Saint Nicholas Princiary Church

“Saint Nicolae Domnesc” Church is the oldest religious building in Iași. Its construction was finished in 1492, being part of the range of churches built by Voivode Stephen the Great and Holy, but it was radically restored between 1884 and 1904 by the French architect André Lecomte du Noüy.

The church is called “Saint Nicolae Domnesc”, in order to distinguish it from other churches with the same patron. Several princes of Moldavia were anointed (invested) here, after the moving of Moldavia’s capital from Suceava to Iași in 1564. In time, it was damaged due to fires and earthquakes, being repaired on several occasions. After the passing of Sultan Mehmed IV through Iași (20th -28th of July 1672), on his way to Poland, the church was transformed into a mosque, and then closed until the next repairs made by Voivode Antonie Ruset in 1676. Some walls were then added, from which some portions are still visible today. The 1725 fire has left the church in ruins until 1758, when it was fully restored by Prince Teodor Callimachi.

Its current aspect is due to the major works done under the leadership of the French architect Lecomte du Noüy that began in 1884. When the works started, the church was twice and a half bigger, due to the enlargements made throughout time, which meant more annexes and two more lateral altars. In the 19thcentury, the church had five patrons, and the Holy Liturgy was held simultaneously in three languages, in each altar: Old Greek, Paleo-Slavonic and Romanian. The French architect decided to demolish the ensemble due to the presumed precarious state of the brick lying and rebuild only the original church of Stephen the Great. Although the exact reproduction of the initial construction was tried, the current church is taller than the original one, and doesn’t have the initial abutments. On the place of the two disappeared lateral altars, there are now two stone crosses.

This church is part of the group of city churches built by Stephen the Great, characterized by the enlarged pronaos and by the lateral apses which gives the church the shape of a cross. It was made of raw stone and of finished stone on the corners. At the exterior, it has rows of decorative bricks which frame the archways, niches with 282 faces of saints and pre-Christian philosophers, and a series of enameled discs under the cornice reproducing some Moldavian seals. The particularities of this style can also be noticed at the churches of Stephen in Vaslui, Dorohoi, Bacău, Botoșani or Hârlău.

Inside, during the restoration, the separation wall between the nave and pronaos was replaced with a series of archways, the service space being thus enlarged. The painting was made towards 1900 by the French men, Boris Bernard, Emile Picot and P. Mauretal in Neoclassic style, replacing the initial Byzantine painting. At the entrance in the pronaos we can notice the commemorative painting of Stephen the Great and his family on one side and on the other side, the painting of the royal family of Romania: King Carol I of Hohenzollern with his wife Elisabeth and their daughter, and the heir Prince Ferdinand and future Queen Mary, with their two children. The scenes of the life of Saint Nicholas (from Mira), a great bishop of the Christian church in Anatolia in the 14th century are testimonies of the example he is offering to the entire world. The most important scene is the one where Saint Nicholas climbs down the chimney in the house of the three poor young women, to offer them a bag of money as dowry, in order to get married. This scene shall be the base of the tradition of placing presents in the children’s shoes on Saint Nicholas’ Day, on the 6th of December, or of the legendary figure of Santa Claus (Nicolaus). The interior decorations, the warm tones, the cozy atmosphere and the special choir during the liturgy offers the visitor a unique experience.