You may wish to see an introductory page to this section and a page on the monasteries of Neamt and Voronet with some general remarks on their location and history first.
The Church of the Annunciation seen from south-east
The Church of the Annunciation of the Monastery of Moldovita, a 14th century foundation, was rebuilt by Alexander the Good (1400-32), but the present structure is from the period of Peter Rares (built in 1532, painted in 1537). The enclosure wall and the princely residence were reconstructed later. The long fašades are smooth, except for a row of small niches that surrounds the whole church. The three apses are decorated with tall niches that reach almost to the eaves.
UNESCO documentation supporting the inclusion of this and other seven Moldavian monastery churches in the World Heritage List.
Alexander the Good built the first monastery on the banks of the Moldovita River at the beginning of the XVth century. The site chosen was far from other villages, in the middle of the forest. He donated lands and Tartar slaves to the establishment, and the first community around the compound was created. The monastery is mentioned for the first time in a document of 1402, and later documents report new donations.
The church seen from north-west; the image shows the effect of northerly winds and rain on the paintings
The most distinctive feature of the Church of the Annunciation is the open exonarthex with its three tall arches on the west fašade.
Its four large windows have Gothic arches and stone tracery in the upper part. The other five windows are much smaller.
In 1607 Bishop Efrem of Radauti built the solid precinct wall with three towers. The gate tower and the south-east corner tower are square, but the north-east corner tower is round. A vaulted gateway leads through the gate tower into the compound. In the north-west corner of the compound is a two-storey building, the former treasury house, now the monastery museum. The collection includes embroideries, icons, liturgical books and archaeological finds. Although the monastery is visited by hundreds of people daily, the nuns that live there can hardly be seen, as they lead a very reserved life. They either work in the household or in the painting and embroidery workshops.
Entrance to the church from the exonarthex (notice the XIXth century graffiti); the image used as background for this page shows the hand of god holding some nuns (at the top of the image)
The richness of the figurative and decorative elements is impressive. The significant stylistic differences between various scenes indicate that there must have been several painters at work in Moldovita and that they were familiar with iconographic patterns of both Western Europe and XVth century Constantinople.
Tree of Jesse, a depiction of the ancestors of Jesus Christ, shown in a branching tree which rises from Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of King David
The paintings of the Church of the Annunciation are among the finest of all the painted churches of Bukovina. Especially on the south and east walls, there are paintings that have not been faded by the passage of time, and that still show how bright the decorated walls were in 1537. The palette is very rich with yellow and red over a blue background.
Tree of Jesse - detail
There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots, and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. "Isaiah 11:1
This metaphor was then taken by medieval artists to represent Jesus' genealogy in a relatively easy way. Even more, the Latin translation of this passage allowed the artists to add some other characters to the tree. In the Latin Vulgate, the passage reads as follows: Et egredietur virga de radice Iesse et flos de radice eius ascendet. Whereas flos means "flower," virga means "twig," or "rod." But it is also close enough to virgo (virgin). In that sense, it is only natural that the Tree of Jesse ends up with the Virgin Mary crowning the tree. Most of the images of the Tree of Jesse show the ascending trunk of a tree (sometimes it's a vine) which branches out to either side. The ancestors of Christ are often seen in these branches. The trunk, finally, ascends vertically to Mary and Christ at the top. You may wish to see a very simple Tree of Jesse at Kastoria in Greece and some reliefs at Orvieto which show scenes from the Genesis inside branches of trees.
Siege of Constantinople by the Avars in 626. The fresco actually depicts the siege of 1453 which ended with the fall of the city; see a detail showing the Ottoman cavalry in the introductory page; see another historical event, i.e. the Council of Nicea, on the walls of the Sumela Monastery near Trebizond
The representation of the siege of Constantinople was depicted in many Moldavian mural paintings; they were created between 1529 and 1547, during the reign of voivode Petru Rares. The fresco at Moldovita depicts the city of Constantinople and to the left Galata, a Genoese settlement opposite the city. The painting shows the use of artillery by the Ottomans; this new weapon proved its effectiveness by opening a breach in the walls of the city.
The defence of the City was entrusted to God's mercy. A solemn procession composed of the Emperor, the Empress and three noble maidens, together with the Patriarch and the Bishops' synod, exhibiting the Hodegetria (an icon portraying the Virgin Mary indicating Jesus Christ as the Messiah) and the Mandylion, a miraculous cloth portraying the face of Jesus Christ. The painting shows the procession taking place on the walls of the city, but it actually started at the Blachernae Palace, near the walls and it ended at Hagia Sophia; during the procession the icon fell on the ground, a very ill omen.
Most likely Petru Rares commissioned the painting when he rebelled against Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, but eventually he had to accept becoming one of his vassals.
Walls and towers of the Monastery (see another view in the introductory page)
The Church of the Resurrection of the Sucevita Monastery was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010. Seven other painted churches of Moldavia had already gained World Heritage status in 1993.
The monastery has conserved its initial appearance, and in particular its historic enclosure. The surrounding countryside, rural and forested, has undergone few transformations and changes up to the present day. The massive precinct walls were built after 1595, during the reign of Ieremia Movila. Each wall is nearly 100 metres long, three metres wide and more than six metres tall, and create the atmosphere of a mediaeval fortress. The walls are strengthened with buttresses, bulwarks and imposing towers. Narrow loopholes in the upper part of the walls indicate that a defensive catwalk encircled the compound. UNESCO
Church of the Resurrection
The churches with external mural paintings of northern Moldavia, built from the late 15th century to the late 16th century, are masterpieces inspired by Byzantine art. The interior and exterior walls of the Church of the Sucevita Monastery are entirely decorated with mural paintings of the 16th century, and this church is the only one to show a representation of the ladder of St John Climacus. Far from being mere wall decorations, the paintings form a systematic covering on all the facades and represent complete cycles of religious themes. Their exceptional composition, the elegance of the characters, and the harmony of the colors blend perfectly with the surrounding countryside. (..) The monastic church of Sucevita has undergone no significant alteration in the course of its history. It preserves with total integrity its original late 15th century architectural structure, and its set of mural paintings, both internal and external (..) On either side are two small open porches of Walachian influence. The porches were added quite soon after the church was built, by Ieremia Movila himself. (..) The restorations undertaken since the 1970s have been carefully carried out, with great emphasis being placed on respecting authenticity in respect of motifs and pigments, and on conservation conditions. UNESCO
Apse with a decoration depicting the Church Hierarchy
The Church of the Resurrection, although still built on the model of the classic Moldavian church, shows the first new architectural tendencies. The church has the five rooms of a large Moldavian monastery church: the chancel, naos, burial chamber, pronaos and exonarthex. On the apses are tall niches, but they no longer reach nearly to the eaves as before. The row of small niches that used to go around the church wall was omitted. The Church Hierarchy triumphing was painted on the apses. Arranged in seven horizontal registers, the angels, the patriarchs, the apostles, the bishops, the martyrs, and the monks are facing emblematic figures painted along the axis of the church: God the Father, Christ, the Virgin and Child, Jesus Christ the Great Archpriest, and Saint John the Baptist. UNESCO
Detail of the Akathistos Hymn (a hymn during which the congregation is expected to remain standing in reverence, without sitting down)
Three Movila brothers built the Church of the Resurrection of Sucevita around 1583. Quite soon after the monastery was built Ieremia Movila became the ruler of Moldavia, and his brother Simion reigned in Wallachia. The church was painted around 1595, nearly half a century after its "sister" churches. It is considered the last flowering of the custom of painting the church walls that marked the reigns of Stephen the Great and Petru Rares. Building and painting a church that closely resembled the edifices their ancestors raised decades before, was a way for the Movilas to claim to be part of the royal line of Stephen the Great.
The detail shows Russian influence in the depiction of a pocrov (cover or veil, which was a sign of the divine nature of ancient gods and goddesses, e.g. Venus) and of the onion domes of the church. In the second half of the XVIth century the Tsardom of Russia, under the leadership of Ivan IV, the Terrible, began its expansion southwards, a policy which was continued in the following centuries.
The Ladder of Divine Ascent of St. John Climacus
The number of scenes and personages is higher than in any other church in Moldavia. Unlike most other cases, the names of the painters are known: the brothers Ion and Sofronie, who carried out the work in 1595-1596. UNESCO
The Ladder of St. John Climacus is another important fresco. St. John the Sinaite, also known as Climacus by his Greek name, wrote the moral treatise "Ladder of Paradise." He lived on Mount Sinai in the VIth century, first as a hermit and then as abbot of the St. Catherine Monastery. The Ladder consists of 30 steps, each of them symbolizing a virtue. It is addressed to anchorites and cenobites and treats of the means by which the highest degree of religious perfection may be attained. Because the text is mostly written in a concise, sententious form, with the aid of aphorisms, and as the reasonings are not sufficiently closely connected, it is at times somewhat obscure.
Detail of The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Once having passed the last 3 steps of the ladder, which symbolize the virtue of Love for God, Hope, and Faith, the monk is received by the Son of God in the angels' world. The opposing universes are represented on each side of the ladder: on one side, the ascending triangle populated by angels - 52 in total, arranged in parallel rows, in perfect synchronization; on the other side, the descending triangle, symbolizing hell, a chaotic mass of terrifying demons ready to take the souls of those who lack perseverance. In the triangle of hell, one can see nine monks who failed to achieve perfection.
Scenes from the Genesis
The murals are designed for the religious edification of the generally illiterate peasant population, in the context of the political and religious tension that was affecting south-eastern Europe at the time. These are excellent quality murals painted by local artists with a rich colour range, of which Sucevita is simultaneously the culmination and a form of spiritual and artistic testament. (..) In addition to its iconographic specificity, the Sucevita church is notable for a more graphic pictorial style and brighter colours, with a predominance of red and emerald green, than the seven other churches in the group. UNESCO
|Other abbeys/monasteries in this web site:|
Monastero di S. Paolo fuori le Mura
Abbazia di S. Paolo alle Tre Fontane
Sacro Speco di S. Benedetto a Subiaco
S. Scolastica a Subiaco
Abbazia di Fossanova
Abbazia di S. Nilo a Grottaferrata
Abbazia di Farfa
Abbazia di Pomposa
Abbazia di Casamari
The Abbey of Saint-Gilles in France
Abbaye aux Dames at Saintes in France
St. John's monastery at Patmos in Greece
The monasteries at Meteora in Greece
The monastery of Sumela in Turkey
The monastery of Deyr az Zafaran at Mardin in Turkey
Deyr Semaan (Simeon's Monastery) near Aleppo in Syria
The abbey of Bellapais on Cyprus
Plan of this section:
Crossing the Southern Carpathians: Bran Castle and Cozia Monastery
Sighisoara and Biertan
Other locations in Transylvania (Bistrita, Targu Mures and the Eastern Carpathians)
Moldavian Monasteries - page one