Voronet Monastery
May 21, 2014

About the Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

bucovinaBucovina is a name which comes from the German word “Buchenland” and may be translated as “the Land of Beech Trees”. The name was first mentioned in a document issued in 1392 and became the official name of the region in 1774 when this territory was annexed by the Habsburg Empire until 1918 when it became Romanian land again.

From the geographical point of view, Bucovina is situated in Northeastern Romania, overlapping a large part of Suceava County and extending across the border with Ukraine up to Chernivtsi. The relief is dominated by the Northern Group of the Eastern Carpathians and the Suceava Plateau. The landscape is crossed by many rivers, such as Moldova (with its tributary Moldovita), Suceava and Siret. Although today most of the beech forests no longer exist due to the extension of human settlements, the landscape you can admire during the tourist routes is remarkable: paths meandering through secular forests, crystalline springs running from the mountains forming small creeks and sheep flocks grazing on mountain tops.

The region is inhabited by different ethnic populations, such as Germans, Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians, who live together with the Romanians in harmony. Bucovina has a special characteristic, due particularly to the customs and traditions which come from all the cultures you can find here.

A Brief History of Bucovina

Name
The name Bucovina came into official use in 1775 with the region’s annexation from the Principality of Moldavia to the possessions of the Habsburg Monarchy, which became Austrian Empire in 1804, and Austria-Hungary in 1867.

The official German name, die Bukowina, of the province under Austrian rule (1775–1918), was derived from the Slavic form Bukowina, which stands for beech tree (бук[buk] as, for example, in Ukrainian or, even, Buch in German). Another German name for the region, das Buchenland, is mostly used in poetry, and means “beech land”, or “the land of beech trees”.

During the Middle Ages, the region was the northwestern third of “Ţara de Sus” (Upper Country in Romanian) part of the Moldavian Principality, as opposed to “Ţara de Jos” (Lower Country). The region has become the cradle of the Moldavian Principality, and remained its political center until 1574, when its capital was moved from Suceava to Iasi.

In Romania the term Northern Bucovina is synonymous to Chernivtsi Oblast of Ukraine, and (Southern) Bucovina to Suceava County of Romania.

BUCOVINA (Rom.) Bukovina (Eng), Bukowina (Germ.) Bukovyna (Ukr), is historic region of E Europe, in SW Ukraine and NE Romania. Traversed by the Carpathian Mts. and the upper Prut and Siretul rivers.

The population is largely Romanian in Southern Bucovina and Ukrainian in the north. Most of the region’s Jews were exterminated during World War II.

A part of the Roman province of Dacia, Bucovina was overrun after the 3d cent. AD by the Huns and other nomads. After the Mongols withdrew from Moldavia, Bucovina became (14th cent.) the nucleus of the Moldavian principality.

In 1514, Bucovina, then part of Moldavia, became tributary to the Turkish sultans. Ceded by the Ottoman Empire to Austria in 1775, it was at first a district of Galicia but in 1848 was made, as a titular duchy, a separate Austrian crownland. The region won limited autonomy from Austria, and in 1861 Chernivtsy was made the seat of a provincial diet.

With the dissolution of the Austrian empire in 1918, the General Congress of Bucovina voted the union with Romania. Romanian control of the province was recognized internationally in the Treaty of St. Germain in 1919.

In a treaty of June 1940, Romania ceded the northern part of Bucovina to the USSR, which incorporated it into the Ukrainian SSR. Although Romanian troops reoccupied N.Bucovina during World War II. In 1944 the Red Army drove the Axis forces out and re-established the Soviet control over the territory. Romania was forced to formally cede the northern part of Bucovina to the USSR by the 1947 Paris peace treaty.

Northern Bucovina now forms part of the Chernivtsi oblast in Ukraine. The remainder of the area forms one of the historical provinces of Romania and is part of the administrative region of Suceava. See more details about Bucovina’s History at Wikipedia – The free encyclopedia.

In Bucovina the traditions have survived the passage of time…

easter egg 1The most popular custom in Bucovina is the art of egg painting using natural colours and bee-wax. Although this is normally a job done by women, nowadays there are entire families who carry on this craft and pass on to their children the secrets of egg painting. The beginners who wish to try egg painting together with the local people will discover a true test of patience and a unique passion. The carpet weaving using natural materials such as flax and wool which are dyed in different colours and adorned with old motifs is another old tradition in this area. The colours for the carpets are natural and they are obtained from plants using different ancient techniques. One of the oldest customs in Bukovina is pottery making. The black pottery from Marginea is a well-known brand all over the world. The black colouring comes from the minerals in the soil and from the specific kilning techniques. This type of pottery is a testimony of the Dacian origin and it can only be found in Marginea.

During winter Bucovina turns into a fairy tale world. The masks and the traditional dances which accompany the Winter Holidays, as well as the snow covering the region, make you think for a moment that you are part of a story. The horse drawn sleighs and the groups of carolers turn any visit in Bukovina into a unique experience that you will never forget.

The Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

Bucovina is also known for its famous Painted Monasteries built by former rulers and members of nobility, each monastery having a different colour: blue for Voronet, red for Humor, yellow for Moldovita and a combination of colours for Arbore.

Voroneţ Monastery was founded in 1488 in less than four months from May to September by Stephen the Great to celebrate a victory over the Turks at the battle of  Vaslui. Stephen the Great also fulfilled a pledge to Daniil the Hermit who had encouraged him to fight with the Turks. The monastery contains tombstones commemorating Saint Daniil the Hermit, Grigorie Roșca, and other patrons of the church and noblemen.

Voronet Monastery

Voronet Monastery - Judgement Day SceneVoroneţ was also known for its school of calligraphy, where priests, monks and friars learned to read, write and translate religious texts. The school produced two notable copies of Romanian translations of the Bible: The Codex of Voroneţ, discovered in 1871, and The Psalter of Voroneţ, found in 1882. These books are now held at the Romanian Academy.

The exterior frescoes where added in 1547 and today this Painted Monastery is probably the most famous one because of the particular blue called Voroneţ blue. It is known throughout the world for its exterior frescoesof bright and intense colours, and for the hundreds of well-preserved figures placed against the renowned azurite background.The small windows, their rectangular frames of crossed rods and the receding pointed or shouldered arches of the interior doorframes are Gothic. The south and north doors of the exonarthex  have rectangular frames, which indicate a transition period from Gothic to Renaissance. But, above them, on each wall is a tall window with a flamboyant Gothic arch. The whole west façade is without any openings, which indicates that the intention of the Metropolitan Roşca was from the beginning to reserve it for frescoes.On the north façade is still visible the original decoration of the church, the rows of ceramic enamelled discs in yellow, brown and green, decorated in relief. These include heraldic motifs, such as the rampant lion and the aurochs‘ head of the Moldavian coat of arms, and creatures inspired by Western European mediaeval literature, such as two-tailed mermaids. The tower is decorated with sixteen tall niches, in four of which are windows. A row of small niches encircles the tower above them. The fragmented roof probably follows the shape of the original roof, which doubtless was made with shingles. In1785 the monastic life was interrupted when Bucovina became a part of the Habsburgic Empire.In 1991 the monastic life started and the Monastery became an UNESCO MONUMENT.The frescoed walls of Voroneţ are extremely detailed, depicting the Last Judgement and other religious scenes.

Moldovița Monastery

Moldovița Monastery is a Romanian Orthodox  monastery situated in the commune of Vatra Moldoviței, Suceava County. The Monastery of Moldovița was built in 1532 by Petru Rareș, who was Stefan the Great’s illegitimate son. It was founded as a protective barrier against the Muslim Ottoman conquerors from the East. Stephen the Great, the King of Moldavia from 1457 until his death in 1504, fought 36 battles against the Ottoman Empire, winning 34 of them. He was very religious and built churches after many victories. Stephen’s illegitimate son, Petru Rareș, who ruled Moldavia from 1527 to 1538 and again from 1541 to 1546, promoted a new vision for Bukovina churches. He commissioned artists to cover the interiors and exteriors with elaborate frescoes (portraits of saints and prophets, scenes from the life of Jesus).

Moldovița’s frescoes were painted by Toma of Suceava in 1537. They are filled with yellow accents and are well preserved. The predominantly yellow-and-blue paintings on its exterior represent recurring themes in Christian Orthodox  art: a procession of saints leads up to the Virgin enthroned with the Child in her lap, above the narrow east window; the “Tree of Jesse” springs from a recumbent Jesse at the foot of the wall to marshal the ancestry of Christ around the Holy Family; The “Siege of Constantinople” commemorates the intervention of the Virgin in saving the city of Constantinople from Persian attack in A.D. 626.Tall arches open the porch to the outside and daylight. Within it, “The Last Judgment” covers the entire surface of the west wall with its river of fire and its depiction of the sea giving up its dead to judgment. Moldovița and Humor are the last churches built with an open porch, a hidden place above the burial-vault, and with Gothic-style windows and doors.

Sucevița Monastery

sucevitaSucevița Monastery is an Eastern Orthodox convent situated in the Northeastern part of Romania. It is situated near the Suceviţa River, in the village Sucevița, 18 km away from the city of Rădăuţi, Suceava County. It is located in the southern part of the historical region of Bukovina (northwestern Moldavia). It was built in 1585 by Ieremia Movilă, Gheorghe Movilă and Simion Movilă.The architecture of the church contains both Byzantine and Gothic elements, and some elements typical to other painted churches of northern Moldavia.

Both interior and exterior walls are covered by mural paintings, which are of great artistic value and depict biblical episodes from the Old and New Testament. The paintings date from around 1601, which makes Sucevița one of the last monasteries to be decorated in the famous Moldavian style of exterior paintings. Sucevita boasts a magnificent depiction of the Ladder to Paradise. Red-winged angels in orderly rows attend the righteous on a slanting ladder to the heavens, each rung inscribed with one of the monastic virtues. Sinners fall through the rungs and are driven by grinning devils to the chaos of hell. On the south side, foliage entwines the rows of figures in theTree of Jesse. Following it is the Hymn to the Virgin. The interior court of the monastic ensemble is almost square (100 by 104 meters) and is surrounded by high (6 m), wide (3 m) walls. There are several other defensive structures within the ensemble, including four towers (one in each corner). Sucevița was a princely residence as well as a fortified monastery. The thick walls today shelter a museum that presents an outstanding collection of historical and art objects. The tomb covers of Ieremia and Simion Movilă – rich portraits embroidered in silver thread – together with ecclesiastical silverware, books and illuminated manuscripts, offer eloquent testimony to Sucevița’s importance first as a manuscript workshop, then as a printing center.In 2010, the monastery has been inscribed by UNESCO on its list of World Heritage Sites.

Humor Monastery

Humor Monastery located in Mănăstirea Humorului, about 5 km north of the town of Gura Humorului. It is a monastery for nuns dedicated to the Dormition of Virgin Mary, or Theotokos. It was constructed in 1530 by Voievod Petru Rareş and his chancellor Teodor Bubuiog. The monastery was built over the foundation of a previous monastery that dated from around 1415. The Humor monastery was closed in 1786 and was not reopened until 1990. Humor is one of the first of Moldavia‘s painted monasteries to be frescoed and, along with Voroneţ, is probably the best preserved.

The dominant colour of the frescoes is a reddish brown. The master painter responsible for Humor’s frescoes, which were painted in 1535, is one Toma of Suceava.The subjects of the frescoes at Humor include the Siege of Constantinople and the Last Judgment, common on the exterior of the painted monasteries of Bucovina, but also the Hymn to the Virgin inspired by the poem of Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople relating to the miraculous intervention of the Theotokos in saving the city from Persian conquest in 626. The Persians are, however, depicted as Turks which is a common device in these monasteries, their paintings being used in part for political propaganda in addition to their spiritual meaning. The tombstone of Teodor Bubuiog is situated under his portrait and that of his wife’s. Petru Rares and his wife are both buried in the monastery church as well.
Humor Monastery held for many years the valuable ‘Humor Evangelistry’, a book dating back to 1473, painted by monk Nicodim and displaying a famous portrait of Stephen the Great.  The church has been inscribed by UNESCO on its list of World Heritage Sites.

Arbore Monastery

Arbore Monastery was the first  to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List of the Churches of Moldavia. The monument is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. With a rectangular layout, it was built of brick and stone extracted from the quarries in the region.  The monastery and the commune are named after the boyar Luca Arbore who built the church in 1503. The construction of the church was completed in about 5 months.

Its exterior paintings date from 1541 and were made by Dragoş Coman. The best preserved frescoes are found on the relatively sheltered south and west walls. Among the most valuable scenes one may see are The Hymn of the Prayers to the Virgin, The Siege of Constantinople, The Last Judgment, The Prodigal Son and many others. The Siege of Constantinople is a syncretic representation of the attacksof Persians, Avars and Slaves upon Constantinople in 617. Painting the church took about 40 years.The outside paintings on the western wall are the most well preserved, as opposed to those on the northern facade, which suffered extensive weather-related damage. This damage arose mostly because the church roof was plundered by marauding Cossack troops and melted in order to make bullets (the original roof was made of lead).ue to its more modest dimensions, the inside of the church consists of only 3 chambers: pronaos, naosand altar. The burial chamber seen in other Moldavian churches is merged with the pronaos. It contains the tombs of hetman Luca Arbore and his family. The inside painting also includes two votive paintings, depicting hetman Arbore and his family offering the church to God through the intercession of Saint John the Baptist. The reason for having two (rather than one) votive paintings is not clear, although some speculate that they were necessary to depict all children in the boyar’s numerous family (even so, some are still not included). The two heavy slabs of stone preserved near the church since the time it was painted, have fifteen small holes which used to serve as containers for the mixing of colors. Traces of pigment corresponding to the frescoes have been found in the hollows on their surface.

If you wish to pay us a visit, you can do it any time of the year in organized groups, with your family or alone. Your journey in Bucovina will certainly be one of the most beautiful trips that will remain unforgettable for the rest of your life.