Voronet Monastery or the Sistine Chapel of the East

Diana Condrea
Diana Condrea
Diana is a tourism consultant, tour guide, travel writer and amateur photographer. You can find Diana on LinkedIn

Voronet Monastery is included in our Active Tour in Cultural Bucovina and Painted Monasteries of Bucovina Tour. 

You don’t have to be very religious to enjoy a visit to the Voronet Monastery. This is the most famous of the painted churches of Bucovina included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It’s also a great symbol of medieval princes’ support for the Church during the threatening expansion of the Ottoman Empire.

Also known as the ‘the Sistine Chapel of the East’ due to its splendid frescoes, the church dates since 1488. Its founder, Stephen the Great, remains the most popular prince of medieval Moldavia. A particular church architecture, the Moldavian style, developed during his reign. Luckily, many of these landmarks survived until today in Moldavia and Bucovina.

Voronet Monastery

Last Judgement Painting

The church of Voronet Monastery is one of the best examples of the Moldavian style. It’s a small edifice, with well-balanced proportions and Gothic and Byzantine-inspired elements. But, it’s the vivid 15th and 16th-century frescoes that single it out as a masterpiece of Byzantine art. The paintings were an oral source of moral education for the illiterate villagers of the time. Heaven and hell, saints and sinners are all part of the effort to persuade worshipers to be good Christians.

Exquisite testimonies of their painters’ talent, the frescoes also conserve a centuries-old secret. Its unique ‘Voronet blue’ and its composition are almost impossible to replicate today.

Religion painted on walls to educate the masses

Like the other painted churches, the frescoes from Voronet date from different periods. The interior paintings are the oldest, from the time of the founder, Stephen the Great, pictured in the nave together with his family. Bible stories with Virgin Mary and Jesus decorate the nave, while the narthex presents the life of Saint George and the Orthodox calendar in the small scenes of Byzantine inspiration.

Still, the exterior frescoes, painted decades later, remain the most impressive. The largest of all, the scene of the Last Judgment is a singular work of art for Eastern Christianity. Covering the entire western wall, the ample story of the last day unfolds in a dramatic way. Heaven and hell, separated by the river of fire, are in constant opposition. A cheerful Satan greets the sinners while King David sings to the deceased, archangel Michael pushes the condemned to eternal suffering, and Peters holds the key to heaven. On a more tragic note, the Ressurection of the Dead and the image of God, surrounded by angels that fold a scroll with the zodiacal signs, announce the end of time on Earth.

Voronet Monastery

 The Last Judgement Painting

The fresco is more than a moralizing story. It hides important political elements of medieval times. It’s enough to take a closer look at the unlucky groups of sinners to notice the Jews and the Turks standing out. Local cultural elements like musical instruments, traditional clothing, and nearby landscapes, also stand out.

The monastic life at Voronet stopped at the end of the 18th century after Bucovina was conquered by the Habsburg Empire. It only started again only in 1991. Today, Voronet Monastery is one of the must-see attractions of Romania. Its spectacular church transformed it into one of the most popular destinations from the scenic Bucovina.

Where to stay

Bucovina is a very popular destination. Be sure to reserve your rooms in advance to enjoy a great experience in this beautiful land. We recommend La Moara from Fundu Moldovei, Hilde’s Residence and Bucovina Residence from Gura Humorului, Doina Bucovinei from Manastirea Humorului, Bucovina Lodge Pension, and Casa Elvira from Vama.

Travel tips

Visit the other nearby painted monasteries part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The closest are Humor, Sucevita, Moldovita, and Arbore.

Explore the secular forest of Slatioara where trees reach a couple of meters in circumference.

Admire the geological area of the ‘Lady’s Rocks’ from Rarau Mountains.

Drive on Transrarau, one of the most beautiful roads in Romania.

Voronet Monastery is included in our Active Tour in Cultural Bucovina and Painted Monasteries of Bucovina Tour. 

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