Moldovita Monastery: Rare Frescoes from the Medieval Ages
Moldovita Monastery is one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Bucovina, all masterpieces inspired by the Byzantine art of the 15th and 16th centuries. Their distinctive element – the external walls covered with frescoes representing complete religious cycles – make them unique in the myriad of churches built anywhere in the world in that time.
Their spiritual function is supported by their political and educational role that aimed to defend and strengthen the Orthodox church in a time when both Protestantism and Islamism were getting closer and closer to the borders of the medieval Romanian provinces.
Anti-Ottoman fights shape the history of Moldovita Monastery
The geopolitical context of Moldavia in the 15th and 16th centuries – back then also incorporating present day Bucovina – was one of the defining conditions that marked the appearance of this Moldavian style, so present in the painted churches.
A separate province with independence goals, Moldavia of those days often took the leading role in the wars against the Ottoman Empire that outnumbered the small state in every way, from financial to military resources.
A series of brave local princes contributed decisively to maintaining the autonomy of Moldavia in the troubled medieval centuries. They were and still are praised as national heroes. Beyond their military role, they assumed a powerful spiritual role and marked their strong relation with divinity by building new churches and supporting financially the Church whose influence was capital. One of these princes was Petru Rares, the son of Stephen the Great, the prince who had the greatest contribution to the development of the Moldavian style.
Continuing the work of his father, Petru Rares founded Moldovita Monastery in 1532, very close to where his great grandfather had built a church more than a century before. Surrounded by fortification walls with four corner towers and a solid gate tower, the monastery combined the religious and defensive walls, a constant practice of a time when enemy attacks often took place.
Architecture and unique paintings
Built on the typical triconch plan, using the Moldavian vaulting system, the church from Moldovita also has a burial room incorporated between the narthex and the nave and a small hidden niche used for storage in case of an attack, elements that appeared before at Humor Monastery.
The paintings from Moldovita Monastery are among the most impressive from the eight UNESCO churches. The dominant colors are red, yellow and green, while the background is mainly white and dark blue. The multitude of religious characters is precisely and skillfully painted, conveying both their emotion and importance, the main purpose being moralizing, educational or both. Its external and interior walls are covered with frescoes that represent ample cycles like the Tree of Jesse, the Akathystos Hymn, the Last Judgment and the Great Prayer of All Saints. Its Southern façade is, however, the best preserved.
Several elements make the paintings from Moldovita stand out. Above the altar, Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus is surrounded by her parents in a scene that otherwise is dominated by archangels while in the Cycle of Passions from the nave, Jesus and Pontius Pilate appear discussing in a casual manner. Plus, the scene of the Siege of Constantinople, a central theme for all the churches of the time, is best conserved here, the dramatics of the fight from the 15th century being still visible so long after its painting.
If you’re curious to understand and discover its outstanding value, in just one day you can easily visit Moldovita Monastery plus two or three more of the painted churches of Bucovina. The distances between these UNESCO Sites are short, and the monuments’ paintings are truly captivating works of art, top attractions of this beautiful part of Romania.
Visit the museum of Moldovita Monastery. You can see the throne of Prince Petru Rares, old books and icons and a veil that is over 500 years old.
Don’t miss the Painted Eggs Museum Lucia Condrea, located just a few minutes from the monastery.
Drive to Sucevita Monastery on one of the most beautiful roads from Bucovina.
Complete the day with visits to the nearby Voronet and Humor Monasteries, also included on the UNESCO List.