You don’t have to be very religious to enjoy a visit to the Voronet Monastery where you’ll see the most famous of the painted churches of Bucovina. Included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, this monument is a powerful symbol of how local medieval princes emphasized their support for the Orthodox faith in a time when it was threatened by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.
Also known as the ‘the Sistine Chapel of the East’ due to its splendid frescoes, the church was built in just a couple of months, in 1488. Its founder, Stephen the Great, remains one of the most popular princes of Moldavia. He promoted an architecture known as the Moldavian style, and many of the churches from his time are still preserved in the regions of Moldavia and Bucovina.
Of small, but well-balanced proportions, the church of Voronet Monastery is representative of the Moldavian style, having also Gothic and Byzantine-inspired elements. It was from the very beginning more than a religious edifice. Its frescoes highlighted the moral stories of the Bible for the illiterate villagers of the time, persuading them to act according to the Christian norms.
Exquisite testimonies of their painters’ talent, the frescoes of Voronet conserve a centuries-old secret. The distinct ‘Voronet blue’ color is unique in the world, and its composition is almost impossible to replicate today.
The 15th and 16th-century frescoes are the main attraction of the church, a masterpiece of Byzantine art. The interior paintings date from the time of the founder, Prince Stephen the Great, portrayed in the nave together with his family. Major Biblical scenes, focused on the life of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, occupy the nave, while the narthex presents the story of Saint George and the Orthodox calendar in the small and very vivid scenes of Byzantine inspiration.
Still, the exterior frescoes added in 1547 remain the most impressive. The largest of all is on the western wall, the scene of the ‘Last Judgment’, a singular work of art for Eastern Christianity. An ample story of the last day and its tragic or happy ending, the scene should be read from the lower part where the image of heaven appears in opposition to the river of fire and a very happy Satan that greets the sinners. Coincidence or not, among the sinners are also the non-Christians of the time, the Jews and the Turks.
The angels Michael and Peter have key roles, one opening the gates of heaven while the other pushes sinners to hell. A rare image is the ‘Ressurection of the Dead’ painted across from Moses leading the non-Christians to judgment. In the upper scene, next to the Throne of Judgement, groups of saints who already made it to heaven sit close to Jesus portrayed as Great Judge. A rare representation of God and the angels that fold a scroll with the zodiacal signs, a symbol for the end of time, occupy the last two registers.
To make it more representative for the local community, the painters added some symbols of local culture including musical instruments, traditional clothing, and nearby landscapes. Many more symbolic characters, including Adam and Eve or Greek philosophers, are painted on other exterior walls of the monastery.
The monastic life at Voronet was interrupted at the end of the 18th century after Bucovina was conquered by the Habsburg Empire, and it started again only in 1991. Today, Voronet Monastery is one of the must-see attractions of Romania, and during summers iy becomes one of the most popular destinations in the scenic land of Bucovina.
Bucovina is a very popular destination for Romanians, and it tends to books fast. Be sure to reserve your rooms in advance to enjoy a great experience in this beautiful land. We warmly recommend the guest houses: 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.
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, and drive on Transrarau, one of the most beautiful roads in Romania.