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Tudor Radu Tiron
THE COLLOQUIUM IN
THE HOLY MONASTERY PUTNA
The 2006 Colloquium on the 540th Anniversary of the
Foundation of the Holy Monastery Putna, in Moldavia (Romania)
I had the honour to be the guest of the Holy Monastery Putna, one of the most important places in the Romanian ecumenical and cultural life.
Founded – according to old chronicles – in 1466 and dedicated to “The Holy Virgin Mother of God”, the Monastery Putna is the main religious building erected by Stephen the Great, Prince of Moldavia between 1457 and 1504.
Stephen the Great was a great military and political leader, the most known member of dynasty which built the Moldavian mediaeval state. During his reign, the princely authority, the legal and the administrative system were consolidated, also the economic and the cultural life. Moldavia was then a large country (between the Carpathian Mountains, the Nister River and the Black Sea), bordered by many fortresses and guarded by an army which strength was demonstrated in numerous military actions. Stephen the Great preserved Moldavia’ freedom alternatively through a skilful foreign policy and a well-organized military defence. While in peacetime Moldavia flourished, in wartime the army leaded by Stephen the Great gained important battles against Turks, Tartars, Hungarians and Poles, the most important being the victory of Vaslui (1475), where the Moldavians defeated a huge Ottoman army of appreciatively 120.000 men. Stephen the Great reign is remembered not only through contemporary appreciations (Pope Sixtus the 4th addressed him with the title “Athleta Christi”), not only through the churches and fortresses erected or restored, not only through the chroniclers’ testimonies, but also through the common memory of a whole people. Stephen the Great become a legend since his lifetime and – at the end of his long reign – he was already considered to be a saint man. In 1992, taking into account his heroic facts for the cause of the Orthodoxy, he was canonized by the Romanian Orthodox Church under the name “The Right-Believing Voivode Stephen the Great and the Saint”. His feast day is 2 july (day of his decease) (http://www.stefancelmare.ro/).
Among other religious foundations of Stephen the Great, the Holy Monastery Putna is a space with an exceptional symbolic charge. According to a chronicle of the period, the monastery was founded the 10th of July 1466, as a monk’s community, into a beautifully landscaped area covered by other religious buildings. The prince erected the monastery as thank for the conquest of Chilia fortress, and he made here the grave place for him and his family. Although generously granted with estates and worthy objects, the Monastery Putna unfortunately couldn’t escape from different hardships of the past times, such as arsons, pillages and earthquakes. The whole built area was many times altered and restored, but the monastery never ceased to function as a religious community. Important orthodox figures can be associated with this holy place, as 15th century St. Daniel the Hermit, the monk who convinced Stephen the Great to continue fighting the Ottomans, and St. Ilie Iorest, the apostle of the Orthodoxy cause in 17th century Transylvania. Even before the 1918 formation of the Great Romania, the monastery was becoming the symbol of the political claims of the Romanians, then divided between Romania, the Austro-Hungarian and the Russian empires. Today, the monastery is not only an important tourist destination in the heart of the lovely Bucovina, but a pilgrimage point, for all those who want to pray at the grave of St. Stephen the Great, Prince of Moldavia (http://www.putna.ro/istoria-eng.htm).
After the 2004 commemoration of the death of St. Stephen the Great, a Centre of Research and Documentation was opened in his memory, with the blessing of the H. E. Archbishop Pimen of Suceava and Radauti and with the endeavours of the Archimandrite Melchisedec, the Abbot of the Holy Monastery Putna. The Centre – which co-opted also the Prof. Dr. Stefan S. Gorovei, a leading figure of the historians’ community of Iasi and a distinguished genealogist and heraldist – succeeded to bring back some important artefacts in the monastery’ patrimony and to publish important sources and studies dedicated to St. Stephen the Great and the Moldavian mediaeval history. Also, the Centre has organized annual Colloquiums and published the historical revue “Analele Putnei” (“Putna’s Annals”).
The 2006 Colloquium – the 3rd organized at Putna – was dedicated to the 540th anniversary of the foundation of the monastery. Between 9th and 11th of July, there were a number of festive events, such as the consecration of a new church dedicated to the St. Stephen the Great. The scientific program contained 15 lectures, with subjects dedicated to the cultural patrimony and important figures connected with the monastery, since mediaeval to modern times. The participants come from the whole country, but particularly from the lands of the ancient Moldavian state. The monastic community generously housed the event, through a modern technical background, and also through a perfect hospitality.
On this occasion, I lectured an article about a 17th century unpublished silver spoon for the Holy Communion, object which was once in the property of the Holy Monastery Putna. Because this mediaeval spoon was inscribed with the heraldic monogram of the Bishop Efrem of Radauti – a remarkable scholar of his time – my article wished to submit some conclusions about a part little known of the Romanian heraldic phenomenon: the usage of monograms and graphic signs as real coats of arms.
I tried to bring together relevant examples of this sui generis heraldry, proving that a shield with a monogram, a letter or any other mysterious sign was used exactly as any other European coat of arms. I underlined that heraldry appeared in the Romanian Countries upon a background long time established of such signs. In what that concerns the usage of monograms, I argued the Byzantine roots of this usage, and also the related traditions developed in the Southern and the Northern orthodox monarchies (Serbia and Bulgaria, respectively Ukraine and Russia). I mention that the connections between the Byzantine Empire and the Romanian mediaeval territories through culture and church represent an issue frequently treated in the Romanian historiography.
There are instances when the coat of arms simply included an immemorial monogram; there are other examples of monograms (personal and then hereditary) which survived beside real coats of arms, as a mixture of Western and Eastern influences. This is a particular feature of the area, which can be however traced as far as the early Christian monograms; this feature survived during the iconoclastic period and was developed later through a huge number of Byzantine seals (used by all the social categories). On the other hand, Western Europe used also seals and coins with monograms, long before the apparition of heraldry. In Western Europe, the tradition of monograms was discontinued (as a result of the apparition of coats of arms), but the Eastern Europe the “lineage” of the monograms is unbreakable.
In conclusion, my article wished to stress the importance of this pseudo-heraldry in the Eastern orthodox society. Shields and helmets with crests were obviously known, but the researcher must also consider this kind of insignia. They were personal, hereditary-transmissible and with legal meaning, exactly as the coats of arms in the Western Europe. The import of the heraldic phenomenon in the area was not a suddenly decided act – as in the America in the time of the Conquistadores – but the continuation of an ancient and refined tradition.
I have to express here my gratitude to Mr. Nenad M. Jovanovich, Director of the Center for Research of Orthodox Monarchism, and to Mr. Dragomir Acovich, President and Chief Herald of the Serbian Heraldry Society, for all their assistance given on the achievement of this article.
Bucharest, 14th of August 2006
(PHOTO GALLERY FROM THE COLLOQUIUM)