THE CHURCH OF THE FORMER PROBOTA MONASTERY
Between Pascani and Dolhasca, across the well-known Lespezi fair, having lied for more than four centuries on a close hill, there is the church of the Probota monastery. Petru Rares founded this construction, enjoying architectural solutions ingenious for that age and possessing a painting of inalterable beauty. Finished in 1530, it inaugurated, beside Humor, and culminating with Moldovita and Voronet, the so-called “Raresian” age. This period is characterised by pictorial innovation, springing from the permanent search for adequate means to express beauty and which honour the local masters. They can be included in the gallery of the great creators of art.
The church was built on the place of an older one. Long before 1530, we find a mention about the church of Saint Nicholas from Poiana Siretului. This was a construction made of oak wood at the end of the 14th century. A rock church was built later on this place, whose traces still exist today. In 1530, Petru Rares set the foundation stone of the third church which was to be patronised by Saint Nicholas. Ruler Petru Rares strengthened the old gifts, also giving it several villages and precious gifts. The ruler’s most surprising decision was to transform Probota in rulers’ crypt, breaking the tradition dating since Stephen the Great’s time which stipulated that rulers should be buried at Putna.
Less than one century from its building, burglars plundered the church.
Vasile Lupu remade its roof, and later Metropolitan Bishop Dosoftei took care where he had become a monk. Yet, in 1677, he dedicated the building to the “Our Lord’s saint monastery” from Jerusalem. The Greek monks were not very good administrators, their carelessness leading to the deterioration of Petru Rares’ foundation. The painting restoration initiative from 1844 was not a happier idea either. The works were of poor quality, mostly covering (the altar, the tomb room and the nave) the excellent paintings of 1532. The windows with Gothic elements were mostly built in. Since 1904, at the celebration of 400 years from Stephen the Great’s death, the church was given again general attention. Lady Oltea’s tombstone was transported inside the walls of Probota, and later on significant improvements were performed in the church.
The church is guarded with strong walls, closing in a square interior, with sides almost 90 metres long. On the eastern side, there are at the two extremities, square towers, and the access gate is in the middle. A little construction is above the gate, and a votive painting representing Petru Rares and his family is on the inside wall of this construction.
The surrounding walls are built from river stone, one meter thick and two floors high. A row of towers is on the superior side. The western wall has no particularity, except for a powerful abutment situated on the outside. At the western end of the northern wall, without being connected, there are the ruling houses which constitute a single body together with the tower-bell. The latter, supported by two abutments at the western angles, has three floors, and the ruling houses have only two. The church is situated in the northern half of the interior. The brickwork is made of raw stone, and niches of three rows of bricks horizontally disposed can be found in it. The plane of the church is simple, that is it is threefold. The characteristics are two abutments on the exterior, placed at the angles of the porch. Two other pairs of abutments frame the lateral apses. A abutment foot, placed exactly under the altar’s window supports the main apse.
The apses have a different number of sides: the small ones have five, the big one has seven. All are adorned with blind arcades, over which there are two rows of niches, small and big. The small ones continue on the straight walls of the pre-nave, right up to the porch. On the lower side, a well-profiled pedestal surrounds the church. It has a double role: it is a special decor element and helps to strengthen the walls’ resistance. The roof is made of shingle, and two small vaults can be noticed at its ends. Beside its eight towers, where small rectangular windows alternate with little abutments, the spire of the church imposes by suppleness and elegance. The windows follow the direction of the main arches, and the abutments on the diagonal. On each side of the spire, a row of niches comes over the double arcades. Two star-like bases with eight corners each support the tower.
Inside, the church is separated as follows: the porch, the pre-nave, the tomb room, the nave and the altar. Thick walls separate the rooms. The only way to get to the porch is the southern door, since the northern one is built-in.
The porch, of rectangular form, is roofed by a half-cylindrical vault and lighted through eight windows. A beautiful door in Gothic style makes the passing from the porch into the pre-nave also built on a rectangular plane. The light gets in here only through four windows, symmetrically disposed in the northern and southern walls. The pre-nave is separated into two equal parts by three bug transversal arches supported by consoles made in the lateral walls. Above that there are several smaller arches, longitudinally disposed, meant to reduce the central plane of the vaults to a square.
The tomb room is remarkable through the half-cylindrical vault and through the wood altar screen attached to the eastern wall. Petru Rares’ tomb, his wife Elena’s and Stefan Rares’ are here. The strange light comes in through two windows framed in the lateral walls of the building.
The nave has two lateral apses, in the shape of a half-circle. A beautiful mosaic of white, red and grey marble that is on the right side of the spire, contrasts with the rest of the floor made of grey stone. A window allowing light to enter into the nave is disposed on each lateral apse.
Light comes in the apse of the altar through a window placed in the median axle.
The masters have generally respected the Moldavian style, and the appreciation according to which this church is a “peak” of this art is true.
Probota was among the first churches entirely painted on the inside and on the outside. Due to the circumstances above mentioned, only the scenes from the porch and from the pre-nave were kept from the original painting. On the outside, near the entrance door into the porch, one can see the face of Metropolitan Grigore Rosca, near an unknown character.
Inside the porch, because of the 1844 restoration we can still see the scene of the Last Judgement; in the pre-nave, the seven synods of the Church; up in the cupola Jesus the Pantocrator; on the vault of the altar the face of Lord’s Mother holding the baby in her arms; and on the walls – disposed on three registers – various scenes representing: Lord’s Resurrection, Tom’s Sunday, The washing of Lord’s feet, The healing of the thin man, The Last Dinner.
Probota is remarkable from the point of view of the architectural and pictorial elements, the artfulness of the anonymous masters placing this church among the Romanian monuments of great artistic value.