The morning of the second day of our trip started with clear skies and pleasant temperatures – ideal weather conditions for the tour of the monasteries in the Neamt area that we were planning for that day.

Monasteries, Hermitages and Churches in the Neamt County - source www.neamt.ro

Before I get into the details of our first stop let me point to a source of information about the religious monuments of the area that is very useful, but … you need to be able to read Romanian in order to understand the information stored there – although there are also a number of beautiful photos – http://www.neamt.ro/Info_utile/Manastiri/

Varatic - the entrance

For my non-Romanian friends I owe a few words of explanation. Monasteries played a crucial role in the history of the Romanian territories since the Middle Ages until the contemporaneity – maybe more than in the history and life of the majority of other Christian nations. They were spiritual centers and cultural centers and centers of national resistance against foreign occupiers and centers of political resistance against dictatorships.

the woodden gate

For our group of good friends of a life these places had even more significance. These were some of the objectives which we traveled with a camping tent on our backs as students, this was the place where some of our good friends got married. It was a trip of nostalgic meeting with the past of our youth, and for us a new encounter with the realities of new Romania.

the fountain and the church

The Varatic (Varatec) monastery is a relatively new one, the more modest hermitage that started at this place at the end of the 18th century was developed into one of the most important nuns monasteries in Moldova during the first decades of the 19th century, being declared an independent monastery under voievode (prince) Mihail Sturdza in 1839. Most of the building of the two-towered church and the surrounding complex was executed around 1808  – 1815. The events of the Greek revolt and Russian occupation around 1821 stopped the building for a while, but the works were completed in the coming two decades. While a big fire destroyed the buildings in 1900 and led to the reconstruction, the current architectural structure keeps the original 19th century design.

inside the church - the nave

The big church in the center of the monastery is dedicated to the Assumption of Saint Mary. As in many Moldavian churches the entry is from a veranda which is closed in this place, followed by a narthex and the nave. The dedication inscription reads:

La anul 1808 s-au zidit această biserică ce să prăznuieşte hramul Adormirea Maicii Domnului prin osteneala Sfin. sale a pre. cuvi. Părintelui Iosif Duhovnicul şi a stariţei Olimpiadii, iar cei întâi ctitori au fost maicile din acest locaş. Al doilea mari ctitori au fost Doamna Elenco Paladi, care au dăruit 3 moşii şi maica Elisabeta Balş au dăruit moşia Vultureşti, maica Safta Brâncoveanu au hărăzit moşiile Osica şi Vlădulenii cu mai multe îndatoriri în testamentul său, iar celelalte moşii, vii şi acarete ce au dăruit şi alţi ctitori sunt scrisă în cartea vieţii spre vecinica lor pomenire. 1841, octomvrii 20.

In 1808 they built this church dedicated to the Assumption through the trouble of pious Father Confessor and Abbot Iosif the Confessor and superior nun Olimpiadii who were the first founders of this place. The second major builders were Mrs. Elenco Paladi that brought three estates and mother Elizabeth had given the estate Vultureşti Bals, mother Safta Brâncoveanu estates were destined Osica Vlădulenii with more duties and in her will and other estates, vineyards and outbuilding were donated and other founders are written in the book of life to their memory be eternal. 1841, October 20.

Mother of God Empress Icon

Two impressive icons of the Savior and of Mother of God dominated the small narthex.

pulpit

Most of the painting in the church was originally painted around 1841 by D. Ioan, and then renovated and extended around 1882 by T. Iliescu – two local painters which were both skilled and following the rules of the Christian Orthodox religious painting in the area.

columned veranda

We were well beyond the peak tourist season, and we could enjoy the silence of this place (and the other that we visited) recuperated shortly after the rush and the crowds were gone.

entry at the monastery museum

We also started to observe what will become more and more evident as we added objectives to our tour of the churches, hermitages and monasteries. Romania freed from the Communist rule is undergoing a religious renaissance, and this is felt especially in the Christian Orthodox churches. The old monuments that were – at least part of them – neglected and lacked funds for maintenance during the Communist rule, when religion was at best tolerated, were now in course or after renovation. Life was back in places where religious activity ceased or was hardly maintained during the half century of atheistic dictatorship. The monastery of Varatic today hosts 450 nuns and sisters and five active priests. They maintain not only the spiritual life but also a flourishing micro-economic life with gardening, fruit trees and animals growing, and traditional crafts like weaving and carpets manufacturing.

'troitza'

While the museum hosts a consistent collection of church objects mostly from the past centuries there are new works of art, especially wood carving that decorate the beautiful garden of the monastery.

Ion Jalea - statue of Safta Brancoveanu

The most impressive work of hard in the garden however dates back from 1935 and belongs to one of the important Romanian sculptors of the past century – Ion Jalea. This is the portrait of Safta Brancoveanu, one of the first mother superiors of the place, descendant of a well known family of princes with great contributions in the history of the Romanian principalities.