24 feb. 2015

The Toplita Municipality, located in the north of Harghita County, is one of the few settlements in the Romanian countryside of its size with no less than three monasteries, one of them founded by the first Patriarch of Romania, Miron Cristea, who was born here.

The most known of the three cult settlements in Toplita is situated at the bottom of the Calimani Mountains and is dedicated to St. Elijah, being founded by the very first of the Romanian Patriarchs. In time, the monastery became one of the strongest Orthodox monastic centres in Transylvania and is considered to be one of the true symbols of the spiritual union of all Romanians. 


Once you passed the carved wooden gate and stepped onto an alley bordered by trees, you discover the wooden church of St. Elijah Monastery, surrounded by a garden full of flowers that pleases the eye.

The church of the St. Elijah Monastery was built in 1847 in the Stanceni village, famous for its craftsmen in wood, under the coordination of father Gheorghe Ujica and his sons, Stefan and Ioan. Soon after the building of a new church in Stanceni, in 1920, Patriarch Miron Cristea brought the wooden church from Stanceni to Toplita, placing it in his parents' garden, while he was thinking of building a monastery and save thus the architectonic monument, by placing this church there.

In 1923 they started the construction works at the foundation of the monastery, at the belfry, the abbess' house, the monks' house and the annexes. The abbot's house was built with the materials from the house where Patriarch Miron Cristea was born, as shown by the documents available at the Orthodox Diocese of Covasna and Harghita. 


The consecration of the monastery took place on Sunday, October 21, 1928, its founder, Patriarch Miron Cristea, attending. A group of monks arrived from other monasteries later the same year and remained to live here.

As shown by the book 'Romanians from Covasna and Harghita' signed by Ioan Lacatusu, Vasile Lechintan and Violeta Patrunjel, after a peaceful period, when the monastic activity run its normal course, between 1928-1938, there followed a period of unrest under the Vienna Dictate and the totalitarian regime installed after the World War II. The monastic life returned to normal in 1970, when the monastery complex was declared a historic and architectonic monument. 


The wooden church at the monastery only measures 14 metres in length and 5 metres in height, but it is very beautiful, built of beams on a cross-shaped stone foundation. The old painting on the church walls got deteriorated during its movement from Stanceni and Toplita, only the arch to the nave of the altar canopy still preserving its initial painting. Thus, a new paining was made, 'in Byzantine and Romanian medieval tradition.' One can notice here the votive paintings with the figures of the parents of Patriarch Miron Cristea, George and Domnita, who are buried in the crypt under the church. Patriarch Miron's figure was also painted as member of the regency council and protector of King Mihai I.

The church also hosts an icon of Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus, painted by Dumitru Belizarie, which icon Patriarch Miron Cristea left for a night at the Holy Sepulchre, after which he sanctified in the Jordan River together with other two icons covered in silver: Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus, the Sweet Kissing and Jesus Bishop and Judge. 


The iconostasis was built and painted between 1984 and 1994 and consecrated on July 20, 1994, when His Grace Ioan of Covasna was ordained a Bishop, His Beatitude Patriarch Teoctist attending the ceremony.

The St. Elijah Monastery also has a museum with valuable objects both from an historical and artistic viewpoint. The permanent exhibition includes an important collection of wooden icons, dating in the 18th century, and also a valuable collection of glass icons. Moreover, an important collection of Orthodox books, some of them unique or very rare, is also to be found here. As shown by the work 'Romanians from Covasna and Harghita', of a special value is the 'Psalter' printed in 1544 in Milesevo, Servia, 'Varlaam's Homily', printed in Iasi, in 1643, or the 'Gospeller', printed in Bucharest, in 1682.

Every year, on July 20, when the monastery celebrates its patron saint a large number of pilgrims come here from all over the country and also from abroad.

The Archbishop of Covasna and Harghita, His Grace Ioan Selejan said that the monastery became like a spiritual centre for Romanians in the area and also played an important role in preserving their national identity. 'Despite the fact that in the beginning we wanted it to be a necropolis, the church grew to become a monastery and also, ever since 1927-1928, a spiritual centre for Romanians in this area where there existed no other monasteries. Romanians used to go to monasteries in Moldavia, across the mountains, but now, the St. Elijah Monastery welcomes thousands of faithful every summer coming to celebrate its patron saint. The monastery was an important Orthodox centre in the Mures Valley, not only in Toplita. We can say thus that the monastery played an important role in preserving our national and Orthodox identity in this area,' said His Grace Ioan Selejan.

Doamnei Monastery in Moglanesti 
Atop a hill at the outskirts of Toplita Municipality there is another Orthodox settlement that went through a lot of difficult times. It is the Doamnei Monastery, founded in 1658 by Miss Safta, the wife of Moldavian Ruler Gheorghe Stefan, having been erected on the ruins of an older monastic construction.

As the 'Romanians from Covasna and Harghita' book shows, quoting ethnographer Orban Balazs as noting down in the mid-19th century, nearby the Toplita Muncipality 'there is the Monasteria Mountain, where the ruins of an old monastery can still be seen until today, built by a rich lady who found refuge here at the confluence between the 16th and the 17th centuries in an epoch full of numerous political and military events.'

The building, which has been through numerous restoration stages, was rather modest initially, measuring 9.5 metres in length and 4.75 metres in height. It was later declared an historic monument.

According to the abovementioned source, 'one of the first Romanian schools in the Upper Mures Valley was the one near the Doamnei Monastery from Moglanesti-Toplita, organised by teacher-monk Vasile Sturzea, originating from Galati, but who lived here between 1680-1695.'

Over the time, the monastery went through a lot of difficulties; it was devastated and even abandoned. Now the monastery is alive again, as His Grace Ioan Selejan says, with a new church being built for all those who want to meditate while being at the Moglanesti-Toplita cult settlement, while enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Gura Izvorului Hermitage 
Gura Izvorului Hermitage was built in Toplita in 1999. In the beginning there were two forest lodges that were left to ruin here. Now the construction works at the minster are almost complete and the monk cells are almost ready too. The minster is dedicated to both 'The Sunday of all Saints' and to "St Simeon Stylite, of the Iconostasis." 'Thus, we can say about Toplita Municipality that it is the City/citadel of the three monasteries. I don't know about a similar situation existing elsewhere in the country, but whoever arrives in Toplita has for sure the chance to visit three monasteries at once. We are speaking thus of the three monastery-city, which means that Romanians here are very faithful [...] It's no wonder that God made it so that the first Patriarch of Romania was born here, concluded the Archbishop of Covasna and Harghita, His Grace Ioan Selejan.AGERPRES