti. Romania 1941. St. Nicolas (Suceava).
  • Romania 1941.
    Putna, Dragomirna, Milisauti, St. Nicolas (Suceava)

Romania 1941. Boroca. Romania 1941. Hotin. Romania 1941. Cetatea Alba. Romania 1941. Tighina.
  • Romania 1941.
    Boroca, Hotin, Cetatea Alba, and Tighina. 

In the Putna monastery, shown above (top left) is found the tomb of king Stephen the Great and several of his family members. The stamps were issued for the benefit of the restoration of the monasteries. 

King Stephen the Great is one of the central figures of Romanian history in medieval times.  He lived 1435-1504, and assumed the throne in 1457.  He was the founder of the Voronet Monastery, and is buried in Putna Monastery.

Putna lacks completely the outdoor frescoes common to the Bucovina-churches.  The inside of the church is compact, simple and solid, and is without decorations at all, which is unusual for an Orthodox church.  

Romania. Postcard with an aerial view of Putna.

Romania 1993. King Stephen the Great (Stephan cel Mare). Romania 1957. King Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great). Romania 1996. Voronet Monastery. Romania 1991. Putna Monastery.

An old Romanian chronicle written by the chronicler Ion Neculce tells about King Stephen the Great founding Voronet Monastery in 1488 to fulfill a pledge to Daniil the Hermit who had encouraged the ruling prince of Moldavia to chase the Turks out of Wallachia.  Having won the battle against the Turks, King Stephen built Voronet in three months and 21 days, on the very spot where Daniil had his small wooden hermitage.  Daniil the Hermit later became the first abbot of Voronet Monastery, and is buried in the church.

Romanian engraving of the hut of Daniil the Hermit. Romanian engraving of King Stephen the Great at the battle of Scheia.

Moldavian fortified monasteries were usually sited at the head of a valley to form a defensive bottleneck against the Turks or Tatars.  The exact spot was decided by shooting arrows from a nearby hilltop;  where the first one landed, a water source was dug and henceforth deemed holy;  the second arrow determined the location of the altar;  the third the belfry, and so on.  After the monastery was finished, crosses were raised on the hill from where the arrows had been fired. 

Sources and links: 

This page      Page 2 (Voronet)      Page 3 (Sucevita)      Page 4 (Moldovita)      Page 5 (Humor)

Other World Heritage Sites in Romania (on this web site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Romania-Section, for further information about the individual properties. 

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Revised 21 jul 2006  
Copyright 1999 Heindorffhus 
All Rights Reserved