Putna in the Light of Chronicles

In the Anonymous Chronicle of Moldavia, it is said that, after the Fortress of Chilia was conquered in January 1465, Stephen the Great came back with his army to Suceava, ordering the archbishop, the bishops and the rest of the priests to ‘thank God for the victory that was bestowed on him…”. On 10th July 1466, Stephen the Great laid the foundations of Putna Monastery, with the dedication day of “The Holy Virgin Mother of God”.

The church was finished at the end of 1469, but the campaigns that the voivode undertook in Transylvania, as well as the raids of the Tartars from 1469 and 1470 prevented him from dedicating it until 3rd September 1470. At the ceremony the founder himself and his family were present, as well as the squires of the great Council and a large congregation of the faithful.

About 10 minutes’ walk from the eastern wall of the monastery, in the cemetery of the village of Putna, stands the wooden church attributed to Dragos the Voivode. He is said to have built this wooden church in Volovat in 1353, and “around 1468, Stephen the Great brought it from Volovat and built it in Putna, where it stands until this day”. In the past, the wooden church also used to be called “The old monastery of Putna”.

Since its beginnings, an embroidery workshop was established in the monastery, which used gold and silver threads, expensive silks and precious stones in its works. There was also a scriptorium famous in all south-eastern Europe, for which parchment paper and filigreed paper were brought from Western Europe. At the same time, there were several potters’ and goldsmiths’ workshops, all requiring special conditions of increased security and adequate workspace, which were undoubtedly provided by the monastery on its very grounds.

The year 1490 is a climax in the history of the monastery, when it received the most important donations and privileges up to that moment. By a series of property deeds, Stephen the Great affiliated to it 16 churches and their priests from the counties of Suceava and Cernauti, giving the abbot of Putna the right to judge those priests.

Apart from the domains and privileges bestowed on the monastery, the voivode never ceased to endow his necropolis with precious spiritual treasures: bound illuminated manuscripts, sacerdotal attire and other ecclesiastical objects of great artistic value, made with craftsmanship by the often anonymous hands of “the ever-sinful monks”, as they used to call themselves in their humility, in the inscriptions on their splendid works which made Putna so famous across ages and borders.

Having led a life of epic proportions, and feeling his end was near, Stephen the Great issued on 2nd February 1503, a document with the role of final will and testament, in which the privileges of Putna Monastery, from the time of its foundations until that date were again stated and stressed:

“And after we pass away, whosoever shall rule this country, the descendants of our children or of our kin, or anyone whom God may choose to be the ruler of this country, Moldavia, he shall not disobey our legacy and command, but will strengthen it and make it stand.”

On a Tuesday, at 4 of the clock, 2nd July 1504 the glorious hero went to rest in Abraham’s bosom, after he had ruled Moldavia for 47 years and 3 months. The ever-faithful prince Stephen Voivode, son of Bogdan Voivode, was buried in the monastery which he had built, at Putna. “That year, before his death, was a harsh, bleak winter, never to be seen until then. And the summer brought about heavy rains and great floods and many people drowned because of the high waters.”

Destined to be a princely necropolis, the church of Putna Monastery had been opened as such ever since December 1477, when Princess Maria Mangop, the voivode’s second wife, was buried on the left side of the burial vault. Then came, in turn, the burials of the metropolitan bishop Teoctist I in 1478, Bogdan in 1479, and Petru in 1480; they were both Stephen the Great’s young sons, and they found their resting place under the same tombstone next to Maria Mangop’s grave.

Burial processions were held there for other members of the voivode’s family: Princess Maria Voichita, his third wife, buried in 1511 next to her husband’s grave; Bogdan the Third Vlad, their son, buried in 1517; Maria Cneajna, Stephen’s daughter, buried next to Bogdan the Third, her brother, in 1518; Stefanita Voivode, Bogdan the Third’s son, buried in 1527, and last of all, Princess Maria, Petru Rares’ second wife, buried in 1529. After this date, no princely burial is recorded either in the inscriptions at Putna, or the old annals and chronicles.

After Stephen the Great’s death, fewer and fewer people made donations to Putna, although his immediate descendants still brought their offerings to the monastery. Bogdan the Third donated eight hundred zlotys, valuable ecclesiastical objects and sacerdotal attire, among which the famous Altar Door Curtain of 1510; Stefanita-Voda strengthens its old privileges and lands again, and Petru Rares increases its wealth by offering, among others, the village of Petrecanii on the Baseu and a large bell, named Userul, which has been preserved until the present day.

On 13th November 1750, Iacov Pruteanul, one of the most brilliant Romanian clergymen of all times, became the metropolitan bishop. At that time, Putna Monastery was almost in ruin. Under his office, a new era of magnificence was announced for Putna, bringing Stephen’s great monastery to the foreground of 18th-century Romanian cultural history.

After he retired in 1760, Iacov continued, until the end of his life, the great work of restoration and spiritual elevation of the old monastery. He had the church’s walls consolidated, the porch of the belfry above the nave re-built in Baroque style, the roof repaired, the tiles on the floor replaced, the large bell called Buga re-made, as well as a new iconostasis, which can be seen even today, made.

Alongside these repair works, together with the archimandrite Vartolomei Mazareanu, an outstanding scholar, writer and prolific translator from Slavonic and Russian, Iacov Pruteanul initiated, organised and ran several schools, among which “a superior school of theology for the clergy of Moldavia and a Confessional Academy on the model of the Confessional Academy of the metropolitan bishop Petru Movila in Kiev.

On 7th May 1775, having the consent of the Ottoman Empire, the Austrian Empire took hold of the Romanian province of Bukovina, and in 1783, under the rule of Emperor Joseph the Second, all the hermitages and monasteries in that part of the country were dissolved, except Putna, Sucevita and Dragomirna.

On 14th, 15th and 16th August 1871, the Putna festival was held. It was dedicated to the memory of the great voivode, and about 3000 Romanians from all the country’s provinces took part in the event. Among them were Mihai Eminescu, Ioan Slavici, Mihail Kogalniceanu, A. D. Xenopol, Grigore Tocilescu, Dimitrie Gusti, Ciprian Porumbescu, Epaminonda Bucevschi, and others.

To commemorate four hundred years from the death of Stephen the Great, in 1904, the painter Costin Petrescu painted a full-sized oil painting of the glorious voivode, inspired by the famous miniature of the Book of the Four Gospels of Humor. Made in thousands of copies, the image is spread all over the country, ‘making the people imagine Stephen the Great by that portrait for a long time”.