Sinaia Monastery: Where Royalty Meets Faith
On the way to Romania’s finest castle – Peles – you’ll find one of the most beautiful monasteries in the country – Sinaia Monastery – and the first monument built in this small mountain city. The site reveals 300 years of history, a close relationship with the royal family, two churches set 150 years apart and the first religious museum in Romania.
The Old Church
The Old Church was built in 1695 by Prince Mihai Cantacuzino after his trip to the holy grounds of Nazareth and Jerusalem. Being profoundly impressed by Saint Catherine Monastery, he decided to raise a place of worship for Virgin Mary in the Romanian mountains, naming it after Mount Sinai, the symbolic place where Moses received the Ten Commandments. The monastery was initially meant to be the home of twelve monks, following the example of the Twelve Apostles, but their number grew over time.
What is remarkable about the Old Church is the attention paid to details. The edifice is painted in the typical Byzantine style, almost all the characters being portrayed in a compassionate and humble manner, carefully framing Biblical moments like the life of Saint Catherine, but also scenes from the life of the Cantacuzino family. A plus is that the original paintings from the end of the 17th century were preserved as well as the rock portal from the entrance where the portraits of Moses and his brother Aaron are carved.
The image is completed by the emblem of the Cantacuzino family – the two-headed eagle holding the two symbols of imperial power: the scepter and the cross. Like the other churches founded by Mihai Cantacuzino – Fundenii Doamnei and Coltea from Bucharest – the Old Church from Sinaia Monastery is done in the authentic ‘Brancovenesc’ style. Considered the first Romanian architectural style, developed throughout the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, it’s easily recognized by its columns carved in stone and garnished with floral patterns that sustain the porch, added to the traditional narthex, nave and altar.
You can visit more representative monuments for this style in Bucharest like Stavropoleos Church and Antim Church, or outside the capital, Mogosoaia Palace and Horezu Monastery, the last part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Great Church
The Great Church dates back to 1846, and was the initiative of King Carol the 1st who also built in Sinaia the Castle of Peles and Pelisor Castle. Being a royal monastery and a summer residence until the castle was finalized, the Great Church conserves the royal family’s seats with the Crown’s emblem. Another valuable piece you will see is Ana Roth’s epitaph – sewed with gold thread and colored silk on cotton cloth that took three years to be completed.
Elegant, colorful and significantly larger than the Old Church, this edifice was painted in the late Byzantine style. If you look at it closely you’ll find another distinctive element, the presence of the three different types of crosses: the Latin Cross with unequal arms on top of the narthex’ towers, the Greek cross with equal arms over the entrance and the Slavic cross with many horizontal arms placed over the central dome.
The first religious museum
Sinaia Monastery is also worth a visit for its museum, the first religious themed museum in the country. Initially, the building where it’s hosted functioned as the summer residence for the royal family. A superlative is the presence of the first Bible to ever be translated in Romanian. Some of the most interesting articles are two pieces from the ‘Plates of Sinaia’ – archaeological artifacts written in an unknown language, using the Greek alphabet with additional letters accompanied by images. Presumably, they tell the chronic of Dacia, the ancient empire conquered by the Romans. Historians and linguists are disputing whether or not they are authentic and there were numerous attempts of translating them.
Sinaia Monastery is the perfect place to rest your mind and to discover the particularities of religious art and Romanian architecture, regardless of your beliefs. Furthermore, the surroundings are a pleasure for your soul, making this monastery the perfect place for a break from the busy life in Romania’s cities.
In Sinaia you should definitely visit Peles and Pelisor Castles, but also the train museum where you can see small replicas of many trains in miniature cities full of details.
Take an easy and pleasant hike in Busteni to Urlatoarea Waterfall, a good idea especially if you have children.
Hike to the Caraiman Peak, up to the Heroes’ Cross, dedicated to the soldiers of the World War I. The huge metal cross can be seen from the base of the mountain. And since you are in Busteni, make sure you visit Cantacuzino Castle.
Last but not least, visit Brasov and its well conserved medieval sites.