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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Putna Monastery, 'the Jerusalem of the Romanian nation'


The Putna Monastery, which national poet Mihai Eminescu called 'the Jerusalem of the Romanian nation,' is one of the most important cultural, religious and artistic centres in Romania, founded by mediaeval ruler Stephen the Great as his burial ground.

The monastery was built between 1466 and 1469, and the Dormition Church followed one year later. The first father superior of the monastery was Archimandrite Iosif of the Neamt Monastery, who came here accompanied by calligraphists, the first teachers of the new school of Putna, following the example of the monastery of Neamt. The school started as a school of rhetoric, logics and grammar for the future chroniclers or clerics, shortly becoming one of the most important such centres in the entire land.

Three years after completion, the church was destroyed by fire and rebuilt. In 1653, it was again destroyed, this time by the Cossack army of Timush Hmelnitschi, ruler Vasile Lupu's son-in-law. Today's church was rebuilt in 1653-1662 by Vasile Lupu and his successors following the original base plane.

Construction on the Putna Church started after a victory of Stephen the Great at the Chilia Bastion, while its consecration was made after Stephen's victory against Tartars, on August 20, 1470 at Lipinti, near Nistru. Putna had been a monastic hearth long before Stephen the Great's foundation, a fact revealed by researches of 1980 - 1982. 

Besides the monastic scriptorium of the monks, the master calligraphists and miniaturists of Neamt, a tapestry workhouse was opened at Putna, where gold and silver threads were used as well as expensive silk and precious stones, along with workshops for ceramic icons, and wood and stone sculpture. Initially designed as a royal necropolis, the monastery always kept Stephen the Great's attention, with the ruler visiting it frequently and developing it continuously.

Under the rule of Iacob Putneanul (1750-1778), refurbishment works were conducted: the inner walls were consolidated, and so were the church and the belfry, the gate's tower was remade, the tambour of the belfry above the nave was remade into a Baroque style, the roof was repaired, the flooring was replaced and a new iconostasis was added, still standing nowadays.

The church was built into a three-lobe shape, with thick walls of stone and brick, on a foundation of rock boulders of big size for those times. It was 37 m long, 11 m wide and 33 m high, at the belfry. The space was divided into an altar, a nave, a tomb room, a narthex and a closed porch. Here lies the tomb of Stephen the Great and Saint, covered by a baldachin of white marble and an inscription on a slate that says the brave ruler is the founder of the holy place alongside his wife Maria, the daughter of Radu Voivode. 

On Stephen the Great's tomb, there is a silver urn placed in a ceremony of 1871. On the northern side of the tomb room, there are the tombs of Stephan's sons - Bogdan, who died on July 27, 1479 - and Petru - who died in November 1480. In the narthex, on the southern side, there is the tomb of Lady Maria, the wife of Petru Voivode, and Stephen Voivode, the nephew of Petru Voivode. In the porch area, on the southern side, there is the tomb of Moldavia's Metropolitan Bishop Iacob Putneanul, while on the northern side there is the tomb of Suceava Metropolitan Bishop Teoctist.

All the windows in the altar, nave, tomb room and narthex are painted on the inside, ending in an arch and on the outside they have metal riles. The floor is made of marble, while the porch has stone slabs. The roof is made of brass sheets laid in a manner to imitate timber. The outside is encircled by a massive twisted band with large niches that are higher in the lower part and smaller in the upper part. The windows have stone framing. The old outer painting was destroyed in 1760 and never replaced.

The painting in the chapel is modern, of Byzantine inspiration, with many focusing elements, made by brothers Mihai and Gavriil Morosan in 1979 - 1983.

The monastery's museum has an important collection of mediaeval art objects, especially from the times of Stephen the Great and his immediate successors, one of the richest and most valuable such collection in the entire Romania. The Putna Monastery is famous for its treasury of tapestries, woven works, manuscripts, silverware and church objects. Among the most valuable exhibits are the Gospel Book of Humor (1487), the Blagovestenie church bell (donated in 1490 by Stephen the Great himself) and airy tapestries from 1481, an ecclesiastical stole from 1504, an epitaph from 1490, a cover for the doors to the iconostasis from 1510, the tomb cover of Maria of Mangop from 1477 bearing her portrait. Among the valuable icons at Putna, there is a 15th century wonder-making icon of the Holly Mother and Son, allegedly brought to Moldavia by Maria of Mangop, Stephen the Great's second wife.

Among the most valuable manuscripts at Putna, there is Psaltichia, a church song book made up of two distinct parts sewn together: one probably written in the time of Alexander the Good and the other in the first years of the 16th century, at the Putna Monastery.

Equally valuable is a collection of carved crosses. A three-arm hand cross from 1566, carved in cedar wood and enclosed in golden silver depicting 37 scenes, including feasts and saint portraits, is of exquisite mastery.

The exhibition of old and modern Romanian arts mounted at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris, in 1925, included many tapestries, icons, carved crosses, illustrated and locked manuscripts that created quite a stir with Paris specialists and public at large.

Putna was also a scholarly centre that hosted a higher school of Theology to train clerics for Moldavia under the leadership of Archimandrite Vartolomeu Mazareanul, as well as a school initiated by Metropolitan Bishop Iacob Putneanul (1750-1778).

About one kilometre away from the Putna Monastery lies the cell of monk Daniil, the spiritual adviser of Stephen the Great. It is a cave carved into a rock in the valley of the Vitau stream that has been declared a historical monument.

Daniil Sihastrul, Daniil the Hermit, was born in the early 15th century in a village close to the town of Radauti. He became a monk at the age of 16. After a time, feeling the need for more peace, he became Daniil the Hermit and withdrew to Putna, where he found a rock into which he carved a chapel. The narthex, nave and altar are still visible today, the same as a room, also carved in stone, he used as his cell. It is here that Stephen the Great came in 1451, after the killing of his father Bogdan II at Reuseni. Daniil predicted that he would soon become Moldavia's ruler, which happened indeed in 1457. Also at the urge of Daniil the Hermit, Stephen the Great founded the Putna Monastery. After the consecration of the monastery, Daniil withdrew to Voronet, on the banks of the Voronet stream, under a rock called The Hawk, where he continued his monastic life. Stephen the Great visited him again after a defeat at Razboieni in 1476, asking for his advice. 

Daniil advised the ruler to continue the battles against the Ottomans, predicting his victory, which indeed happened. To remember the victory, the ruler founded the Voronet Monastery. After the consecration of the new monastery, Daniil moved to the cells at the monastery, where he spent his last years. He was elected father superior and died in 1496. He was buried in the church of the Voronet Monastery. On his tombstone, ordered by Stephen the Great, writes: 'This is the tomb of our Father David, Daniil the Great Monk.'

Daniil the Hermit was considered a saint in his lifetime, as he was said to heal people, draw away daemons and sooth sufferings. He was canonised by the Romanian Christian Orthodox Church in 1992.

Also close to the Putna Monastery, there is the oldest wooden church in Europe, a historical monument, the foundation of Dragos Voda, the founder of Moldavia. The old church of Putna was allegedly relocated by Stephen the Great to Volovat in 1468 to become a place of worship for the monastic community of Putna during the construction of the monastery. Legend has it that Dragos Voda, descending from Maramures, established the principality of Moldavia and built a church of oak wood in 1346 at Volovat to also serve as his burial ground. 



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