The Beautiful Voronet Monastery – UNESCO Site
The Voronetz Monastery is a medieval monastery situated in Voronetz village, close to Gura Humorului town, in Suceava County. It is one of the famous painted monasteries from southern Bukovina, in Suceava County. The monastery was constructed by Stephen the Great in 1488 over a period of 3 months and 3 weeks to commemorate the victory at Battle of Vaslui. Often known as the “Sistine Chapel of the East”, the frescoes at Voronetz feature a special and intense shade of blue known in Romania as “Voronetz Blue” and it is known that the roof also used to be blue, but time and the elements has washed it out.
The monastery is located to the south of Gura Humorului in Suceava County, in the valley of the Voronetz River. The legend of the origin of the church unites two men central to Romanian history: the founder of the monastery, Stephen the Great, and Saint Daniil the Hermit, the first abbot of the monastery. The tomb of Saint Daniil is located within the monastery.
The monastery is located on a riverbank, at the end of the long and narrow village of the same name, near the town of Gura Humorului.
Year Built: 1488
Built by: Stephen the Great
Location: Voroneţ, Suceava County
Summary: It is known throughout the world for its exterior frescoes of bright and intense colours, and for the hundreds of well-preserved figures placed against the renowned azurite background. The church of Voroneţ that Stephen the Great built included the chancel, the naos with its tower, and the pronaos.
The age of the monastic site is not known. A legend tells us that Stephen the Great, in a moment of crisis during a war against the Ottoman Turks, came to Daniel the Hermit at his skete in Voronetz and asked for advice. Daniel told him not to surrender the fight. Then, after victory, he must build a monastery dedicated to Saint George. The original entrance above the Church of Saint George, now in the exonarthex, bears the inscription.
“I, Voievode Stephen, by the Grace of God Ruler of Moldavia, son of Bogdan, have started to have the monastery of Voroneţ built to the glory of the holy and well-known Saint George, the great and victorious martyr, in 6996 in May on 26, on one day of Monday, after the Pentecost and I had it finished the same year, in September, 1488.”
The church was built on a triconch plan (with three apses), with a chancel, a naos with its tower, and a pronaos.
In 1547, the Metropolitan Bishop of Moldavia Grigorie Roshca added the exonarthex to the west end of the church and had the exterior walls painted. His contribution is recorded on the left of the entrance door:
”By the Will of the Father and the Help of the Son and the accomplishment of the Holy Spirit and by the great pains taken by the faithful Kir Grigorie, Metropolitan of the whole Moldavian Country, there was added this title porch and the exterior of the whole church was painted, for the sake of his soul, in 7055 (1547).”
This is the present church that was built on the site of an older wooden church, the scanty remains of which have not been dated. The renowned researcher George Balş wrote in the 1920’s that the churches of this period, and in part also those built in the following century, were “Byzantine churches built with Gothic hands”.The structure and the interior spatial solutions were linked to the Byzantine and south Slavic tradition.
The monastery contains tombstones commemorating Saint Daniil the Hermit, Grigorie Roshca, and other patrons of the church and noblemen.
Voronetz was known for its school of calligraphy, where priests, monks and friars learned to read, write and translate religious texts. The school produced two notable copies of Romanian translations of the Bible: The Codex of Voronetz, discovered in 1871, and The Psalter of Voronetz, found in 1882. These books are now held at the Romanian Academy.
The monastery was deserted soon after 1775, when the Habsburg Monarchy annexed the northern part of Moldavia. The monastic community returned to Voronetz in 1991. Since their return, those living in the monastery have constructed housing for the resident nuns, a chapel, fountains, stables, barns, and a house for pilgrims.
The katholikon (main church) of Saint George at Voronetz Monastery is possibly the most famous church in Romania. It is known throughout the world for its exterior frescoes of bright and intense colours, and for the hundreds of well-preserved figures placed against the renowned azurite background. The small windows, their rectangular frames of crossed rods and the receding pointed or shouldered arches of the interior doorframes are Gothic. The south and north doors of the exonarthex of 1547 have rectangular frames, which indicate a transition period from Gothic to Renaissance. But, above them, on each wall is a tall window with a flamboyant Gothic arch. The whole west façade is without any openings, which indicates that the intention of the Metropolitan Roshca was from the beginning to reserve it for frescoes.
The exterior, with its buttresses and door and window frames were related to Western European High Gothic. The influences spread from Transylvania and Poland with craftsmen who were invited especially to build churches.
The Church of St. George is dated with the commemorative inscription placed above the original entrance, now in the exonarthex: “I, Prince Stephen, by God’s mercy leading the Country of Moldavia, son of Prince Bogdan, started to build this foundation at the Monastery of Voroneţ, dedicated to the Saint and Worshipped and Great Martyr and Victorious George, in the year 6996 (1488) the month of May, 26, the Monday after the Descent of the Holy Spirit, and completed it in the same year, in the month of September, 14”. The text shows that the church was built in less than four months. This tells us something about the high professional level of construction at the time, especially taking into account that the Church of St. Elijah in Suceava was built exactly at the same time.
On the north façade is still visible the original decoration of the church, the rows of ceramic enameled discs in yellow, brown and green, decorated in relief. These include heraldic motifs, such as the rampant lion and the aurochs’ head of the Moldavian coat of arms, and creatures inspired by Western European mediaeval literature, such as two-tailed mermaids. The tower is decorated with sixteen tall niches, in four of which are windows. A row of small niches encircles the tower above them. The fragmented roof probably follows the shape of the original roof, which doubtless was made with shingles.