The history of Saint George’s Church in the monastery of Saint John the New in Suceava begins in 1514, when the prince of Moldavia, Bogdan III, decided to build a new metropolitan cathedral, after the old one had been destroyed by a Polish invasion. Bogdan III began construction of the church, which was completed in 1522 by his son, Ștefăniță Vodă. In the period between 1532 and 1534, the church was painted inside and out, at the request of Prince Petru Rares. In 1579, the Bishop Theofan of Râşca added a small porch. Between 1522 and 1677, this church operated as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Moldova. Even when Prince Lapusneanu moved the Moldavian capital from Suceava to Iaşi, from 1564 until 1677, the metropolitan residence remained in Suceava. After 1775, when Suceava and all of Bukovina were occupied by the Austrian Empire, the monastery remained under the rule of the Metropolitan Church of Moldova in Iaşi, which led to a canonical conflict with the Metropolitan Church of Bukovina which was under Austrian rule. The Church consolidated its reputation as the spiritual centre of Moldova after the relics of Saint John the New were brought here. However, they were seized in 1686 by King Jan Sobieski of Poland, but returned to the church 97 years later.
The monastery was an important cultural centre. There was a clerical school, which later became the Institute of Theology comprising the schools of calligraphy, metal and wood engraving, but also tutoring schools preparing teachers of Romanian, Greek and Slavonic. The interior was significantly altered in 1796, when walls between the nave, burial chamber and narthex were demolished in order to widen the nave.
A complex architecture
The church is built according to a plan in the shape of a Greek cross. The walls are supported by nine buttresses. We find niches in the upper side, under the cornice. The west wall has a row of niches, and the other two lines are equal in size. The front sides of the apses have elongated alcoves. There is an octagonal tower above the nave, lighted by four windows arranged in alignment with the cardinal points. The tower is supported by two superposed star-shaped foundations.
Originally, the church was covered with lead, but the metal was stolen during one of the invasions Moldova was facing, and was covered instead with wood. Between 1904 and 1910, the Austrian architect Karl Romstorfer decided to restore the roof using glazed tiles.
The church contains typical Byzantine motifs, from the painting of Jesus Pantocrator on the nave’s vault to the Passion of Christ and the military saints. The precinct wall was demolished, and then rebuilt on a smaller scale. Several constructions can be found inside the monastery, out of which the most remarkable is the steeple, built in 1589 by Prince Peter the Lame, it got an additional floor and a tower in 1910.
Travel info: The distance Bucharest - Suceava is 433 kilometres, and between Cluj and Suceava it is 313 km.
Foto: Cezar Suceveanu