Not far from the city of Gura Humorului, on the valley of an affluent of Moldova, one of the most beautiful monasteries was built more than five centuries ago. The frescoes decorating the exterior and the interior, the originality of the paintings and last but not least the blue colour – so blue –, denote the geniality of the Moldavian artists who, with an acute artistic sense, made out of Voronet Monastery Moldavia’s symbol.
Stephen the Great established the foundation stone of the monastery in 1488. The church was set under the festival of Saint George – victory carrier. The construction workings were finished in the autumn of the same year as attested by the inscription at the entrance door in the pre-nave.
Beautiful legends wrap the monastery in a mysterious atmosphere. The legend has it that the famous monk Daniel the Lonely lived here in Stephen the Great’s time. It is said that he advised the great ruler not to give in to the Turks and Mohammed because “the war was his”. Thus the Voronet Monastery was built a year later, like a praise for the victory.
From an architectural point of view the monastery resembles the other churches built during Stephen the Great’s rule. Situated on a foiled plan, with the spire over the nave and an interrupted roof the construction was going to stand out by the originality of the decoration. The apse in half-circular form has kept original decorative elements: prolonged niches and holes under cornices. Two superposed bases heighten the spire that is decorated, in its turn, in the same manner. Gothic elements can be noticed within the frames of the windows. The rock frames encircling the entrance doors in the holy house and which are set on the Northern and Southern wings of the porch contain decorative elements of Gothic and Renaissance elements. A transversal half-cylindrical vault crowns the porch. Two bigger windows allow light to come into the room. They have been placed over the doors. A vault in the shape of a callote also covers the pre-nave. Mouldings in broken arch frame in their turn the portal of entrance in the pre-nave. A door fixed in the separating wall allows the passing from the pre-nave into the nave. Moldavian arches and pendentives uphold the cupola of the nave and the tower. The apse of the altar, prolonged and covered with an archway in the shape of a quarter of a sphere, is different from the other apses.
The pre-nave and the nave are each lighted by two windows. Instead, the altar will receive light through one single window fixed within the axle of the eastern apse.
Thick defence walls protected the church. A bell tower and monk houses were built around it during the years.
The cousin of ruler Rares, metropolitan bishop Grigorie Rosca, achieved his greatest foundation: the Voronet external painting. After it has become so famous for its colouring, especially for its nuance of blue, the painting is today the main point of attraction. The painters have actually filtered the tonal harmonies, the nuances and colours from the environment with artistic sensibility. As blue as the sky of Voronet is, the painters tried to reproduce it on the walls of the holy church. Thus, the artists have succeeded to create an indestructible unity between the landscape and the external painting of the church. Moreover, depending on the colour accents and contour they used, they succeeded to demonstrate that painted silhouettes could be clearly perceived even when watched from a distance. The western façade with the impressive scene of the Final Judgement is compositionally made of four registers. In the upper side there is Father God, the second register includes the Deisis scene framed by seated apostles. A fire river springs from the feet of the Saviour where sinners find their torments. The third register is the Etimasia of the Holy Ghost in the shape of a pigeon, the Holy Gospel and the proto-parents of the Romanian people, with a group of believers guided by Saint Apostle Pavel in the North, and the groups of non-believers in the South, being rebuked by Moses. In the fourth register, in the middle, there appears the balance weighing the good deeds and the bad deeds, the fight for souls between angels and demons; in the North Heaven, in the South Hell. We can also notice among believers awaiting judgement, beside the Orthodox, those of other religions. The faces of Jews, Armenians, Turks and Latins are carefully observed and remarkably painted. The spiritual master of the church is represented himself on the southern side of the porch. In the neighbourhood there are the faces of the metropolitan bishop Grigorie Rosca and Daniil the Lonely with rolls in their hands and a 12-scene composition: The Sufferings of Saint John the New. At the right of the pre-nave the theme of Iseu’s tree is presented where the luxurious vegetation enchants the eye as a true garden, Saint Nicholas’ prayer for the dead and the faces of certain Greek philosophers. The facades of the apses have been covered with six registers where angels, seraphs, apostles, lonely priests and martyrs are represented walking in prayer step towards the altar. The compositions were named the Cinul. The inside walls of the porch have also been painted with saints of the Orthodox calendar at metropolitan bishop Rosca’s urge. Dressed in a beautiful shirt with folk floral motives, Mother Mary holding Jesus the baby is painted on the vault of the pre-nave, and the neighbouring walls were decorated with scenes from Saint George’s life. According to Orthodox canons, we can admire the representation of Jesus the Pantocrator in the nave, angels, prophets and apostles in the inside spaces of the tower, and the four evangelists on the pendentives. The Face Change and the Prayer in the Ghetsemani Garden are present in the southern apse, and other military saints’ faces are profiled on the other spaces of the nave.
Stephen the Great appears in a painting on the wall separating the nave from the pre-nave. The characters in the painting wear brocade costumes, which makes it very representative for the study of that age’s costume. The altar itself is highly artistically painted and adorned with the representation of Mother Mary holding Jesus the child, between two angels. There is a striking note of authenticity in the painting from Voronet. Aspects of the usual life of those times gather new connotations, being reflected in the painting of the church. Various stages important for the study of the wood sculpture evolution can be found in the decoration of the iconostasis. The two icons and the imperial doors were made in Stephen the Great’s time, other icons are from the 16th century and the wakes from the 18th century.
The tombs were covered with tombstones decorated with great artistic sense. The monk Daniil the Lonely rests at Voronet monastery.
Until the 18th century monks lived around the church, manually writing the religious texts: The Voronetian Codex, Saint Apostle Jacob’s Letter and the Voronet Psalm Book are among the most famous. The White Pews, the Polychromatic Pews, the Ruler’s Chair, the Bishop’s Chair, the lustre and a golden beam stand out from the religious art pieces. All are worked in wood, belonging to the 16th century and are especially valuable. Their floral and geometrical motives are of the most genuine folkloric inspiration.
The tower bell still keeps the two bells given to the church by Stephen the Great.