Article cover image

Painted Churches of Bune - Outstanding Universal Value kovi


Tour Guide, Bucharest, Romania

| 5 mins read

The churches with external mural paintings of northern Moldavia, built from the late 15th century to the late 16th century, are masterpieces inspired by Byzantine art. These eight churches of northern Moldavia are unique in Europe. They are authentic and particularly well preserved. Far from being mere wall decorations, the paintings form a systematic covering on all the facades and represent complete cycles of religious themes. Their exceptional composition, the elegance of the characters, and the harmony of the colours blend perfectly with the surrounding countryside.

The idea of completely covering the external facades of churches by paintings is an eminent example of a type of church construction and decoration adopted in Moldavia, which illustrates the cultural and religious context of the Balkans from the late 15th century to the late 16th century.

Integrity and authenticity

The monastic church of Sucevita has undergone no significant alteration in the course of its history. It preserves with total integrity its original late 15th century architectural structure, and its set of mural paintings, both internal and external. The monastery which surrounds it, has conserved its initial appearance, and in particular its historic enclosure. The surrounding countryside, rural and forested, has undergone few transformations and changes up to the present day. The mural paintings are authentic, as they have undergone only minimal interventions. They are in a good state of conservation. The restorations undertaken since the 1970s have been carefully carried out, with great emphasis being placed on respecting authenticity in respect of motifs and pigments, and on conservation conditions. The restorations to the roof have resulted in the church regaining its original appearance, as documented by ancient iconographic sources.

In the European art of the period, the exterior mural painting of the northern Moldavian churches is an unique phenomenon in Byzantine art and a masterpiece of mural art. In terms of the art of Romania, this group of churches represents a specific phenomenon, from the point of view of architecture as well as painting. Their exterior painted walls constitute an exceptional aesthetic value, forming a perfect symbiosis between colour, architecture, and surrounding landscape.

Moldavia Principality became independent in the 14th century, achieving its apogee during the anti-Ottoman crusades of princes Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great) and Petru Rares. This also produced a cultural flowering, and the most remarkable series of churches. A general Christian tradition of decorating the exteriors of churches was adopted and extended in Moldavia. This had its own specific iconography, dominated by certain mandatory themes: the Church Hierarchy, the Last Judgement, and the Tree of Jesse. These monuments form a compact and coherent group in chronological terms, all being built in the 1530’s and 1540’s, during the reign of Petru Rares. They are all within a 60km radius of Suceava, the residence of the Moldavian princes.

The Church of the Holy Rood, Patrauti, built in 1487 by Stephen the Great, was pillaged in 1653 and 1684 and restored by Prince Nicolas Mavrocordat in the early 18th century. It is a small three-apsed building consisting of a sanctuary, a naos crowned with a high drum, and a narthex. The monumental interior mural painting represents the Passion Cycle. The votive painting presents Stephen the Great in the early times of his reign.

At the Church of St George of the former Voronet Monastery, also founded by Stephen the Great, the naos and sanctuary were painted between 1488 and 1496 and the narthex in 1552. It is a three-apse structure, with an exonarthex (porch) added in 1546. The interior murals represent the Passion Cycle. The walls and the vault of the exonarthex are covered by the 365 scenes of the Calendar of Saints. The exterior murals depict traditional scenes and one cann see the famous hew ~ The Voronet Blue (made from lapis lazuli), and the famous Last Judgement, on the western wall.

The Church of the Beheading of St John the Baptist was built as the residence of the Governor of Suceava, Luca Arbore. It was decorated at the order of his granddaughter in 1541 and became the village church when the family died out. The Arbore family is represented in a votive painting on the wall of the naos and by funerary portraits in the narthex. The high quality of the interior paintings (16 shades of green) continues on the exterior.

The three-apsed Church of St George, formerly the Metropolitan Church of Moldavia until the late 17th century, is now the catholicon of the Monastery of St John of Suceava. The interior paintings, although somewhat darkened, have exceptional plastic qualities. The exterior paintings of 1534 only survive on the west and south facades, and depict the four traditional themes. They are exceptional by virtue of their monumental composition, elegant silhouettes, harmonious colours and perfect Cyrillic inscriptions.

The Church of St Nicholas and the Catholicon of the Monastery of Probota was built by Prince Petru Rares in 1531 as a family mausoleum. All the paintings are contemporary with the church with the exception of those in the sanctuary, repainted in the 19th century. The exterior mural paintings, in poor condition, show evidence of the hand of a master in their outstanding composition and remarkable use of colours.

The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin of the former Monastery of Humor dates back to before 1415, but the present structure was built in 1530 by the great Logothete Theodore Bubuiog and the wife, Anastasia, of Petru Rares. It exhibits certain architectural variations from the traditional three-apsed monastery church, such as the lack of a dome over the narthex.

The Church of the Annunciation of the Monastery of Moldovita was rebuilt by Alexandru cel Bun (Alexander the Good), but the present structure is earlier. It is very similar in form and decoration to the Humor church, and is believed that the same master may have been responsible for both churches.