Horezu Monastery, a masterpiece of Romanian orthodox architecture

by Victor Grigore, Webphoto.ro

Built by price Constantin Brancoveanu between 1690 and 1693 at Romanii de Jos, Horezu Monastery may not look as spectacular on the outside as the painted monasteries of Bukovina. But on the inside it displays one of the most elegant and mature Byzantine fresco on the Romanian territory, surpassing even its Moldavian predecessors. The martyr ruler Brancoveanu donated the land and the necessary sum of money but also some domains for further sustaining the monastic community. At the time it was built, Horezu was the largest monastery in the country.

The name Hurezi, turned into Horezu, comes from a popular name for owls from the neighboring forest. As the country was on constant alert on Ottoman invasions, the workers used to work a lot during the night to secretly finish the monastery, thus the comparison with the night birds. The place benefits from the calm offered by the near Head Mountain (Capatanii, 2130 m).
The artisans of this monastery were the stonemason Vucasin Caragea, the bricklayer Manea and sculptor Istrate for carpentry work.

The church of Hurezi Monastery is dedicated to Constantin and Helena, the Byzantine imperial family that was a model for the Romanian ruler. Following the example of the hospitals established by Basil the Great, ruler’s wife established here a hospital. The church, which is now on UNESCO world heritage list, was inspired by the monastery of Curtea de Arges.

The enlightened reign of Constantin Brancoveanu was a real Renaissance at the scale of Romanian counties. The building manner, in a classical way with local flavor and Baroque exuberance, consecrated the name of Brancoveanu style, not only for his reign but also for some of his successors. Some of the most representative churches in southern Romania (Muntenia) are built in this style: the Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest, Coltea, St George, Stavropoleos, Antim (all in Bucharest), Horezu and Govora.
But the masterpiece of this architectural style used to be Vacaresti Monastery, demolished by Nicolae Ceausescu simply out of whim, without even building anything in its place. Near Bucharest you can visit the most eloquent secular expression of Brancoveanu style, Mogosoaia Palace.
As an homage to this style, the future patriarchal cathedral of Bucharest will bear a lot of this style.

The decorations of Horezu Monastery may not be as refined as the sculpted masonry of Curtea de Arges, but the inside frescoes almost reach perfection in Orthodox art.
In the veranda of the church there is a representation of the Last Judgment, that immediately makes you think of other representations of this theme, especially the famous one found at Voronet. The latter has on it side the unified view, uninterrupted by any architectural elements, that makes it unique worldwide. But the paintings at Horezu shows an extraordinary artistic level and a purity of dogmatic representation. Moreover, the entire painting inside the church and on the veranda is in an excellent shape, almost as in the days of Constantin Brancoveanu.
The monumental iconostasis made of golden linden wood is just as impressive.

Horezu was also a cultural center. In the museum of its library there are hundred years old manuscripts that remember the momentum of an era that made possible the first complete translation of the Bible into Romanian. Horezu was also an important center for painting icons, where local craftsmen could express their creativity, in a village that became synonymous with painted ceramics.
Constantin Brancoveanu, the founder of this monastery was ruler of Wallachia (Southern Romania), in the turbulent Middle Ages, when his kingdom was threatened both by the Ottoman and Tsarist empires. The sultan did not forgive the attempt of the Romanian prince to make a diplomatic tango between the two powers. In an unprecedented act of martyrdom, Constantin Brancoveanu was killed at Constantinople after being forced to watch the slaughter of his son in law and of all his four sons. The only demand made to Brancoveanu by the sultan in order to stay alive and keep his throne was to denounce Christianity and turn to Islam, as a sign of fidelity to the sultan, which Brancoveanu refused. For this act that reminds the sacrifice of the first Christians, the Orthodox church of Romania canonized Brancoveanu and his sons.

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