Unrecognized Kingdom of God

Our car is moving on the clean roads in the middle of the valley between mountains, under heavy snow. It doesn’t feel like we are moving towards a secluded place, as there is an unending row of houses on the road. In contrast with the other roads we have passed through in Romania, through seemingly forgotten German villages that has no Germans anymore, or Hungarian name signs in dark villages, it feels like this road has generated the line of houses itself. After a drive of 15 minutes, we parked in front of the Voroneț Monastery. To my disappointment, it was too easy to reach. I always imagined them to be a shining reward that only the most determined could make it there, in between some forests, an oasis in the middle of forgotten, foggy mountains. Instead, there were parking lots, shops and UNESCO signs.

We entered through the old wooden gate, adorned with wood carvings, which made you feel like you’re entering a castle still strong, it was the monastery itself making itself felt. Crossing through the first hallway, covered by a arch, it just builds suspense, since you can’t directly see the monastery yet. You are met with a nun clad in black and additionally covered with hand-knit scarf. The gate itself, you understand, was intentionally dominant, you indeed have stepped into a different world than yours, the car you came there with doesn’t exist anymore.

Voroneț Monastery, Suceava County

As soon as I got my entrance ticket, which didn’t include the right to take pictures, I stole my first glance to the monastery: it is astounding, colors and the stories shrewdly painted onto the walls of tall monastery, and imposingly wide roof. The monasteries in the region of Suceava in Romania are known as painted monasteries, no single part of the walls left to plain plaster, all wrung by the stories both local, regional and biblical. The chapel is situated in the middle of an enclosed castle, it cannot be called as a castle itself, but it definitely has fortifications around which has helped to keep the sense of isolation and of course security.

A glance from the entrance of the church to the alley, Moldovița

Small pathways are cleared out, but the rest of the alley is all in white, untouched snow. The colours of the stories told poses a striking contrast on this picture, wide roofs’ coverage has helped keep the immediate sides of the church dry, it seems as if there is a wall of energy keeping it intact from the snow. You can’t help but to stare, Annie comes by my side so then I start walking closer. As you get closer, stories start to come to life with all their color and enthusiasm.

I believe the contrast winter posed helped me imagine the scenes of their creation process. My imagination of Middle Ages, interesting as they seem now, must have felt isolated back then. To a body of monks, living in a secluded monastery in between mountains the stories they have read, heard –and imagined- must have been terrifyingly interesting: Words written in Old Church Slavonic, Latin, Greek; recounting the stories of Jesus Christ in a land called Palestine, which probably was seen by none of the monks, coming to life from mere pages are astounding things that we don’t have the same enthusiasm for anymore. Maybe it makes more sense to compare it with the enthusiasm of the Virtual Reality technology today, it highlights the human’s struggle to bring the fiction or history, into life. When one thinks about it, the world back then was much more exciting than today. It’s a world in which goblins or dragons may actually have been dwelling after all, so much to discover, a lot to know. And these narratives, painted onto the walls, are a sense of success over the bleakness of world, stories of familiar lands sieged by foreign people made its appearance on the walls, like the Siege of Akkerman Castle in Moldavia. This foreign army’s defeat at the hands of Ştefan cel Mare, Stephen the Great of Romania actually was the reason for its founding as the king’s tribute to the god for granting victory.

Ottoman Army approaching
Castle Akkerman, currently situated in Ukraine

There are several painted monasteries in the region, each situated almost 40 minutes drive from each other, and all the paintings are different. The stories from the Bible are the common themes of course, but the composition differs that you can enjoy each of them genuinely. Interiors of the Moldovița Monastery are painted as a calendar for instance, every square on the walls used to commemorate a certain act of martyrdom of saints on certain days, or simply from the long history of Christianity. The calendar mostly comprises of the pain and toil the early Christians endured to keep their faith, or to spread it. The scenes, sometimes as gore as people boilt alive, makes a terrifying combination with the atmosphere, which actually showed that those paintings, essentially having the part of soul in them, can have the desired effects of making them alive. A better achievement than VR, if you ask me. Annie soon told me that she was disturbed, and we left the watching eye of Jesus Christ from a dark corner of the dome.