The Voronet Monastery is located 4.5 km southeast of Gura Humorului in the former village of Voronet. It was built in just 3 month and 21 days, between May 26th and September14th 1488, at the order of Stephen the Great. It was located on the site of a wooden hermitage of Daniel the Hermit, the spiritual adviser of Stephen the Great. In 1547 the exonarthex was added under the surveillance of the Metropolitan Grigore Rosca, the exterior frescoes being finished in the same period of time.
Like in other churches of Moldavia, the Voronet Monastery was an authentic cultural and artistic center, a school of calligraphers, illuminators and translators from Greek and Slavic.
The monastic life was broken in 1785, after Bucovina’s annexation to the Hapsburg Empire, when the cells were destroyed, and it was resumed on April 1st 1991, this time as a convent.
The presence of the buttresses, a Romanesque and Gothic way of reinforcing the edifices, was used here for aesthetic reasons rather than for real needs, being in the same time a link with the Western art. The Byzantine influence is to be found in the trilobated shape of the church (with three apses), as well in the features of the mural painting. Dedicated to Saint George, the church consists of porch, narthex, nave and altar. The church of the convent boasts the graves of Saint Daniil the Hermit and Metropolitan Grigore Rosca.
It is known as the Sistine Chapel of the Orient because of its blue frescoes. The blue of Voronet, obtained from lapis lazuli, is considered to be unique in the world, being many times compared with the Rubens’ red or the Veronese’s green.
The legend has it that Stephen the Great was so deeply devoted to the cult of Saint George that whenever started new battles against the invaders, he had an icon of the saint painted on the banners of Moldavia together with the country’s coat of arms. It is said Stephan the Great had come to his spiritual adviser, Daniil the Hermit, when he was in danger to lose a battle against the Turks. After the advice received from his hermit, Stephan the Great won the battle, thus building the church dedicated to Saint George. Maybe this is the reason why Metropolitan Grigore Rosca decided to have Saint George, slaying the dragon before the eyes of the pagans of the City of Beirut, painted on the left of the church’s entrance. Born in Asia Minor in the last half of the 3rd century, in a reach and noble family, Saint George received a good education and, being a good athlete, took up a military career. Brave and honest he became general and trustworthy person of Emperor Diocletian. Being a person with high moral standards, he suffered a lot as a witness of the persecutions of the Christians. Once, when the Christians were sent to be burned because they refused to present the honor to emperor by bringing him sacrifices like to a God, General George, distressed by the martyrdom scene, said: “I am also a Christian. I honor you my emperor but my heart belongs to Him.” In rage Diocletian ordered General George to be tortured and because he still didn’t deny his faith asked for the saint to be beheaded. This happened in Rome on the 23rd of April.
Painted above the door entrance of the Voronet Monastery, the icon Deisis, shows Jesus sitting on the throne flanked by the Holly Virgin and St. John the Baptist. In His left hand, Jesus holds an book, which says: “I’m the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In the right of Jesus, the Holy Virgin holds a parchment on which it is written: “Son of God, forgive your humbled servants for their ancestors’ pride.” On the other side, St. John the Baptist holds a parchment, too, on which it is written: “Listen to your Mother who implores you, Maker!”
The western side of the southern facade represents in seventeen scenes enfolded on the first 3 upper registers the story of Saint Nicholas and his miracles.
The hymn dedicated to Saint John the New from Suceava, painted under the story of Saint Nicholas, describes in twelve scenes the life of this saint. Born in Asia Minor, the Christian John was traveling in 1330 to the White Fortress. The ship captain tries to convert John to Catholicism but he fails. Thus, the captain goes to the Sheik of the town, a Persian, and tells him that John was ready to deny his Christian faith. Aware of the evil work against him, John defies the Sheik with calm and dignity. This inner peace makes the Persian leader to order John’s torture. Although, he suffered the most terrible torture methods, John didn’t deny his faith in God. Finally, he was tided by the tail of a horse, dragged in the streets of the town and beheaded. The Christians weren’t allowed to bury John’s body. One of the scenes shows how two angels are sent by God to glorify John’s death and to incense his body. An archer, thinking that the angels were Christians who came to take the body, wanted to shot an arrow but his hands were petrified. Hearing the story of the two angels, the Sheik allowed Christians to burry properly John’s body. Another scene, represented in the lowest register in the right part of the door as you enter, illustrates how the relics are brought to Suceava in the year of 1402 under the reign of Alexander the Kind.
The Stem of Jesse fresco, which represents Jesus’ genealogy, includes more than one hundred characters: kings, messianic prophets, and tribe rulers, all of them surrounded by floral display. The Tree of Jesse is flanked by the prophets of the Old Testament, holding in their hands white parchments.
The apses of the Voronet Monastery are covered by the Prayer of all Saints. Above the window of the southern apse, an old man holds the Infant Jesus in his arms. He is Simeon, the Bearer of God. Righteous Simeon was a great scholar of the Old Law. He was among the ones to translate the Old Testament. When he read the line which says: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel”, he thought there is a mistake and he corrected the text but next morning the text was back in its original form. Astonished, he wanted to correct again the text but then he heard Angel’s Gabriel voice telling him there is no mistake and he will live till the prophecy will come true. And so, Simeon lived for three hundred years till he had the chance to hold Jesus in his arms.
“The Last Judgment” covers the entire western wall being represented in a huge composition on 5 horizontal registers flanked by buttresses on each side. Starting with the first register, placed under the roof, the symbol and the metaphor play an extraordinary roll, representing “the death of the time”, the end of the centuries and the end of the world. The Canvas of Time with the 12 zodiacal signs is stretched by two groups of 4 angels guarded by Michael and Gabriel Archangels. In the middle, the Creator occupies his place.
Under the Creator, Jesus is flanked by the Holly Virgin, John the Baptist and by the 12 Apostles sitting on the Moldavian traditional benches called “lavita”. An army of angels is placed behind them.
In the 3rd register, the center of gravity belongs to the Throne of Judgment symbolizing the wait for the second coming of Christ on Judgment Day. The Holly Spirit shown as a dove placed on the Holly Book is flanked this time by Adam and Eve. In the left side, Saint Paul exhorts people with pure souls toward the throne while in the right side, Moses, holding the stone tablets, invites the sinners to the balance where their acts during the life will be weighed. Whereas the saints’ faces are calm, and peaceful, those of the sinners are terrified.
In the 4th register, under the Throne of Judgment, one can see a book. It is the Holly Gospel on which lies the Holy Chalice used to share the sacraments. Under the book, the divine hand holds a set of scales. Below, a naked figure awaits his judgment, wondering himself if the scales will tip him towards Heaven or Hell. In the same scene we assist to the fight between angels and demons for the souls of the people. The demons don’t hesitate to cheat trying to tilt the balance by hanging them on the scale. The damned people, standing in line, are waiting to be thrown in the river of fire which starts from the feet of Jesus and gets wider and wider. In the river of fire an angel drags Arius by his beard to take him to Satan. Arius was the one who denied Jesus’ divinity. On the left side, the procession of the righteous makes their way towards Heaven. Opposite, the Resurrection is represented, dead people being called by the angels who are blowing Romanian traditional musical instruments called “bucium”. The woman who seems to have her head covered by a green fir tree symbolizes the Earth. The animals take part to the judgment handing back fragments of human torsos to complete the bodies of the devoured people. The deer alone has nothing to hand back, for in the Romanian folklore it stands for innocence. The Resurrection continues in the last register where a woman, symbolizing the sea, holds a boat and rides on the back of a fish, spitting out the drowned. Finally, the bodies meet their souls and go together to by judged.
The last register shows the Gates of Heaven, where Saint Peter, holding the key of the Heaven, invites the righteous to enter Paradise. In the crowed, one can spot the first of the roman emperors to be Christianized, Constantine, and his mother, Helena, recognizable by their crown. On the left side of the register, in Heaven, from left to right, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob hold in their arms saved souls wrapped in scarves. Next to them, holding a cross in his hands, the thief who was crucified with Christ stands behind sitting Mary, flanked by 2 Archangels. In the center of the last register, David plays cobza, a sort of lute still found in Moldavia. On his left, a guardian angel takes someone’s soul to be judged. Opposite, the death of a sinner takes place.
The northern wall, like in the other painted monasteries, was almost completely erased by the harsh weather conditions. Even so, The Book of Genesis is still preserved. Against a white background, one can recognize Adam and Eve committing the original sin. Around the Gothic window the artists painted 24 scenes from the life of Saint Anthony the Great while the northern buttress enfolds the Custom of Heaven which represents the trials a soul must pass in order to take a place in Heaven.
Inside, the church of the Voronet Monastery boasts amazing frescoes. Those from the altar and nave are the only original mural paintings while the other ere painted later, around 1550. The interior of the porch is covered by the paintings which represent the Orthodox Calendar. There are 365 scenes, one for each day of the year. The calendar starts with September 1st, when the ecclesiastical year begins. The saints are painted single or in groups, illustrating the day of their celebration.
The narthex illustrates a series of saints and martyrs while the nave shows the votive picture of the founder, Stephen the Great. He and his family are presented to Jesus by the patron saint of the church, Saint George. The Moldavian ruler hands to Jesus the church as it was in its original form, without a porch and having no exterior frescoes. He is followed by his wife Lady Maria –Vochita, his son Bogdan III and by a girl.
The Cycle of Jesus’ Passions is described starting from the right of the nave. Military saints such as George, Procopius, Gordye, Mercurius and Menas are presented on the northern wall of the nave.
The dome of the nave, built in Moldavian style shows Jesus Christ “Pantocrator” (Almighty).
One of the most valuable iconostasis in Moldavia, carved in gilded yew and richly decorated with Christian motifs, separates the nave from the altar. Jesus Crucified is represented on top of the iconostasis. The representations of the prophets from the Old Testament are next to Jesus. The Apostles are coming in the next register, six of them on each side of the Savior. The 3rd register illustrates the great Christian holidays. The doors of the iconostasis, called also the Imperial Doors, are true masterpieces of carved wood. The lateral doors are representing Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel.
The Schedule for the Voronet Monastery:
Daily: 08:00 – 20:00
Entrance fee: €1.5
When to visit the monastery: the best period to visit the Voronet Monastery is in spring or autumn when you could have the entire place just for you. The worse moment would be the period during the Easter celebration.
Pictures of the Voronet Monastery
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