Moldovita Monastery was founded in 1532 by the Ruler Petru Rares, Stefan the Great’s illegitimate son. At first there was a fortified stone church erected by Alexander the Kind-Hearted (1400-1432), between 1402 and 1410, but it collapsed at the beginning of the 16th century because of the very heavy rains and ground sliding; its ruins can still be seen today. The Moldovita Monastery, the one we can see today, was rebuilt on safer ground, on the valley of the Moldovita River. The monastery consists of a fortified quadrangular enclosure with towers, thick walls (6 m high, 1.2 m wide) and brawny gates, with a magnificent painted church at its center.
The second (after Humor) and the last church with open porch, hidden place above the burial-vault, recesses in the apses and niches under the cornice – elements specific to the monuments of Stephen the Great’s period. The Gothic-style windows and doors have pointed arched-frames, trefoil rosettes, and the carved stone plinth represents a resting-place. The plan of the building is trefoiled, the narthex vault is supported by eight arches instead of four. A valuable monument is the – clisiarnitza- built in 1612 with the zeal of the bishop Efrem de Radauti, and used as residence, school for copyists-miniaturists and a safe place for the monastic treasure. The surrounding wall has battlements above the wall passage and fortified towers, the passageway arcade was adorned with rosettes and floral motifs in the 17th century, under the influence of the style used at the Dragomirna Monastery.
The masters who painted its interior and exterior walls have decorated them with scenes from 16th century Moldavian daily life. The interior painting is traditional, but the Crucifixion (nave) is considered the most valuable painting on this theme in Bukovina churches, it is often compared with Italian art (the Descent from the Cross) or with the 15th-century icon painters of Novgorod (the Mourning Of Christ, the north wall). Jesus has a warm attitude towards the apostle John in the Last Supper, on the sanctuary conch. The abundance of figurative and decorative elements, and the brightness of colors are impressive in the Praying Virgin on the narthex vault, and in Our Lady of Tenderness on the portal tympanum, a more humanized and more tragic image than in any other iconography.
The exterior painting (1537) shows more similarities to the Humor fresco than the interior painting. It is imagistically complex and chromatically rich. The Last Judgment in the porch includes Mohammed as well among the heretics. The southern facade has well preserved the Hymn to the Virgin, an impressive Siege of Constantinople, and Moses’ Burning Bush. Another great composition on the southern facade is the Tree of Jesse guarded by the leaders of the 12 descending peoples of Israel. The apses are covered by the Prayer of All Saints which represents the connection between the Church in Heaven and the one on Earth. The blend and unity of Byzantine and local elements, the Romanian interpretation of some traditionally Byzantine themes are outstanding.
Another valuable fresco is that of the Customs of Heaven, also present at Humor, Arbore and Voronet monasteries, which is inspired by folk legends. In the ‘customs’ of heaven, the souls are judged as soon as they have died and go over several barriers before they enter Paradise with the angels’ help, after having paid their tribute to devil publicans. This is the origin of an old Romanian tradition of throwing coins into a dead person’s coffin or into the recently dug grave, or throwing coins into the rivers that are crossed over by a burial procession on their way to the graveyard.
The Moldovita painting displays certain common characteristics with the Humor one, which led to the hypothesis that they were achieved by the same artists, Toma of Suceava. Often called,’A Parchment in Red’, the exterior colors are mainly yellow ochre combined with brilliant hues of red, blue and green. On the right side of the nave, there is a mural painting of Petru Rares and his family, presenting the monastery to Jesus. Moldovita’s frescoes along with the ones at Voronet, have best preserved their colors which are astonishingly fresh and vivid.
When viewing Moldovita Monastery do not omit the small museum in the north west corner, which houses several fine tapestries woven from pure gold and silver thread. It also preserves 15th-century manuscripts in which important references are made to the way the monastic school was organized, to the cultural activity in general. The Tetraevangelistary (1613) and a Psalter (1614) were written in a decorative hand here. Petru Rares’ princely throne (16th century) is the most valuable work of this kind in Moldavia. Of utmost value are also the embroideries donated by Stephen the Great (15th century. There is also a silver-chased Evangelistry presented by Catherine the Great, empress of Russia, which has not only a highly artistic and religious value, but also an intrinsic one, as each and every page of this book was made from the skin of an unborn lamb, killed together with his mother.