Humor Monastery: World Unique Paintings and Centuries of History
Humor Monastery is one of the religious masterpieces of Bucovina, a region best-known for its many churches and monasteries. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, alongside the painted churches from Voronet, Sucevita or Moldovita, Humor Monastery is almost 500 years old. Its Byzantine frescoes remain, nonetheless, rare and precious until today.
Half a millennium of history at Humor Monastery
Built in 1530 on the premises of an older church, the monastery of Humor has several particularities that differentiate it from other painted churches, including its smaller size and the absence of a steeple from its cross-shaped roof. These distinctive elements indicate the position of its founder who was a rich first rank court official, but was not a prince. Still, the name of Prince Petru Rares appears alongside the name of the founder, Toader Bubuiog, on the inscription placed above the church entry. This proves the princely support for local aristocracy initiatives of building new churches. In a time when political power was also closely tied to a strong religious position, being a protector of churches and monasteries appeared as a key necessity of a successful reign.
Humor Monastery kept its religious function until Bucovina became part of the Habsburg Empire at the end of the 18th century. The Austrian authorities put an end to the monachal life from Humor, and only the church was allowed to continue with its religious functions. The monastery was only restored more than 200 years later, in 1991.
Built as a triconch church, the architecture of the edifice combines Gothic elements, visible in the shape of doors and windows, with local elements already used before in the painted churches from Bucovina.
Besides its dimensions and roof shape, the church has another particular element, an open porch with arcades that marks the entrance to the narthex. Inspired by local architecture and potentially by the Italian Renaissance loggia, the open porch from Humor Monastery is a first in the region. Another new element is a secret space hidden above the burial area inside the church were precious objects were stored in case of attacks.
UNESCO Heritage paintings
While the architecture and history of the church place it as a valuable historical monument, the touch of uniqueness rests in its impressive Byzantine paintings that cover both its interior and exterior walls. The quality and importance of these paintings were the main criteria for adding Humor Monastery on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The painting of the church started in 1535, and, although partially deteriorated, the chromatic unity is still visible, the main colors being various shades of red. The best-conserved paintings are those from the southern side, including Biblical scenes like the ‘Last Judgment’, the ‘Annunciation’ or the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’ in an effort to make religious stories and moral known to locals, most of them illiterate at the time.
These Biblical themes are combined with adapted historical stories like ‘Constantinople’s Siege’. The painters replaced the Persians with the Ottomans, and one of the main painters, Toma from Suceava, painted his face on a soldier who battled the Ottoman army. Portraying the Ottomans as the biggest enemy wasn’t anything new. It had much to do with the constant threat of an Ottoman invasion and its menace to Christianity.
One of the eight painted monasteries from Bucovina part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Humor Monastery is both a cultural and historical attraction, a mix of Byzantine, local and Gothic influences from a medieval time of great uncertainty when defending this territory equaled most times with defending Christianity. A visit here is more than worth your time.
Don’t miss the Defense Tower next to the church. Built in 1641 by Moldavian Prince Vasile Lupu, the three-story tower is very well preserved and offers a great view.
All churches and monasteries have a strict dressing code for women. Still, if you’re not dressed properly, for example, short pants are not allowed, you can use the cover-ups provided at the entrance.
From the monastery, you can take longer or shorter walking trips to other local attractions.
If you’re based in Gura Humorului, you can also take a short drive to Pojorata and go for an easy hike in Rarau Mountains.