MOLDOVITA Monastery - Vatra Moldovitei commune, Suceava County

Adress: Vatra Moldovitei commune, Suceava County.
Dedication day: Feast of the Annunciation - 25 March.

The Moldovita Monastery is one of the old monastic establishments, with an important historical past, that for centuries has stood guard by the frontier of northern Moldavia; situated on the platform between the two creeks, Moldovita and Ciumarna, 15 km far from Vama commune, it is surrounded by the picturesque Obcinele Bucovinei mountain range.
The origin of this monastery remains shrouded in the darkness of ages; tradition has it that it was in existence as early as the time of the Musat rulers, who protected it. Under the peaceful rule of Prince Alexander the Kind, the first stone church of the Monastery was built, documented around 1402-1410 with the dedication to “The Annunciation”, and known as early as that for being also a cultural center.
The monastery lasted until the end of the 15th century, when landslide made it fall apart; its ruins are still visible, 500 m far from the present monastery. Prince Petru Rares, an arts lover like his father, Stephen the Great, chose to place in a more flat area than that of the old church of Alexander the Kind, and built the current church of Moldovita in 1532, which, he too, dedicated to “The Annunciation”. The most authentic document is the votive inscription carved in stone, written in Slavonic and placed left of the entrance, on the southern facade of the church. In the same period, the prince had the church surrounded with walls and defense towers, making it look like a little fortress. No doubt, there must have been dwellings too, there, as can be inferred from the foundations still visible on the northern side, upon which Bishop Efrem of Radauti built the compound for housing, safekeeping of the church treasure and the school of miniaturists copyists.
In terms of architecture, the church retains the traditional three-shelled plan, with five chambers separated by plain walls, penetrated by doors in the middle and with a different vaulting system in each chamber; the Moldavian master-builders introduced also new elements: the monumental open porch with five large arcades, the treasure chamber (the chamber on top of the funeral chamber) and the hemi-socle (the bench) around the church, specific to the structures of the Rares epoch.
The bema vaulting is interesting: instead of the four Moldavian arches, there is a system of eight crossing arches the decorative look of which is that of a star. The barrel-vaulted funeral chamber gets light from a southern window. To the north-west, there is a stone stair that leads up to the treasure chamber. The nave has two hemi-circular side apses, continuing with the shrine apse of the same form. On top of the nave there rises the tower, tall circular inside and octagonal outside, standing on two overlapping bases of stellar shape. The vaulting system is the traditional Moldavian one.
The votive inscription above the door in the church bema certifies the dates when the interior and exterior painting was done.
The treatment of the scenes retains the Byzantine and Renaissance influences and evinces also national Moldavian motifs: landscapes, mountains, flowers, costumes, napkins, etc... in the open porch, on the western wall “The Final Judgment” unfolds on four large registers; The Virgin Mary holding infant Jesus is featured in the lunette of the bema entrance door and this is one the scenes of outstanding artistic, psychological and national value, a masterpiece as it is deemed to be; on the bema vault, there is the virgin Mary with Jesus praying, surrounded by flying angels. Above the funeral chamber entrance door there is the icon of the “Annunciation” dedication.
A new iconographic element is the presence of Moses in the Crucifixion scene. The Passions frieze is painted on the side walls of the nave. It starts from the Holy Shrine with three scenes representing the communion of the Apostles, the Last Supper and the Washing of the Feets, and continues in the nave with scenes among which we mention the Last Prayer on Olive Mount, Peter’s Denial, Judgment by Pilate, be mocking Jesus, the Crucifixion, Taking the body off the Cross, Laying the Lord Jesus in the Sepulcher, the Resurrection and the Communion of the Apostles. In the side apses, there are the military saints, on the western-northern wall – the Sts Emperor Constantine and Empress Helena and the Sts Jeremite monarchs; to the west, there is the votive picture: the family of Prince Petru Rares, Lady Elena and their two sons, Ilies and Stefan.
The shrine screen is carved in wood, painted and gilded, a real masterpiece. In the shrine shell, the Virgin Mary holding infant Jesus is featured; unlike other churches, where she is fenced by four angels, here the Virgin is sided by her Sts Parents and two angels.
A quite special painting is the “Last Supper”: by the U-shaped table, Jesus sits in the middle, not in front, as shown in the scene at the Voronet Monastery; very moving is the attitude of Apostol John, his head leaning against the breast if Jesus, who strokes his shoulder. Jesus Emmanuel, St Peter of Alexandria are featured by the table in the northern wall of the shrine, where the communion is prepared, and St Simeon holding Jesus are featured in the vestry.
The exterior painting consists of two large ensembles, subdivide into unitary scenes. On the southern facade column, there are featured the military saints, in motion, full of energy and life, from the top to bottom: St George killing the dragon, St Demetrios killing Lie, St Mercury and, beneath the inscription, St Nestorius fighting Lie. Further, on the same facade, at the upper part, there is the “Annunciation Hymn”, consisting of 24 scenes, illustrating a prayer of gratitude and praise to the Mother of our Lord, a theme which was first introduced in iconography as a miniature from the 11th century and, in fresco painting, first at Mount Ethos. The “Annunciation Hymn” is one of the finest iconographic themes that can be seen in the churches in Bukovina and the Moldovita one is very well preserved.
Beneath the “Annunciation Hymn”, other two themes of praise to the Virgin Mary are treated: the first, the “Siege of Constantinople”, a representative lay theme from the time of Petru Rares, is evocative of the battle fought around the city, bearing a historical-religious meaning but also a political and social one, betraying the Romanians with to get rid of the Ottoman oppression; like the virgin had helped the Byzantines before to defeat the Persae, the Moldavians hoped she would help them in their fights against the Turks. Treated next to this is the theme of t” The Bush of Moses”, another scene meant as praise and glory to the Mother of our Lord, the same as the “Annunciation Hymn” and the “Siege, all of them illustrating the Orthodox Mariology teaching.
The second vast composition on the southern facade, “The Stems of Jesse”, illustrates the genealogy of Jesus Christ and the theme is present with all churches in Moldova with exterior painting; the stem is guarded by the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel, overlapping by twos. Near “the stem of Jesse”, on the abutment, there is another scene of lay inspiration; a group of ancient philosophers: Tucidides, Homer, Aristotle, Arstarchus, Plato, Sybil, Porphirus, Socrates, Aristokritus and Plutarch.
The three apses of the church are decorated with an ensemble named the Heavenly and Earthly (fighting) Church, from Slavonic, the “Cin”. It is the biggest ensemble of all the painting, in which the artist had some freedom of action. The theme of the triumphant Church in the Moldavian exterior painting holds an important place in the Orthodox dogma, developed especially by St. Dionysius the Pseudo-Aeropagite. It is represented in painting for educative and religious purposes, meaning to show the great figures of the church who raised themselves on the stages of sanctity and whom the faithful have to follow, as they are examples for a virtuous life. Viewed from this angle, the three features the image of the heavenly liturgy in which all members of the triumphant Church participate, since, according to the Christian Orthodox dogma, the sacrifice of Christ is continued, in a certain way, also in Heavens. Even the saints of the whole “Cin” are featured in the typical attitude of prayers to Jesus, which is a telling proof of the close connection between the triumphant Church in the Heavens and the fighting one on the earth.
On the northern facade, the elements have caused some of the painting to fade; still preserved, among others, are two registers illustrating moments of the life of the Sts Parents of the Virgin Mary, scenes with a fine architectural setting.
The whole exterior and interior painting, which unfolds according to a precise plan, rests upon a principle which is characteristic not only of the Byzantine Orthodox painting, namely to offer by painting the synthesis of the true Christian religions, as shown by the great iconographers. The church painting is a color Gospel, which is obvious also at Moldovita. Unlike the 15th century painting, the fresco at Moldovita as well as at the other churches of that time, even if truthfully sticking to the same Byzantine tradition, is however more realistic, narrative in character; the subjects, treated at a high artistic level, are a Romanian interpretation of traditional Byzantine themes, as it can be seen in the scenes of the Crucifixion.
In all the paintings, the scenes and figures are carefully distributed, seeking to bring to the fore the harmonious proportions of the church; the tall and slender figures of the characters are in harmony with the curved surface of the apses and in the perfect accord with the architecture of the monument; the whole painting seems to be meant to emphasize the architectural features of the church. The green, which represents the earth line, and the blue of the background associates the structure to the grass of the lawn around it and to the sky against which it projects, making the witness think the church has sprung right on the place where it stands, reflecting the surrounding nature. “The lively and variate motions of the characters, especially the processions outside, the trend to humanize certain types, the power of expression of the feelings and the zest of the narration are the main qualities of the Moldovita paining.”
Under the rule of Alexander the Kind, the Moldovita Monastery had also an important cultural role. According to tradition, many religious books were copied and decorated in the cells of this old establishment. The most valuable 15th century manuscripts are preserved today in the library of the Dragomirna Monastery.
The cultural activity carried on at the time of Alexander the Kind was continued thanks to the efforts of Bishop Efrem of Radauti, a great scholar and founder of the monastery, where he ended his activity in 1626; the prelate organized a school for copyists and miniaturists in the compound: his doing is mirrored in the calligraphic manuscripts: The Four Gospels of 1613 from the Sucevita Monastery and a Psalter of 1684, which is preserved in the collection of the Moldovita Monastery. Efrem, promoted from among the Moldovita Monastery monks, although he had been bishop of Roman and then of Radauti, rests in peace in the funeral chamber.
Restored in the recent years, the Moldovita Monastery is part and parcel of the range of great Bukovina religious monuments, honored, among other things, with the distinction Pomme d’Or (Golden Apple), which is now kept in the museum of the Moldavian princes revered foundation. Painting, dress – making and embroidery workshops currently function in the monastic compound.

Category: Monasteries of SUCEAVA
Added: Aug 29, 2010
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