The pilgrim experience
Photo by Andrei Cucu
Religion

The pilgrim experience

It was said that in Iasi, from anywhere you were, you could see the tower of a church. Today, however, residential blocks of flats built after the 1970s sometimes obscure the traveler's gaze.

The city of 100 churches brings together buildings of worship from Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian, Lipovan or Neo-Protestant beliefs. The pilgrim will discover religious monuments full of history and spirituality, tombs of founders and hierarchs or a rich iconography. The lay visitor will admire the view from the Goliath Tower and the stories with deacon Creanga, the harmony of the arches of the marble columns from the Bărboi Church, the stone lacework from the Three Hierarchs or the painting of the Royal family from the Church of Saint Nicholas the Prince. The canopy with the relics of Saint Pious Parascheva from the Metropolitan Cathedral is the epicenter of Orthodox life in Iasi and annually attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over Eastern Europe.

You can start your tour in the city center with the first three attractions: The Metropolitan Cathedral, The Catholic Episcopal Cathedral “Saint Virgin Mary, Queen” and The “Three Hierarchs” Monastery, considered the most important religious edifice in Iași. They’re all next to each other on Stephen The Great Boulevard.

Then you can move eastward towards the Civic Center which is really close too. There, in front of the Palace of Culture, you will find The Saint Nicholas Princiary Church and down the road on the right the Barnovschi Church, dating back from 1627.

Moving a bit north, you will find another cluster of three churches. The Saint Sava Church and Armenian Church are right next to each other. Both have wonderful gardens where you can relax for a moment. A bit to the east you’ll reach the Bărboi Church, with majestic arcs resting on its unqiue Carrara marble columns.

The last three churches are a bit farther away towards Independence Boulevard. Golia Monastery, with its 120 steps belltower, offers a unique view of the city. After a stroll on the boulevard, you’ll reach the Saint Spiridon Church. The last stop is Banu Church, located in the old town area. Here you can end your trip with a relaxing drink in one of the cafes on Lapusneanu Street.

There are the most significant places of worship that we included in our guide. Take a look at the list below to find out more about each of them.

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Photo by Andrei Cucu

Churches
The Iași Catholic Episcopal Ensemble is comprised of the Episcopal Palace, “The Assumption of Mary” Church, the “Saint Virgin Mary, Queen” Cathedral, the Cathedral Square and an alignment of buildings with the façade towards Ștefan cel Mare Boulevard, currently rented to some shops.

The “Assumption of Mary” Church or “Old Cathedral” is the oldest Roman-Catholic dwelling kept in Iași, built during 1782-1789. In the 16th century, a Franciscan wooden church existed on the current spot, deeply damaged during the invasions of Kazaks and Tatars and after the fires in 1660 and 1766. The stone edifice was sanctified on the 15th of August 1789 by the prefect of the Franciscan Mission in Moldavia, priest Fidelis Rochi. The church represents a special example of Baroque art in Moldavia. The exterior is marked through the simplicity of shapes: the trefoil plane, the tower’s cylinder shape placed above the entrance and the stone lace shaped as arches under the roof. On the south-west corner of the church we can see a solar clock dating back to 1813. Inside, the main altar, made in Padua, is dominated by a monumental painting representing the Virgin’s Ascension, with three marble medallions brought from Venice. In the left altar St. Francis of Assisi dominates, and on the right, the Franciscan saints: St. Anton of Padua, Buenaventura and Joseph of Copertino, patron of students. The church painting was made in 1869, by the Franciscan monk Giuseppe Carta of Palermo, being inspired by the works of the great Tiziano Vecellio. On the ceiling there is a large, round painting called the “Engagement” (of Virgin Mary to Joseph), copy after the work of the great Renaissance painter Rafael (Raffaello Sanzio).

Nearby, the “Saint Virgin Mary, Queen” Cathedral (2005) is the biggest Roman-Catholic church in Iași, serving today as an Episcopal cathedral. It was built after the plans of the architect Gheorghe Hereș, the foundation stone was placed on the 15th of August 1990 by the Holy Bishop Petru Gherghel and the sanctification took place in 2005. The cathedral is 36 m high and has a circular shape; with the 24 pointed arches and the cross on top pointed towards the sky, the cathedral looks like a crown, invoking the royalty of Christ. The circular shape symbolizes the sky, the infinite, the eternity, the perfection. The 12-star carpet leads to the altar, to the central icon of Virgin Mary. On the icon’s sides, there are four scenes of the Virgin’s life, in mosaic. Vertically, the dome represents the sky and the rays which descend on the four pillars, and the chandelier with the monogram of Christ is a replica of the dome. The balcony mosaïc which begins from the icon of Virgin Mary symbolizes the history of salvation, with the passions of Christ. The visitor will be astounded by the 117 stained-glass windows representing the Genesis on the left, the Sacraments on the right, the mysteries of the rosary on the balconies and the Cosmos on the pointed arches. On the doors, the three stages of Christian initiation are represented: Baptism, Unction, Eucharist, reminding the words of Christ: “I am the door, if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved”.

The Episcopal Palace nearby leads the Diocese in Iași, a territory which covers the region of Moldavia. In its basement, there is a memorial for the martyr bishop Anton Durcovici, victim of the communist terror, beatified in 2014 in Iași during a solemn ceremony. The cathedral’s square is shaped like a fish, invoking the hidden sign used by the first Christians.

Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt nr. 26, Iași 700064
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Photo by Cezar Suceveanu

Churches
The building of the “Assumption of Virgin Mary” Church, initially a monastery, began in 1627 during the rule of Miron Barnovschi-Movilă, Prince of Moldavia.

This gentle and faithful leader has also founded monasteries in Bârnova (near Iași), Hangu (Neamț County), Dragomirna (Suceava County), Toporăuți (Toporițvi, Ukraine) and “St. John the Baptist” church in Iași, and finished the works on the Wallachian Church Uspieńska (Assumption of Virgin Mary) also called Stavropighia of Lvov (Ukraine). In 1633, he was called to Constantinople, where he was accused of betrayal due to the good connection he had with Poland. Sultan Murad IV forced him to convert to Islam if he wanted to live, and his denial led to his beheading.

Barnovschi Church was dedicated to Jerusalem’s Patriarchate, thus becoming the official residence of patriarchs from the Orthodox Orient passing through Moldavia. 19 patriarchs lived here, the most renowned being Dositei Notara (1669-1707), the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who worked mainly from Iași. In the monastery’s yard, cells, abbot houses, a Greek school and annexes for monks and guests were built, but they were destroyed throughout time, especially during the communist period. In the 1980s the systematization of the entire Civic Centre area was decided, which led to the demolition of all the annex buildings and the construction of blocks of flats very close to the church door, affecting the buildings’ resistance structure. A new front of buildings was desired along the newly created boulevard Anastasie Panu, to cover the shapes of Barnovschi and Bărboi churches. But the church and the steeple were saved through the intervention of the historic monuments specialists. The consolidation and restoration works lasted since 1994 to 2004. Near the tower we can also see the ruins of the former cells, and towards the block of flats we can notice an entrance gate to the basement of the former Father Superior’s house, built in 1786.

The church is remarkable for the open porch, built in the 18th century in Baroque style, leaned on six stone columns. The church has two towers, one above the nave, shaped as a prism with 12 sides and a braided frieze, and a second one above the closed porch, taller, also shaped as a prism, but with bevel cants. Both the façade, as well as the towers have small niches above and under the windows. Inside, the pronaos was initially separated by the nave through archways and columns which were demolished to enlarge the space in the church. The inside painting dates back to 1880, but it is highly damaged. From the initial frescoes since 1653, only the portrait of the founder and his mother still exists. The linden tree wood iconostasis dates back to 1788 and consists of several oval icons. On the upper part, in the middle, The Lord Jesus Christ is painted, and underneath, the Last Supper. The miracle worker icon “Saint Ann holding Virgin Mary” is of great value, dating since 1626. During the archaeological diggings in 1998, a brick vaulted crypt was discovered under the nave, which contained some bones, but without the skull. It is believed that it was the body of Prince Miron Barnovschi, brought back in secret from Constantinople and buried here.

The bell tower was built in the 17th century out of big blocks of stone and bricks, having two vaulted levels, a spiral stairway and a vault. In the tower, there are two big bells of 400, and 300 kg and a smaller one of 70 kg. The big bell was cast in 1628 in Lvov, in Ukraine. After removing the outer walls of the churchyard, the arched entrance through the tower was closed.

Strada Grigore Ghica Vodă 26, Iași 700259
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Churches
“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.

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Churches
The “Saint Mary” Armenian Church was rebuilt in 1803, after the great earthquake of 1802 which hit Iași.

A tombstone placed in the courtyard certifies the construction of the first Armenian Church in 1395, right before the first documented certification of Iași in 1408, but the exact dating is still unclear. It is said that Saint Sava church itself, situated nearby, would have been an Armenian temple since 1393, but it was taken by force by the leaders of the time, and the Armenians would have been given another building place, nearby.

The church is located in the center of Iași, in the former Armenian Quarter. In this area, until the 17th century, large communities of Armenians have settled after the occupation and destruction of Armenian cities by Tatars and Persians. The area around the current Costache Negri Street, formerly known as the “Old Bridge”, was animated in the past by Armenian and Greek tradesmen.

The first Armenian refugees arrived in Moldavia in 1064. Until the 19th century a second Armenian church existed in the same area, but was destroyed by a fire. During the seven centuries of existence, “Saint Mary” Church suffered numerous changes. Throughout the past centuries, the most important repairs were made in 1732, in 1803 (when it was rebuilt from the ground), in 1929-1933, and in 1946, after the Soviet bombings. The 1977 earthquake has deeply damaged this edifice, especially the two towers which risked collapsing. Thus, the church lost a series of the initial Armenian specific elements. The last important restoration works were made in 2005-2008 with funds from the Romanian Government and the church was sanctified again in 2008 by Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch of all Armenians.

The current church is made of stone and bricks, in the shape of a clover, with two towers. The inside is divided into an altar, nave, pronaos and two porches. On the west wall of the pronaos there is a balcony (steel-lattice mast) for the choir, leaning on eight cylindrical brick columns.

In the churchyard, there is a building in which the Armenian Athenaeum functioned (today the Parish House of the Armenian church), built in 1932, as well as 55 tombstones. Currently, in this church services are held only on the last Sunday of each month, by the vicar priest from Suceava, Torkom Mandalian.

The Armenian community in Romania numbered, in its glory times, a few hundred thousand members. Today, in all Romania, there aren’t more than 6000-8000 Armenian families and in Iași there are about 200 families, the majority being mixed ones.

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Churches
The Bărboi Church was built in 1841-1844 by the great chancellor Dimitrie Sturdza, on the place of another church built by the headman Ursu Bărboi between 1613 and 1615. It is the work of architect Andrei Caridi, helped by the artisans Atanasie and Gheorghe. Its patron saints are Saint Apostles Peter and Paul, celebrated each year on the 29th of June.

The church of Ioan Ursu Bărboi was transformed in 1669 into a monastery and was dedicated to the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos. Due to its weakening caused by bad weather and earthquakes (especially after the one in 1829), the founder’s heirs of the Sturdza family decided to rebuild their ancestor’s church entirely. In 1842, the Prince of Moldavia, Ioniță Sandu Sturdza, was buried here, him being the first settled Prince of the Principality of Moldavia after the Phanariot era. Other members of the Sturdza family are also buried here, as well as the poet Alecu Russo. Between 1863 and 1865, deacon Ion Creangă lived in the parochial house, before being transferred to Golia Monastery.

The church’s shape is inspired by the Greek Orthodox architecture, having a rectangular plane. It has Byzantine elements like the alternation of blocks of stone and brick friezes, the trefoil plane of the apses, and the Neoclassic elements on the façade. On the roof, there are four small towers which flank a central over-raised tower. Inside, the Greek influence can be noticed through the enlarged iconostasis and the Greek writings. Some contemporary architects said that it is unique in the Balkan Peninsula through the harmony of arches inside, sustained by the Carrara marble column. The painting is made in “fresco” technique, in Renaissance style, with real size representations of saints.

The steeple from the entrance is built in carved stone, having a thin shape. This has a vaulted brick entrance and is structured on four levels. The first level represents the access vault into the monastery, levels two and three shelter the bells, and in the fourth one there is the clock. The parish house reproduces the shapes of traditional Moldavian houses.

The damages made by the 1977 earthquake in the area, offered the communist regime the excuse to demolish old buildings and monuments. Many churches were hidden behind blocks of flats, not to be seen from the boulevards. It is said that in there were plans to raise a building right between the tower and the church, but luckily, Bărboi Church survived, being renovated with the help of the Romanian Patriarch Teoctist and it was sanctified again in 1988. Since 1990 the local tradition of the “Stâlparilor” pilgrimage was revived, on each Saturday of Saint Lazarus (of Larnaca). During it, thousands of believers, young people, pupils and priests from Iași gather at Băboi church and go on procession towards the Metropolitan Cathedral, holding the icon of Jesus Christ.

Stradela Bărboi nr. 12, Iași 700072
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Churches
This parish church was initially founded as a monastery in 1583, by Greek monks, from the “Saint Sava” Monastery in Jerusalem, during the rule of Voivode of Moldavia Petru Șchiopul.

In 1625, due to the fast degradation of the edifice and the fire started by the Tatar invasion, the monastery’s church was completely rebuilt, the second founder being the court marshal Ioan Enache Caragea. “Saint Sava” Church was a significant cultural, social and political Orthodox centre. In 1714, during the reign of Nicolae Mavrocordat, this is where the Princely Academy, a library and a Slavonic-Romanian printing press (which also printed in Greek and Arabic) were founded. In the “Deaconry” House, located nearby, “Saint Sava” National College was opened in 1864, which nowadays hosts a social and education center. After the demolition of Dancu Monastery in 1903 situated near the National Theatre, “Saint Sava” Monastery received the coffin with fragments of relics of Saints Trifon and Marina.

The religious dwelling is unique in Romania due to its shape, typical to the Oriental Byzantine architecture. This can be observed through the impression of massiveness given by the size of the church building, the position of the two short, but massive towers, the exterior finished stone, as well as by the size of the steeple which looks like a fortress. The stone profile of the base is typical to the Moldavian ecclesiastic architecture, while the exterior middle brick frieze, with a crenelated shape next to the spiral frieze of the towers belongs to the traditional Wallachian architecture. The Gothic style is present through the west door cornice with moldings and through the broken arch of the archways. The two wide open towers, with 12 sides, have a braided frieze at the base and a niche frieze above it. The towers end in flattened domes, typical to Byzantine, but also Ottoman architecture.

The tall iconostasis was made in the 19th century in Baroque style, with gilded sculpted adornments. The inside painting was made in 1832 in Renaissance style in “secco” technique, but was mainly destroyed. The church was repainted in 2010-2013 in Neo-Byzantine style, in “fresco” technique and about 150 square meters of the old painting were restored and harmoniously integrated with the new one. The main entrance painting, situated on the ground floor of the steeple, presents scenes of Saint Sava’s life, who lived between 439 and 532. The painted scenes are inspired by the biography written by his pupil, Chiril from Skitopolis. “Sava’s Ritual” is his most important written work, which comprises the service rituals for the entire year. His relics can be found at Lavra Monastery (or Mar Saba), founded by him in the Palestinian dessert. The painting in the west porch presents the commemorative painting of Voivode of Moldavia, Petru Șchiopul and his family, as first founders of the dwelling.

The steeple is structured on three levels. The first one is the ground floor that integrates the southern entrance hallway. The second level hosts the Parochial Museum with a collection of patrimony old books of the 18th-19th centuries, liturgical and religious didactic books and religious objects found through the archaeological research made during the church’s renovation in 2013. The last level hosts the big bell of 910 kg dating from 1809 and a more recent smaller bell, of 300 kg.

The church’s park has been rearranged in a modern style, and a cross made of Dobrogea quarry stone was placed in its middle, under which bones from the cemetery of the former monastery were buried. Since 2005, the church is the main religious dwelling for people with hearing and speaking deficiencies, to whom the services are being translated into mimic-gesture language.

Strada Costache Negri 44, Iași 700073
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Photo by Golia.ro

Churches
The monastic ensemble of Golia Monastery is comprised of the “Lord’s Ascension” church, an iconic square tower, fortified outer walls with four circular towers in the corners, a water house, a house with columns where Ion Creangă lived temporarily and an abbey with the “Virgin Mary’s girdle” chapel.

The name comes from the chancellor Ioan Golia who built a religious dwelling in the 16th century. Throughout time, the monument became a ruin, but between 1650-1653, the Prince of Moldavia, Vasile Lupu built the church we see today. In 1672 the four circular towers of the defense wall were added and the steeple was consolidated. In 1855 the tower was over-raised by 20 m, reaching almost 50 m, but the height and the weight triggered cracks and it was at risk of collapse. It was restored to its initial size in 1900, after the intervention of King Charles I.

The exterior design of the church was influenced by late Renaissance, a style which reached Iași through Galicia: an edifice of classical type, polished stone blocks, framed by Corinthian pillars (with acanthus leaves capitals) and crenelated cornice sustained by consoles. On the roof, there are many towers and domes arranged in line and sustained by arches, called kokoshniki. With an octagonal base, the towers have Wallachian adornment and Oriental motifs.

The access doors from the porch and towards the pronaos are surrounded by a beautiful marble sculpture, with Moldavia’s Coat of Arms. In the pavement of the pronaos, the most embellished tombstone is the white marble one of Sultana (1763), the wife of Voivode Constantin Racoviță, situated on the place of the founder’s coffin, Ioan and Ana Golia. One the most valuable objects is the chandelier of the pronaos, with Vasile Lupu’s monogram (BBZM) and the four candlesticks in front of the altar, donations of the voivode. The chandelier in the nave is a gift from Russia’s Tsar Peter the Great who visited the church in June 1711 and who was deeply impressed by its greatness. The initial painting made by an artisan called Matei is preserved in the porch. The nave painting dates back to 1754 and parts of the paintings in the nave and the altar were restored in 1838. At the entrance, on the pronaos’ wall, a commemorative painting shows the founders of the church – Prince Ieremia Movilă and the Golia family to the north, and the family of Voivode Vasile Lupu to the south.

The tower of Golia, 29 m tall, is located at the entrance. It has three floors, secret chambers and a spiral stairway with 120 steps. It is the only steeple in the country with a top terrace, open to the public. Throughout time it served as access to the patrol walls, as a prison, as the archive’s headquarters, and today, the halls shelter art exhibitions. Near the tower we can see the first water house in Iași, with a Turkish fountain on the outer wall, built around 1805 during the reign of Prince Alexandru Moruzi.  This is also the place where Radio Trinitas, the official radio of the Romanian Orthodox Church, was founded in the 1990s. The column house, built in the 18th century, where Ion Creangă lived temporarily, hosts a small ethnographic museum dedicated to the writer.

Strada Cuza Vodă nr. 51, Iași 700040
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Churches
The Saint Spiridon Church was built between 1747-1752 with the support of boyar Ștefan Bosie and other philanthropists. The location was chosen due to a miracle worker icon of St. Spiridon, protector of the poor and father of orphans, which was placed in a small private chapel in this area.

The founders also built the hospital near the church, the first in Moldavia, in 1767, under the rule of Constantin Cehan Racoviță. This ensemble was organized as a guardianship (religious administration), and the guardian was either the prince, either someone chosen from the boyars, tradesmen or rich people who were financing the settlement. Initially it was called an infirmary or Spiridonie, and the hospital’s philosophy was that the bodily care should be made alongside the care of the soul. From only 30 places initially, the hospital later received the role of university hospital and is the biggest one in Moldavia, with over 1100 beds.

In the main influence on the church’s architecture, was the Russian Neoclassic style. The painting of the iconostasis is also Neoclassic, a novelty for that time. The wall painting on the dome’s pendants represents the four evangelists; the nave dome is painted with the face of Jesus Christ and the altar, with the image of the Holy Trinity.

The steeple was built in 1757 and is remarkable due to the fact that is was built in many stages and styles. The oldest is the ground floor of the entrance vault of unfinished stone, to which two twin drinking fountains were added in 1765. These have a Baroque shape and adornment of Ottoman origin, with inscriptions in Turkish, Greek and Romanian which attest that Prince Grigore Ghica III brought water to the city through burnt clay gutter tiles from the Botanical Garden area in Copou. The body of the Prince of Moldavia was buried in this church, but his head was taken to Constantinople, after being beheaded in 1777 because he protested against the passing of Bukovina under the administration of the Habsburg Empire. In 1786 the first floor was added, made of brick, representing the vault. The tower and the church were deeply damaged by the great earthquake in 1802 and were rebuilt. The bell chamber dates from that time, which initially had a small roof with a globe and a Crescent on top. It is said that the usage of this sign helped the monastery avoid the often robberies of the Turks. In 1830 a Parisian clock was also installed. In 1862, the tower roof took the shape of a cowl, that small straw basket that St. Spiridon used to wear on his head. Until the arrival of communists in 1948, the St. Spiridon monastery and hospital also had the spa resort of Slănic Moldova (Bacău County) in their administration.

Bulevardul Independenței nr. 1, Iași 700111
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Churches
The “Assumption of the Virgin” church was founded by boyar Savin Zmucilă vel Ban and was sanctified on the 15th of June 1705 by Misail, Metropolitan of Suceava and Moldavia. The dwelling’s name is linked to the title worn by the founder of high official of the prince (“ban”). Before this, there was another church in this place, shepherded by priest “Ioan ot Banul”, according to a document from the time of Prince Vasile Lupu (issued in 1638), while the latest evidence attest a churchly settlement here, ever since 1560.

This is the first church built from oak wood and the only one where the service was made exclusively in Romanian, from the very beginning, in comparison to other churches or monasteries in the city, dedicated to the Holy Places, where the service was in Paleo-Slavonic or Greek (Galata, Tree Hierarchs, Barnovschi etc.). From start, the church had 17th century Romanian books like the Sermon printed in Iași in 1643 (today exhibited at the Holy Hierarch Dosoftei the Metropolitan Museum), the Prayer Book (Iași, 1681), the Liturgy (Iași, 1683), or the Greek-Romanian Gospel (Bucharest 1699).

In the past, it was also known as “The church of the poor”, because a large part of the ones living out of public charity used to pray here. It was built in the Poor Quarter, near the “big precipice”, area known today as the Râpa Galbenă (the Yellow Precipice). Also, along with the church, boyar Savin Zmucilă also built a nursing home which functioned until 1948, to shelter the poor, ill and travelers. The asylum was financed from the parish proprieties’ incomes (including Bragadiru Beer House, afterwards rebuilt as the Youth Cinema) or from the donations of other boyars.

Throughout time, the wooden church deteriorated and became too small for the growing number of believers. Thus, in 1802, the metropolitan Iacob Stamati decided to contribute to the construction of a  new stone church on the place of the former wooden church, similar in size to St. George Cathedral from the Metropolitan Cathedral’s current churchyard. The plans and the construction of the church were made by an architect from Transylvania, Herr Leopold. Once the church was built, the traditional name “Banu” was kept, but the patron was changed to the current one, “Sunday of All Saints”. It refers to the first Sunday after Pentecost, when, the Scripture say that “an angel came and stayed in the altar, having a golden censer, […] and the incense smoke arose from the angel’s hand, along with the saints’ prayer, before God”.

The outside adornment is dominated by the Baroque style, obvious through the stucco decorations from around the wide windows, but also through the crenelated cornice and the roof framework. Above the narthex the church has a steeple with a configuration dominated by Baroque elements. The church has two lateral apses contoured inside and, together with the semi-circular one from the altar, from a trefoil plane. Inside it has three vaults with a decorated pulpit. The Renaissance painting was made in 1803 by the Moldavian artisan Eustatie Altini. In 1948, the Committee of Historic Monuments, through its delegate, painter Corneliu Baba, ordered the scraping of the painting because it was blackened and didn’t have historical value. However, a medallion was kept to this today in the pronaos (narthex), under the left window. The Neoclassical painting restored in 2013, along with the major works of restoration, is remarkable due to the warm colors, unusual for Orthodox churches, and to the richly adorned friezes. During the recent renovation of the monument, an exhibition space was arranged underground, which will host a museum of old religious objects and a library, and architectural lighting was placed on the exterior.

Visiting hours: Monday/Wednesday/Thursday: 08:00-16:00

Pasajul Banu nr. 9, Iași 700127
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Photo by Andrei Cucu

Churches
The Iași Metropolitan Ensemble is also called “Moldavia’s Jerusalem” or “Mother of all Moldavian churches” due to the fact that it is the regional residence of the Orthodox Church.

It was moved from Suceava to Iași in 1677 by Voivode Antonie Ruset, during the time of Metropolitan Dosoftei, in order to respect the Byzantine tradition of having the princely administration and the metropolitan’s chair in the same town. The metropolitan’s seat was moved in the current space after it was placed for a while in the Nicolae Domnesc church, in the Princely Court.

The Ensemble is comprised of the Metropolitan Cathedral (1887) in the central part, the Saint George Church (1769) towards the boulevard and the Metropolitan Palace (1905) to the south. A series of outbuildings were erected or remodeled during the works of 1962: to the south-west the Metropolitan Office, to the north-west, the “Dumitru Stăniloaie” Ecumenical Library and to the north, the Saint George monastic hostel (right wing) and “Epivata House” (left wing). After recent restorations, in 2016, an elegant Metropolitan Museum was founded in the basement, under the Metropolitan Cathedral, under the western terrace and under Hodocin’s fountain or the “Gothic Fountain”, an old wrought iron drinking fountain made in 1851 by the Czech engineer Mihailik de Hodocin.

Saint George Church or “The Old Metropolitan Church” was finished in 1769 and is reserved to monastic life. It has a typical Moldavian structure, with a thin shape and medium size. It is impressive due to the massive Corinthian columns, the accolade trefoil arches and the mosaics from the porch plated with tomb stones. The façade is decorated with Corinthian pillars and a braided frieze, symbol of the infinite and the Divinity.

In 1833 the works on the Cathedral’s construction began, after the demolition of the Stratenia Church (“The Meeting of Christ”) which dated back to 1682, also built on the ruins of the former White Church built in 1472. The Viennese architect Gustave Freywald adopted the neoclassic architectural style, influenced by the shapes of Italian Renaissance, following the towering proportions of Western cathedrals, with a capacity of over 3000 people. The construction was initially designed with a central dome of large sizes (as in the case of the St. Peter’s basilica in Rome), but its huge weight led to cracks in the resistance walls and it finally collapsed in 1839. After 40 years of ruin, the works were restarted by the architect Alexandru Orăscu, rector of the Bucharest University, which gave up on the central dome, replacing it with a system of four vaults separated through transversal arches, but kept the four lateral towers. The Cathedral’s inauguration in 1887 was made in the presence of King Carol I of Romania who contributed through consistent donations for the completion of the works. On the right side of the central nave, two years later, the relics of Saint Parascheva were brought from the Three Hierarchs Monastery, along with a part of St. George’s relics.

Above the entrance, on the western wall, the vaulted semi-circular mosaic is truly impressive, representing the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, and the bas-relief representing St. George. The church has a basilica plane, with two lateral naves, separated through marble plated archways and decorative Renaissance elements. The wall painting was also made in a Renaissance style by the great painter Gheorghe Tătărescu from Bucharest, and the windows are decorated with stained-glass. On the entrance wall, we can admire the founders’ painting, King Carol I and Queen Elisabeta, but also the metropolitans Veniamin Costachi and Iosif Naniescu (the first started the project and the second one, finished it). The iconostasis impresses through the ornamental sculpture in linden tree wood, covered with gold foil, and having floral motifs (stems, flowers and leaves of acanthus). The richly adorned royal and bishop thrones are placed in front of it. The icon of Virgin Mary, which is considered to be a miracle worker because it was noticed that it wept in 1854, is of great importance for believers.

The annual city celebrations are linked to the day of St. Parascheva (the 14th of October), when the biggest Orthodox pilgrimage in Romania (about half a million pilgrims) takes place. The cathedral is a magnificent place of prayer and collectedness where all age categories can be seen, looking for an approach to spirituality.

The Metropolitan Museum, located in the basement of the Cathedral offers an unforgettable experience through the seven theme halls: Synaxarion Hall, Oblation Hall, Founder’s Hall, Ekkelsia (“church”) Hall, the maze called the Path of the Cross, the Clerical History of Moldavia Hall and the Baptistery Hall with an impressive Neo-Byzantine painting signed by the master Grigore Popescu.

The Life of Saint Parascheva

In Greek, “paraskevi” means “preparation” or “Friday”. People have known St. Parascheva under the name of Saint Friday. She was born in Epivat, in the east of today’s Bulgaria, in the first half of the 11th century. Overwhelmed by the word of the Evangel, which she heard at the age of 10, she started giving her clothes to poor people, which terrified her parents. She couldn’t bear the torments and beatings of her parents and went into the wild, fasting and doing charity. She stopped in Constantinople, afterwards at the Monastery of Heracleea, where she did only good deeds. After she went to Jerusalem, she left for the Jordan Valley, where she lived at a nun monastery. She was buried on her native land, and after a century she was canonized.

Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt 16, Iași 700064
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Photo by Andrei Cucu

Churches, Landmarks
The “Three Hierarchs” Monastery of Iași is a unique monument in Romania, situated in the historical centre of the city on “Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt” Boulevard.

The monument was constructed by the great Voivode Vasile Lupu between 1637-1639, to venerate the three great priests from the beginning of Christianity – Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom. The blending of traditional shapes with precious materials and refined decorations turn “Three Hierarchs” Monastery into the most precious church monument in Iași. Devoted protector of the Orthodox Church, Vasile Lupu wanted to build a monastery inside the city centre, that would combine Byzantine spirit with Moldavian tradition and to serve as a princely necropolis.

The façade decorations astonish through the harmonious unity of Byzantine elements and geometric motifs of Georgian and Armenian influence, along with the late Transylvanian Gothic influences of abutments and girdles encountered in the monasteries of Muntenia. As sign of his ambitions as descendant of Byzantine monarchs, Vasile Lupu brought the relics of Saint Parascheva to Iași, which were offered by the Patriarchate of Constantinople as a sign of gratitude for the actions and generous donations made by the Moldavian prince to the Holy Mount Athos. He was a Renaissance prince, great lover of culture and knowledge, he founded the ancient Schola Basiliana in the church`s yard (today there is only the gorgeous Gothic Hall, rebuilt in 1904), where the first printing press from Kiev was also installed. This is where the first printed work (in Greek) appeared in Moldavia, as well as the famous “Cazania” of the metropolitan Varlaam in 1643. On the 25th– 26th of June 1711 the monastery received the visit of the tsar Peter I the Great, newly allied with Moldavia`s Prince Dimitrie Cantemir. The Russian emperor wanted to pray to the relics of Saint Parascheva before the battle with the Ottomans. The monastery was burnt and robbed several times and rebuilt in the 19th century. The “Three Hierarchs” Monastery played an important role in the events which led to the freeing of Greece from the Ottoman rule and its declaration of independence. The relics of Saint Parascheva were moved in the new Metropolitan Cathedral in 1889 after a fire from which they miraculously escaped. The steeple tower from the entrance was demolished during the restorations between 1882-1904.

The image of princely necropolis was kept throughout time, the bones of Vasile Lupu and his wife resting here even nowadays. On the opposite side, there are the remains of the scholar Voivode Dimitrie Cantemir, repatriated in 1935 from USSR, and the remains of the Prince of the United Principalities, Alexandru Ioan Cuza, brought from Ruginoasa. The “Three Hierarchs” Monastery is a spiritual centre and an architectural landmark unique in Romania.

Filiki Eteria and the role of Iași in Greece`s Freeing Revolution

Eteria was a secret revolutionary organization, founded in Odessa in 1814 with the aim of removing Ottoman domination from the territories where Greeks used to live and to establish a Greek independent state. Under the rule of Alexandru Ipsilanti, the son of the former Phanariot Prince of Moldavia Constantin Ipsilanti, the movement decided the beginning of the revolution in 1821. The Greek troops came to Iași in February 1821, supported by Prince Mihai Șuțu, and Moldavia`s metropolitan Veniamin Costache, who blessed the movement`s flags, thus declaring the beginning of the liberation fight. The internal conflicts between Eteria`s rulers, the lack of the initially promised Russian support and the assassination of the Romanian revolutionary Tudor Vladimirescu, accused of treachery to Eteria`s cause, led to the temporary failure of the Greek movement.

Bulevardul Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt nr. 28, Iași 700259
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