Beginner’s Guide to Romania’s Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

Beginner’s Guide to Romania’s Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

As a MIR tour manager since 1998, I’ve led many MIR tours to the Bucovina region of Romania and to its painted monasteries, constructed in medieval times. Bucovina is a remote province tucked in the northeastern corner of Romania near Ukraine.

Bucavina, Romania map

What is a Painted Monastery?These are no run-of-the-mill churches. They are Romanian Orthodox monasteries with stories from the Bible and from history painted on their church walls: masterpieces of Byzantine art. Each painted monastery is distinctive in color and in its frescoed Bible stories. Because few could read or write in the Middle Ages, these pictures – inside and out – taught peasants Bible stories.(click on photo for larger version)

Today the monasteries are pilgrimage sites for Romanian Orthodox believers, as well as highlights for travelers from all over the world.  Nuns live and work at most of these monasteries, standing out in their distinctive black habits and veils.

A nun taps a mallet against a semantron, calling faithful to prayer in Bucovina, Romania Photo credit: Peter Guttman

A nun taps a mallet against a wooden semantron, calling faithful to prayer in Bucovina, Romania
Photo credit: Peter Guttman

Here are some notes on what to look for when you visit four of Bucovina’s most notable monasteries:

Admire the painted monasteries firsthandVisit these painted monasteries  on MIR’s small group tour, Bulgaria & Romania: Frescoes & Fortresses; all are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Voronet Monastery is actually a nunnery, where nuns combine farm work, painting, housekeeping, and tour guiding with a life of prayer and contemplation Photo credit: Martin Beguin

Voronet Monastery is actually a convent, where nuns combine farm work, painting, housekeeping, and tour guiding with a life of prayer and contemplation
Photo credit: Martin Beguin

Voronet: Blue on Blue

Voronet monastery’s distinctively vivid blue color is now known among artists as “Voronet blue.” Sometimes called the “Sistine Chapel of the East,” Voronet’s Gothic and Byzantine details dominate its most famous fresco, the Last Judgment.

Voronet Notes:
  1. History: They say Voronet was built in 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days.
  2. Dominant color: “Voronet blue,” a dark sky-blue hue made with crushed lapis luzuli.
  3. Most famous fresco: Last Judgment, with angels rolling up the zodiac to indicate that the world is ending. At the bottom of the fresco are the condemned – Turks and Tatars – who are claimed by the devil.
  4. Notice: About 20 resident nuns live at the Voronet Monastery.
Crushed lapis lazuli gemstones are used to create an intense blue known as 'Voronet blue' <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Crushed lapis lazuli gemstones are used to create an intense blue known as “Voronet blue”
Photo credit: Michel Behar

 (click on photo for larger version) 



The righteous ascend to heaven while sinners descend to hell in the Ladder of Virtues fresco at the Sucevita monastery Photo credit: Romanian National Tourist Office

The righteous ascend to heaven while sinners descend to hell in the Ladder of Virtues fresco at the Sucevita monastery
Photo credit: Romanian National Tourist Office

Sucevita: Ladder of Virtues

In Sucevita, blue-green dominates the frescoes on the façade of the church with its single steeple and massive fortress walls.

Sucevita Notes:
  1. History: It’s the last painted monastery built in Romania, and the only church with two iconostases – altar screens filled with icons and carvings.
  2. Dominant color: green.
  3. Most famous fresco: Ladder of Virtues.
  4. Notice: More than fifty nuns live here, the largest number of all the monasteries.
Sucevita was the last painted monastery built in Bucovina, constructed in 1583 <br>Photo credit: Romanian National Tourist Office

Sucevita was the last painted monastery built in Bucovina, constructed in 1583
Photo credit: Romanian National Tourist Office


The original 1532 Moldovita Monastery was ruined in floods and mudslides, and later rebuilt on higher ground <br>Photo credit: David W. Allen

The original 1532 Moldovita Monastery was ruined in floods and mudslides, and later rebuilt on higher ground
Photo credit: David W. Allen

Moldovita: Historic Frescoes

Another popular painted monastery is Moldovita, where gold and yellow predominate in the frescoed depictions.

Moldovita Notes:
  1. History: First built in the early 15th century, this church was destroyed by mudslides and later rebuilt in the 16th century.
  2. Dominant color: golds and deep blues.
  3. Most famous fresco: Siege of Constantinople, depicting the Ottoman capture of the Byzantine capital.
  4. Notice: The Moldovita Monastery is well fortified, surrounded by thick fortress walls.

Built in 1530, Humor Monastery is located near the Humor River in Bucovina <br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Built in 1530, Humor Monastery is located near the Humor River in Bucovina
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Humor: Parables

A fourth famous monastery is a tiny treasure called Humor, known for its reddish-brown hues.

Humor Notes:
  1. History: It’s the smallest of the monasteries seen on a MIR tour, and located near the Humor River. Built in 1530 and closed in 1786, Humor reopened in 1990.
  2. Dominant color: reddish-brown.
  3. Most famous fresco: Return of the Prodigal Son, as well as a fresco of the devil depicted as a woman
  4.  Notice: The three-story lookout tower is made of wood and bricks; you can climb it for views of the bucolic Romanian countryside.
Sinners and righteous await their last judgment in this fresco at Humor Monastery <br>Photo credit: David W. Allen

Sinners and righteous await their last judgment in this fresco at Humor Monastery
Photo credit: David W. Allen

Travel to Romania with MIR

MIR has more than two decades of Romania travel experience, offering on-the-ground support and quality you can trust and guides and tour managers that clients rave about. 


Where once people sought sanctuary from war inside these monasteries, today Bucovina is a sanctuary for travelers in search of illustrated history and medieval places of worship.

You can stand in awe before these historic buildings on MIR’s small group tour that visits Bucovina: Bulgaria & Romania: Frescoes & Fortresses. MIR can also create a hand-crafted, custom private journey that includes these UNESCO-listed painted monasteries in your itinerary.

Chat with a MIR destination specialist about travel to Romania by phone (1-111-111-1111) or email today. 

 

(Top photo: Moldovita’s monastery, painted in gold and blue hues, was completed in 1537. Photo credit: Romanian National Tourist Office)

PUBLISHED: April 24, 2015

Related Posts

Share your thoughts

One thought on “Beginner’s Guide to Romania’s Painted Monasteries of Bucovina