Home » Wooden Churches in Neamț County

Wooden Churches in Neamț County

 Churches have always been not only places of worship but also centres of spreading culture, where Christians have found their spiritual fulfilment. Therefore, building a church is the greatest joy of the community, of the builders and artisans alike, who embedded in the sacred pieces of work, all their skill and artisanship, creating harmonious shapes, embellished with specific symbols.

From ancient times, long before being mentioned in documents, great princes and boyars, hierarchs and monks, wealthy people and village communities of Neamț County, have erected the largest number of churches in Moldavia, many of which have stood against the test of time. Whether they are massive stone churches, such as the Neamt Monastery (late fourteenth century) and Bistrița Monastery (1402), or small wooden churches, such as those in Văleni and Sarata – Cozla – Piatra Neamț, Ciolpani – Buhuși, Galu – Poiana Teiului – all stand proof of the power of people’s faith and desire to achieve moral perfection and to worship divinity.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, there are still numerous wooden churches in this beautiful area. Many of these churches have been declared historical and folk religious architecture monuments, of which we have presented in this article only the most valuable, built between the first half of the sixteenth century and the nineteenth century. We could not include all the interesting churches still standing for reasons such as: some old churches that enjoyed great value in the past were excluded from our work as they lost their original architectural and artistic qualities during the improper upgrading works undertaken, as it happened to the churches in villages Bahna – Dochia (1736), Poloboc (1730) and Betești – Rediu (1766), Chirițeni – Hangu (1830) …; other churches of great interest were destroyed by storms, fire or decay, such as in Cerebuc – Ceahlău (1710), Bârcu – Goșmani (beginning of the eighteenth/1952) Hlăpești – Dragomirești (beginning of the eighteenth/1990), Draga – Piatra Neamț (1769/1992), Poiana Largului (1894/2011), and others. We may be able to highlight the values contained in other wooden churches in a future study.

Our documentary and on-site research have revealed some interesting findings that we present below:

  • Building wooden churches began in a dim past, the oldest in Neamț County Transfiguration of Jesus Church in Văleni-Piatra Neamț (first half of the sixteenth century). Wooden churches flourished between the early eighteenth century and late nineteenth century, when, due to the increase of the population, including the immigration of many Romanians from Transylvania and under the influence of the brick and stone churches, there was a change of architectural plan

– from the nave to the triconch – which facilitated the spatial development of churches, by the adding of apses. Lately, there has been noticed a tendency to reconstitute some valuable churches (the one in Goșmani – at Bistrița Monastery and of Hlăpești – at Sihăstria Monastery) the building also continued with some new wooden churches, while generally observing traditional features, such as those on the high plateau of Ceahlău Massif (1995), the one at Bâtca Doamnei – Piatra Neamț (2005), the chapel of Mărăței – Piatra Neamț … Many old churches have been replaced over the recent decades with massive walled churches, in a new style.

The exclusive use in building churches of various types of wood – e.g., pine, oak, ash, lime, etc. Apart from the river stone foundation (in the mountain area) or the quarry stone (in the hill area). The wood for the walls, chosen mainly from logs of the same thickness, used to be carved on four sides in even beams, arranged in horizontal coronets and fixed at the ends in grooves, dovetail or flint, making thus straight and rarely curved walls (”St Anne” Church in Ceahlău). The wide eaves with brackets were decorated at the ends with horse heads and friezes either carved or painted, but the porch was especially decorated with arches, carved pillars and parapets. There were several aesthetic features of the church exterior: the beauty of wood, the mastery techniques and the discrete decoration made of twisted-rope-shaped belts, applied on the middle of the walls or celestial and symbolic composition of motifs, arranged on doorframes, window frames and under the eaves. Extremely valuable are the inscriptions, mentioning the date of the consecration, the names of the founders, the patron saint of the church, and other events occurring over time (the churches in Răpciuni, Ciolpani, Broșteni…). Ever since the early twentieth century, all this natural or manmade beauty was concealed under painted panel layers of shingle, various plasterwork or thick layers of paint, which have altered the original appearance while trying to protect the beams from weathering. The domes constitute another conflicting detail as they were added under the influence of the nunnery or monastery (e.g., Pocrov, Țibucani, Pipirig …).

  • The wooden church interior structure has several particular features such as the development of the nave apse with vaulted ceilings, shaped as semi-cylinders or semi-calottes; the building of the partition between the narthex and the nave, which initially used to be of a great beauty, with pillars cut in brace or lyre (as in the churches of Procov Sarata – Dobreni, Răpciuni – Ceahlău…); the development of the vault, particularly in the nave and narthex, with very original technical solutions (as in the church of Văleni) as well as artistic paintings of unparalleled beauty (Răpciuni).
  • Although great admirers of murals, the Moldavians did not used to paint their wooden churches, but it seems they only covered the walls with icons (e.g., Văleni – Piatra Neamț, where the existent icons suggest that there may have been a genuinely iconographic parietal programme in the early seventeenth century). The interior walls painted directly on beams, joined at the interstices with strips of cloth, illustrating biblical scenes and, mostly, the impressive composition of the Doom’s Day can be met in some churches in the outskirts areas going to Transylvania (e.g., Răpciuni, Bistricioara, and Bicazu Ardelean) and they represent an influence of wall painting in the wooden churches in Transylvania, and Maramureș.
  • The development of the iconostasis from simple forms, where only the royal icon registers were present, (high celebrations of the apostles and prophets, to the heavily adorned one, with baroque or neoclassical carved frames; icon painters were both travellers and locals, who provided for the village community orders in the entire Neamț County (e.g., Constantin the painter, George the painter …).
  • The religious furniture includes a wide range of objects: lecterns for the choir singers and four-legged stanch for icons images – often decorated with notched or painted symbols (e.g., Văleni, Corni, Bordea, and others), pews with icons, with plant and bird carved motifs and benches with backrest carved with folk motifs (e.g., rosettes, whirls, fangs, twisted ropes, etc.).
  • Here is a selection from among the general features that belong to the old wooden church style in Moldavia:

– unity of design of the ensemble and observance of all ecclesiastical canons;
– balanced proportions and harmony of shapes;
– modest monumentality and welcoming interior;
– the extent and discretion of decorations;
– recollection of the charm patriarchal life, of the old times, where peace and God reign.

Comments are closed.