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Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Ground Up: Putna Monastery In Bukovina, Romania

Putna Monastery took three years to build on land bordering the Putna River in Bukovina River. Construction of the Romanian Orthodox monastery was overseen by Prince Stephen the Great, ruler of Moldavia from 1457 to 1504.

Prince Stephen the Great was the son of Bogdan the Second and was considered by many to be one of the best  army commanders of all times. Prince Stephen was a genius in politics and was a great promoter of Romanian culture.

Prince Stephen was instrumental in styling many of the churches and monasteries we see today in Moldavia. It was Putna Monastery, however, where he was laid to rest. Putna remains a great site of pilgrimage even today.

Why Did Prince Stephen Choose Bukovina for Putna Monastery?

© village_fox

Interesting question with an even more fascinating answer. 

Bukovina was a key site of medieval culture. The artistic center has a scriptorium, trilingual schools, and several craft workshops. As it seems, design and style flourished and the landscapes made for a delightful backdrop for architectural excellence.

It was on a hilltop in Bukovina where Prince Stephen the great fired an arrow into the ground. Where it landed determined the site of Putna Monastery. Today, there’s a cross marking the exact spot it landed. In a tree trunk I believe to be exact.

According to Romanian legend:
“The kind voivode Stephen, when he resolved to build Putna Monastery, shot an arrow from a mountain top which is not far from where the monastery stands today. And where the arrow landed, there the altar was built. He also had three country squires, the children’s bailiff and two pages shoot their arrows. So where the arrow of the children’s bailiff landed, there they made the gate, and where the arrow of one of the pages landed, the belfry was built.” The mountain from where the arrows were shot is named the “Crucisorul”, or the “Hill of the Cross”, and lies south-east of the monastery, on the opposite bank of the Putna brook ("Holy Monastery Putna").

History of Putna Monastery

© ladyinredk

Right after Stephen the Great won the battle in which he conquered the Kilia citadel, he began work on the monastery as a means to give thanks to God, on July 10, 1466 - the church was to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The terrain on which the monastery is built is believed to have been previously occupied by a fortress. A chronicle of the time mentions that Stephen bought the Vicovu de Sus village in exchange for 200 zlots, and awarded the land and revenue to the treasury of the monastery.

After Putna Monastery was completed 3 years later, a fire destroyed most of the church, Prince Stephen’s home, and the outer walls of the site.

Putna was destroyed again in 1653 by the Cossack army of Timuş Hmelniţchi, the son-in-law of Prince Vasile Lupu. Interestingly, Vasile Lupuit rebuilt the monastery during the middle of the 17th century. It still retains designs attributed to the 15th and 16th century and its original foundation.

Architecture of Putna Monastery

The church was unusually large for its time, but the explanation was that it was built to be the burial place of the Prince, his family and his successors. The thick walls are made of massive blocks of stone, and twelve buttresses support the walls. Originally there were only six, and the other six were added during the 17th and 18th centuries. ~Romanian Monasteries


  • Two rows of blind arcades go around the building
  • The stone cable motif was first used in the church of the Dragomirna Monastery in 1609
  • The tall windows of the exonarthex, three on the west façade and one each on the north and south façades, follow the shape and size of the tall blind arcades.
  • All the other windows are much smaller, with pointed arches and square carved stone frames. It had been usual to have only one window in each of the three apses, but here there are three windows in each apse, another late influence.
  • Two groined vaults span the exonarthex (An exonarthex forms the outer entrance to the building and bounds the esonarthex, which opens onto the nave. Occasionally the exonarthex does not form an integral part of the main body of the church ), which is an unpainted room full of light from the five big windows (17th century)

The Putna Monastery Museum

A portion of the tree trunk Prince Stephen hit with his arrow is now on display in the museum along with a valuable collection of embroideries. The valuables date back to the time of Stephen the Great and range from a collection of priests clothing and iconostasis curtains to various coverings.

Examples of religious texts, most notably the Four Gospels, are on display along with items typical of the period. Items were intricately crafted by weavers, wood carvers, blacksmiths, sculptors, artists, and embroiderers.

Conclusion: Why is Putna Monastery Significant?

Putna Monastery marks an integral part of economic, political and cultural success in Romanian history.

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