The Painted Monasteries of Romania

Nov 3, 2017 0 comments

In northern Romania, in a region historically known as Bukovina, are a collection of eight Byzantine-era churches renowned for their beautiful, colored frescos that adorn their walls, both on the inside and outside. Built during the waning days and immediately aftermath of the Byzantine Empire, each of these painted monastery is distinctive in color and in its frescoed Bible stories. Through these frescoes of saints and prophets, scenes from the lives of Jesus Christ, and stories of man’s beginnings and of his life after death, the monasteries sought to teach the illiterate peasants the stories of God.

The most famous of painted monasteries is the Voronet Monastery, founded in 1488. It is said that the monastery was completed in just 3 months and 3 weeks to commemorate the victory at Battle of Vaslui. Widely known throughout Europe as "the Sistine Chapel of the East" due to its interior and exterior wall paintings, this monastery offers an abundance of frescoes featuring an intense shade of blue commonly known as Voronet blue.


Voronet Monastery. Photo credit: Gaspar Serrano/Flickr


Voronet Monastery. Photo credit: burlan marius/Flickr


Voronet Monastery. Photo credit: Gaspar Serrano/Flickr


Voronet Monastery. Photo credit: globetrotter_rodrigo/Flickr


Voronet Monastery. Photo credit: Ava Babili/Flickr

The Sucevița Monastery was built in 1585. This predominantly blue-green monastery was one of the last monasteries to be decorated with frescos in Romania. All the external walls of the monastery, except the western wall, are covered with frescoes. Legend has it that one of the painters fell from the scaffolding and died, after which work stopped and the last wall was left unpainted.


Sucevița Monastery. Photo credit: globetrotter_rodrigo/Flickr


Sucevița Monastery. Photo credit: globetrotter_rodrigo/Flickr


Sucevița Monastery. Photo credit: Ava Babili/Flickr

The Monastery of Moldovita was built in 1532 by Petru Rareș, who was Stephen III of Moldavia's illegitimate son. It was founded as a protective barrier against the Muslim Ottoman conquerors from the East. The predominantly gold and deep blue paintings on the exterior walls were completed in 1537. Aside from many recurring themes in Christian Orthodox art, one of the walls feature frescoes depicting the Siege of Constantinople.


Moldovita Monastery. Photo credit: Ava Babili/Flickr


Moldovita Monastery. Photo credit: Sergiu Luchian/Flickr

The Humor monastery is physically small, but along with Voronet, it is probably the best preserved. Constructed in 1530, the subjects of the frescoes at Humor include the Siege of Constantinople and the Last Judgment, common on Romania’s painted monasteries. But one fresco that stand out is that of the devil depicted as a woman.


Humor Monastery. Photo credit: Remus Pereni/Flickr

The Arbore monastery was built in 1502 by Luca Arbore, and dedicated to the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. It was painted four decades later by Dragos Coman, one of the greatest 16th century mural painters of Romania.


Arbore monastery. Photo credit: KLMircea/Flickr

The monastery at Patrauti, built in 1487, is the oldest surviving religious site founded by Stephen the Great. Mural paintings, dating from around 1550, can still be admired on the west façade. In 1775, soon after Bucovina was annexed to the Habsburg Empire, the monastery was turned into a parish church.


Patrauti monastery. Photo credit: Cezar Suceveanu/Wikimedia

The Probota monastery was built in 1530, and was the first monastery to have external frescoes painted in Moldavia. The exterior paintings have now faded, but the interior ones are well preserved. The church has been partly restored and repaired several times in the past.


Probota monastery. Photo credit: Bogdan Muraru/Wikimedia

The monastery in Suceava, built between 1514 and 1522, originally served as the Metropolitan Church of Moldavia. It is now the seat of the Archbishop of Suceava and Radauti. The monastery is dedicated to Saint John the New of Suceava, a Moldavian monk who preached during Turkish occupation and was subsequently martyred.


Photo credit: Jan Pešula/Flickr


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