Churches of Moldavia
Churches Of Moldavia
Cultural Romania Europe And North America

In the European art of the period, the exterior mural painting of the northern Moldavian churches is a unique phenomenon in Byzantine art and a masterpiece of mural art. In terms of the art of Romania, this group of churches constitutes a specific phenomenon, from the point of view of architecture as well as painting. Their exterior painted walls constitute an exceptional aesthetic value, forming a perfect symbiosis between colour, architecture, and surrounding landscape.

Moldavia became an independent state in the 14th century, achieving its apogee during the anti-Ottoman crusades of princes Stephen the Great and Peter Rares. This also produced a cultural flowering, and the most remarkable series of churches. A general Christian tradition of decorating the exteriors of churches was adopted and extended in Moldavia. This had its own specific iconography, dominated by certain obligatory themes: the Church Hierarchy, the Last Judgement, and the Tree of Jesse. These monuments form a compact and coherent group in chronological terms, all being built in the 1530s and 1540s, during the reign of Peter Rares. They are all within a 60 km radius of Suceava, the residence of the Moldavian princes.

The Church of the Holy Rood, Patrauti, built in 1487 by Stephen the Great, was pillaged in 1653 and 1684 and restored by Prince Nicolas Mavrocordat in the early 18th century. It is a small three-apsed building consisting of a sanctuary, a naos crowned with a high drum, and a narthex. The monumental interior mural painting represents the Passion Cycle.

At the Church of St George of the former Voronet Monastery, also founded by Stephen the Great, the naos and sanctuary were painted between 1488 and 1496 and the narthex in 1552. It is a three-apse structure, with an exonarthex added in 1546. The interior murals represent the Passion Cycle. The walls and the vault of the exonarthex are covered by the 365 scenes of the Calendar of Saints. The exterior murals depict traditional scenes, and the famous Last Judgement, on the western wall.

The Church of the Beheading of St John the Baptist was built as the residence of the Governor of Suceava, Luca Arbore. It was decorated at the order of his granddaughter in 1541 and became the village church when the family died out. The Arbore family is represented in a votive tablet on the wall of the naos and by funerary portraits in the narthex. The high quality of the interior paintings continues on the exterior.

The three-apsed Church of St George, formerly the Metropolitan Church of Moldavia until the late 17th century, is now the catholicon of the Monastery of St John of Suceava. The interior paintings, although somewhat darkened, have exceptional plastic qualities. The exterior paintings of 1534 only survive on the west and south facades, and depict the four traditional themes. They are exceptional by virtue of their monumental composition, elegant silhouettes, harmonious colours and perfect Cyrillic inscriptions.

The Church of St Nicholas and the Catholicon of the Monastery of Probota was built by Prince Peter Rares in 1531 as a family mausoleum. All the paintings are contemporary with the church with the exception of those in the sanctuary, repainted in the 19th century. The exterior mural paintings, in poor condition, show evidence of the hand of a master in their outstanding composition and remarkable use of colours.

The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin of the former Monastery of Humor dates back to before 1415, but the present structure was built in 1530 by the great Logothete Theodore Bulberg and the wife, Anastasia, of Peter Rares. It exhibits certain architectural variations from the traditional three-apsed monastery church, such as the lack of a drum over the narthex.

The Church of the Annunciation of the Monastery of Moldovita was rebuilt by Alexander the Good, but the present structure is earlier. It is very similar in form and decoration to the Humor church, and is believed that the same master may have been responsible for both churches.