The "Holy Prophet Ilie" Monastery of Toplița
Among the religious landmarks of Transylvania, we can also find those lying at the foot of the Caliman Mountains. The "Holy Prophet Hie" Monastery of Toplița comes to continue a holy tradition of Romanian spirituality.
Surrounded by a magnificent garden whose natural beauty has been enhanced over the years by its industrious dwellers (the monks), from its very foundation and up to the present day the Toplița Monastery has known a constant process of development.
As its founder, Dr. Elie Miron Cristea, used to say, the idea behind the erection of this monastery appeared in 1911, but the actual completion only came in 1928, three years after his appointment as Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church (1925). On the day of the Holy Prophet Ilie (July 20, 1928), Patriarch Miron Cristea sent a letter to Nicolae Ivan, Bishop of Vadu. Feleacu and Cluj, diocese which included the village of Toplița, letter which presented in detail the specifications for the new monastic establishment. The consecration of the monastery took place on Sunday, 21 October 1928.
The founder intended to erect a monastery in Transylvania, the Patriarch declared : "I felt it was my holy duty to bring back such a monastic establishment I also did this for the sake of my parents, George and Domnita, peasants who lie buried here, so that you can come and pray by their grave, and, remembering that they gave you the first patriarch of Romania, you will go home and see to your children, send them to school, for no one can tell in which of these barefoot children of today lies a great man ".
The belfry and the entrance gates of the monastery
The belfry of the monastery, in keeping with the tradition of such piles, is of average height and set at the main entrance. Erected in 1928 and made of wood, to a large extent it follows the style of the Romanian traditional architecture, with specific styled elements.
The main gate marking the entrance into the monastery is carved in wood. The carvings on the gate represent the escutcheon of the Alba lulia Diocese, the Holy Trinity, medallions of three rulers who erected churches in Transylvania: Voivode St. Stephen the Great, Michael the Brave and the Martyr Voivode St. Constantin Brancoveanu, as well as those of the Transylvanian Romanian saints Ilie Iorest and Sava Brancovici, that of the Holy Prophet Ilie Testiveanul and of George and Domnita, the parents of Patriarch Miron Cristea. Also represented are the seven hills of Rome, Emperor Trajan, the she-wolf with twins Romulus and Remus, King Decebal, scenes of Dacian life and the Dacian wolf. The pillars bear carvings of the tree of life and of the endless column.
The church of the monastery
The wooden church of Stănceni, a village famous for his woodworkers, which was brought to Toplița in the year 1910. had been built in 1847. Although of relatively small size, 14 meters long and 5 meters wide. the church is nonetheless a uniquely beautiful piece of architectural work. It harmoniously combines the ancient heritage - the polygonal shape of the narthex, encountered in both Transylvania and Moldavia - with the remarkable innovations of the Moldavian craftsmen of the 18th century, that is the polygonal lateral apses and, between the nave and the narthex, the archways on carved pillars.
The porch, set on the southern side of the church, is marked by archways supported by carved pillars. Above it we find a small but exquisite steeple, its pyramidal roof resting on pillars connected by struts. The walls of the narthex form a pentagon covered by an octagonal vault, with curved stripes descending on consoles. The nave of the church is covered by a semi-cylindrical vault which rests on an octagonal basis, elongated on the east-west axis. The two lateral apses of the nave are octagonal in shape.
The vaults of the apses still preserve the original paintings made in 1847 by craftsman Gligorie of Tărgul Pietrei (Piatra Neamț). The apse of the altar, polygonal in shape, has niches, also polygonal, for the anaphora and the deaconry. The vault of the altar, again polygonal in shape, is penetrated towards the nave by an archway painted with the image of Jesus Emmanuel.
With the exception of the aforementioned ones, no other original paintings were preserved. They were damaged when the church was moved from Stanceni to Toplița. Therefore, the church had to be repainted in tempera, and for this purpose they bought painter Dumitru Belizarie, famous at the time for the new orientation he gave to ecclesiastical painting, that is for reviving the Byzantine and medieval Romanian traditions.
Thus, in the narthex we can find the votive paintings representing the parents of the founding Patriarch - George and Domnița (whose graves are located in the western part of the narthex) -, the portrait of Patriarch Miron Cristea, presented as member of the Regency Council, with King Michael I sheltered under his cloak. Among the themes captured in the paintings of the nave we distinguish first of all that of Jesus Pantocrator, surrounded by the heavenly powers. At the basis of the vault, all around the nave, we can read a text.
The iconostasis, inspired by that of the patriarchal chapel of Bucharest, is made of the finely carved wood of linden trees. The church also hosts the icon of the Holy Virgin with Baby Jesus, painted by Dumitru Belizarie, icon which Patriarch Miron Cristea set for one night by the Holy Grave of the Redeemer and then had it consecrated in the Jordan, together with other two silver framed icons (The Holy Virgin with Baby Jesus, The Sweet Kiss and Jesus, Bishop and Judge).
The chapel of the monastery and the main ancillary buildings
The first stage in the construction and development work necessary for the completion of the monastic establishment from Toplița took place in 1923-1928. This interval saw the erection of the abbot's residence (some of the materials came from the house of the Patriarch's parents), the construction of the belfry at the entrance of the monastery, with rooms for the dwellers, and the repainting of the church.
In the seventies the first steps that had to be taken were those related to the preservation of the church and of the other buildings - the pile was declared a historical and architectural monument.
Afterwards, in 1972-1976, considerable restoration work was done, and in 1985-1990 new buildings were added, among which a church-chapel and a one-story high ancillary building. Starting with the year 1995, the first level of this building hosts, in a specially built and fitted area, the museum of the monastery.
The chapel of the monastery, of considerable size and well organized from a functional point of view, was built and painted between 1984 and 1994; it was consecrated on July 20, 1994. The painting of the fresco was done by church painters Manolache Pătrașcu and Ioan Botiș.
The iconostasis and the oak pew exhibit traditional carvings. The painting of the iconostasis, done in oil, is the work of deacon Sofronie Cantea, a dweller of the monastery.
The festivals of the monastery
July 20 has become the day of the Holy Prophet Hie Monastery. Pilgrims from Maramureș, the Land of Bârsa, from the Năsăud region or from abroad come here on this special day.
The festival of the monastery's chapel is called The Healing Spring. It is celebrated on the first Friday after the Holy Easter.
The museum of monastery
The Museum of the monastery was consecrated and inaugurated on May 30, 1995. It is certain that the first who thought of setting up a museum here was the very founder of the monastery, Patriarch Miron Cristea. He knew how many valuable assets were in danger of being scattered and lost forever.
A young local monk - the one who would become Archimandrite Mihail Goia - upon being appointed abbot of the monastery, decided to follow in the footsteps of his great forerunners - Patriarch Miron, but also Bishop Emilian Antal, buried under the narthex of the church - and began collecting with the thoroughness and the dedication of a specialist anything that expressed, in its specific forms, the Romanian Orthodox spirit from the Toplița region.
The permanent exhibition of the museum presents an considerable set of icons painted on wood. dating back to the 18th century. Of these, special attention has to be given to the fragments of the fresco from Mănăstirea Doamnei, painted in 1755 by craftsman Andrei of Sunfalău, as well as to the imperial icons painted by the same artist.
The exhibition of the museum features fragments of the old iconostasis that stood In the wooden church of the monastery, painted in 1847 by craftsman Gligorie of Târgul Pietrei (Piatra Neamf). Worthy of special attention are the icon Jesus Christ, Bishop and Emperor, surrounded by the Holy Apostles, the icon The Holy Virgin with the Baby, surrounded by the prophets, as well as other iconographic themes rarely encountered in easel paintings, like for instance The Battle between Nestor and Lie, The Holy Virgin in the Pyre, The Blind Man's Sunday, The Passing Away of the Just, The Holy Virgin's Spring etc.
The museum also has a valuable collection of icons painted on glass, exhibiting some which are representative for the end of the 18th century - beginning of the 19th century. By this we mean the icon Holy Mary with the Baby, coming from the church of Gălăuțași. Of special value is the icon The Resurrection of Jesus, coming from church of Porumbenii Mari.
Also exhibited are a large number of Orthodox religious books, some being either unique or extremely rare. We have in mind here some fragments coming from the Psalter printed in 1544 in Milesevo (Serbia) and the manuscript of Varlaam's Homily, handwritten at the end of the 17th century by erei Mihail, both coming from the parish Church of Imper, as well as Varlaam's Homily, in an edition printed in Iasi in 1643, and the 1682 Bucharest Gospel.
The museum also features a series of liturgical objects made of precious or of common metal: the chalice and the discus of Mănăstirea Doamnei, dating back to the 18th century; candlesticks, crosses carved from wood and plated with metal; silver or brass lamps from the mid 19th century; the 18th century silver plated Gospel.
The museum pays special homage to the memory of its founder, Dr. Elie Miron Cristea.