Sucevita Monastery: The Masterpiece of Painted Churches
Few religious monuments are as inspirational and mesmerizing as Sucevita Monastery, one of the eight painted churches from Bucovina included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. A masterpiece and ‘a testament of Moldavian art’, Sucevita Monastery marks the end of an era, a time in which medieval religious art reached new levels of innovation and creativity in this part of Romania.
One of the must-see cultural attractions from Romania, the colorful image of Sucevita Monastery will stay with you for many years to come after you’ve seen it.
The history of the monastery starts with the story of the Movila brothers, the great-grandsons of Moldavia’s most beloved prince: Stephen the Great. One of them, Gheorghe, converted to monastic life and eventually became the Metropolitan of Moldavia while the other two, Simeon and Ieremia, became princes of the same historical region. Built and painted with the financial and cultural support of the three brothers in the last two decades of the 16th century, this is the last church with painted exterior walls from the region.
At a first look, the monastery has the appearance of a medieval stronghold. In a time when the Ottoman Empire ordered the Moldavian state to destroy its fortresses, local princes fortified monasteries to use them as a safe retreat in the darkest times. Similar to the nearby Moldovita, Sucevita Monastery also preserves its original strong precincts, a massive square rectangle of walls six meters tall and three meters thick and five towers equipped with firing holes. Even a princely palace that hosts today the monastery’s museum was included in the original fortification walls, marking the potential defensive role of the religious monument.
Architecture and unique paintings
Like all the major churches from Moldavia from the 15th and 16th centuries, the painted church from Sucevita Monastery has a triconch layout, one special novelty being the two open porches inspired by the architecture of churches from Southern Romania. Particular elements, also present at Moldovita and Humor Churches, are the burial room with the marble carved tombs of Ieremia and Simion Movila and a secret space above them where the most valuable goods of the church were hidden.
Truly unique is the way in which its paintings surpass all the highlights of the remarkable religious paintings done in the region in the previous one hundred years. Its rich and monumental external murals are the best conserved and the most impressive of all the painted churches in Bucovina. Even its northern façade murals, usually the most damaged by weather conditions, is almost intact.
Done by a local team of artists in the last years of the 16th century, the paintings illustrate traditional themes, but also present new ones, including 40 detailed scenes from Moses’ life, seen above the burial room. The largest of all Moldavian wall paintings is also found here, the Prayer of all Saints, covering seven registers equivalent to the entire height of the Eastern façade with detailed religious hierarchies done with vivid colors, almost perfectly preserved over time.
The Northern wall has its own masterpiece, one of the most important in the entire Romanian medieval art: The Ladder of John Climax or The Ladder of Virtues, a theme inspired by Mount Athos traditions. This dazzling composition offers two perspectives of monastic after life, heaven for the most dedicated monks and hell with all its devils for those who disobeyed the rules. It was a practical lesson and warning for the monks serving the monastery. On the same wall you’ll see the classical theme of Genesis with Adam, Eve, Abel and Cain and their well-known series of Biblical mistakes. The interior paintings are equally rich detailed, alternating traditional and innovative themes, using the same dominant emerald green color.
A priceless monument of art, Sucevita Monastery is inspirational for the contemporary traveler in search of authenticity. One of the most beautiful and remarkable attractions in Bucovina, this UNESCO World Heritage monument is a must-see no matter if you believe in God or not.
Don’t miss the museum of the monastery where you can see embroideries, religious objects and manuscripts from the 16th century.
Close to Sucevita, in Marginea, you’ll find a black pottery center.
From Sucevita to Moldovita you’ll drive on one of the most beautiful roads in Bucovina. However, you have only few places to stop and take photos. Drive slow enough to enjoy the view.