Sucevita Monastery

Sucevita Monastery, the last one to be built, is the largest and finest of the painted monasteries of Bucovina. “A Poem in Green and Light”, it has its thousands of painted images on a background of emerald green. The fortress legacy of these mountain monasteries is nowhere clearer than inside and outside the massive walls at Sucevita. Set in a beautiful green valley- it is fortified like a citadel with watchtowers at its four corners. It is a square-shaped compound, surrounded by a wall of 100 meters on each side, six-meter high and three-meter thick.

The monastery was erected in 1581 by Gheorghe Movila, Bishop of Radauti and consecrated to the Assumption in 1584. Under the rule of Petru Schiopul (1582-1591), the Movila brothers, having become the prince’s councilors and growing more affluent, started the construction of the vast monastery. Ieremia Movila added to the church two open porches (to the North and to the South); he also built massive houses, thick surrounding walls and defense towers. The legend has it that an old woman had been working there for thirty years, carrying in her ox wagon stone for the construction of the monastery. This is the reason why a female head is carved on a black stone in the monastery’s yard.

The fortress had a double defensive role, it actually prevented the mural paintings, (made in 1595-1596), too, from serious damaging as it happened with frescoes of other painted monasteries. Paintings at Sucevita were best preserved both on the outside and on the inside. Thousands of pictures decorate the walls of the church; in fact they outnumber the pictures at any of the other monasteries. Yet, the Western Wall is blank. Legends say that the artist fell off the wall scaffolding and was killed, so it remained undecorated. Frescoes are painted in purple red and blue against an emerald green background. There is plenty of gold too taken from the art of miniature. They belong to Romanian masters of the Moldavian Painting School – Ioan the Painter and his brother Sofronie from Suceava. They have a strongly narrative character and many of them represent scenes taken from the daily life of the 16th century Moldavia.

Outside the porch, is to be seen the terrible vision of the Apocalypse displaying two-headed Beasts and the traditional rivers of fire. On the South wall, there is a remarkable Tree of Jesse displaying both the human origin of Jesus, under the form of His family tree and His divine descendants, as the Prayers to Holy Virgin scene is also painted nearby. In the nave, on the right side, one can see a faded votive painting of Elisabeth, Ieremia’s wife, together with her children. After her husband died, she had a rough life since she never saw her children on the throne. Elisabeth died in a Sultan’s harem, far away from her country. Ieremia and his brother Gheorghe are buried nearby.

The most outstanding painting is the Ladder of Virtue, presenting the angels who assist the righteous enter the Paradise, while sinners (depicted as Turks) fall down to be taken by a grinning demon. The ladder of virtues shows the perilous path that faithful followers must tread to reach heaven. Each rung has its corresponding morality. Angels on one side whisper scripture in the ears of heaven-seeking souls. While angels on the other side wage battle against demons who trick weak victims from the true path.

Sucevita Monastery was first inhabited by monks in 1582. During the communist era, only nuns over 50 were allowed to stay at Sucevita. Today it is a nun monastery, the sisters living a simple life in daily prayers, and growing their land.

The museum of the monastery holds precious objects, among which manuscripts and embroideries donated by the Movila family.

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