Sucevita Monastery and Arbore Church

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Sucevita Monastery.

Romania. Nuns from Sucevita Monastery growing their gardens.

Sucevita is the largest and the most grandiose of the Bucovina Monasteries, and also the last one to be built.  It was erected in the period 1582-1601 as a huge square compound, surrounded by a wall of 100 meters on each side, six meters high and three meters thick.  Its strong towers and grey roofs make it look like a fortress.  The church is in the middle of the compound, completely covered by wonderful frescoes in blue, green and red colours, and it is the monument in Romania that displays the largest number of religious frescoes.  

On the north wall is depicted "The Ladder of Virtue" with angels accompanying the righteous to Paradise, whilst the sinners are being pushed directly into Hell, where they are received by grimly grinning demons.  On the wall above the porch entry to the church Jews and Turks are mourning, watched by the Devil in the corner, whilst angels blow their horns for the righteous.

On the south wall id depicted "The Tree of Jesse" on a fantastic blue background colour, and presenting all the most famous personalities from the biblical world.  The western wall is not painted at all.  Legend has it, that this wall is empty, because the poor artist who was to paint this wall, fell down from the scaffolding and broke his neck.  

Today Sucevita is a nun monastery, the sisters living a simple life in daily prayers, and growing their land.  The monastery's museum houses Moldova's finnest collection of contemporary Romanian art. 

Romania 1969. The Ship of St. Nicholas. Romania 1969. The Three Kings. Romania 1970. Alexander the Good and his family.

Romania 1996. Postcard featuring Arbore Church.

Though Arbore (and Solca) are often grouped together with the Painted Monasteries, neither of them has ever been more than a village church, and only Arbore has the external frescoes characteristic of the genre.  Such quibbles aside, however, their kinship in form and spirit is undeniable. 

 Romania 1996. Arbore Church.

Opposite the cemetery on the road through Arbore stands the village church built in 1503 by one of King Stephen the Great's generals, Luca Arbore, lord of the village.  While its wooden stockade and stone bell tower are rustic enough, its frescoed walls and sweeping roof are as majestic as any monastic edifice.  Like the Painted Monasteries, its murals, dating from 1541, follow iconic conventions inherited from Byzantium, which designated subjects for each wall, arranged in rows according to their hierarchical significance.  This is obvious on the apses, where the angels and seraphim appear at the top;  archangels and biblical saints below;  then martyrs;  and lastly a row of cultural propagators or military saints. 

Romania 1971. St. George meeting the Emperor Diocletian. Romania 1970. The Byzantine Court.

The images on the exposed northern side of the church have been obliterated by the weather, and the best preserved frescoes are found on the relatively sheltered south and west walls.  The sough wall has eight rows of scenes from Genesis and the lives of the saints;  red, yellow, pink and ochre counterpoint the prevailing green.  The eaves and buttresses have protected half of the "Last Judgment" on the west wall, which consigns "heathens" awaiting hell to the top right-hand corner.  In the courtyard lie two heavy, hollowed-out stone slabs used for mixing colours, after the walls had been rendered with charcoal and lamp-black.  Arbore's tomb stands in its nave, but the church is not opened for tourism, only for services.  

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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  
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