I had no idea when I first thought of going to Moldova that I would see a treasure trove of church and monastery architecture but as I researched a possible visit to Moldova, I learned that was exactly what I was going to see.
Moldova, as a Soviet Socialist Republic, was a place where the system tried to take man’s humanity out of the equation – and part of that was removing the strength and hope that faith can provide. Churches and monasteries were either destroyed or severely damaged; those that were not totally destroyed were re-purposed as mental hospitals, children’s institutions, etc. and the religious communities were broken up.
It is evident that Moldova is trying to shed its Soviet past in the ways that are possible for a small economy that is not in the EU and that is talked about as one of the poorest, if not the poorest, in Europe. For example, roads are being re-built in and around the capital, Chisinau. The airport is modern. But what I noticed was how churches and monasteries have been worked on to restore them to their greatness, even if not all buildings in the complexes are completely restored yet.
Visiting monasteries does not require an appointment nor are there entrance fees. Simply walk in. Do remember to dress appropriately!
But after showing you these monasteries below, I have a conclusion I would like to share.
This small and beautiful monastery, which reminded me of the Greek isles due to its sharp blue and white colors, was the focus of my photo of the week post earlier this week but it is worthy of including here as it was such a gem. The monastery is about 14 km from Calarasi town which in turn is about 50 km from Chisinau. It is also a convenient monastery to see if visiting the Curchi monastery.
This monastery (pronounced COOR-key) is considered one of the most beautiful and famous monastery complex in Moldova with 2 large churches (and other small ones I did not get to see) and many other spaces and buildings in its footprint. It was founded around the 1770s. Between the 1950s and the early 2000s it did not operate as a monastery though now it has again become a monastery for men. Lots of visitors/pilgrims the day I went though it was a weekday. And strict rules as no photography was allowed within the churches.
The main church, painted in bright red, is the Church of the Mother of God and was built in the late 19th century. It is a beautiful building up close but even more impressive as one approaches the monastery by road.
This monastery, one of the oldest in Moldova dating to the 1420s, is just 40 km away from Chisinau. It is one of the most important ones because rulers, including the most important one, Stefan cel Mare, helped build it. The two main churches, St. George and St. Nicholas, were built in the 1840s and 1900s, respectively.
Chisinau Center Churches/Cathedrals
Chisinau as a city has a good number of churches (for views of Chisinau itself, check my post on it here). Right in the city center there are a few worth checking out.
1. Near the Hotel National lies the St. Great Martyr Tiron Cathedral, quite a beautiful structure built in the 1850s.
2. The Transfiguration Cathedral (or the Church of Schimbarea La Fata in Moldovan) sits next to the Ministry of Agriculture. It has been beautifully restored inside. It’d be easy to pass it up given the size of nearby Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity but don’t miss visiting it.
3. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity, however, is the most imposing of the churches I saw in Chisinau. It is a Russian Orthodox Church built around the 1830s. It, and its front tower and outdoor baptistry, sit in a large square facing the Triumphal Arch and, beyond, the imposing (though unimaginatevely architected) Government House building.
Small Churches in Orhei
The predominant religion in Moldova is Orthodox Christianity. In Orhei, a town north of Chisinau with about 25,000 inhabitants, I visited the small Catholic Church. We asked the attendant what percent of the town’s people were Catholic and she replied: “4% – but working on it.” What a spirit!
The town had small Orthodox churches but because of our itinerary/schedule, I could not explore except from the car. But they were definitely colorful!
My Conclusion: It’s about More than Architecture
So the renewal I witnessed in Moldova was impressive but even more impressive was seeing the faithful visit these religious places so openly, something that I am sure was impossible (or close to it?) during the decades of Soviet communism. Those images are the ones that really stay with me…
You can find more information about monasteries in Moldova here.