Rare Books

The Greek-Romanian Gospel book, dated 1693

Middle Ages
tree bark pieces, burgundy silk velvet, gilded silver leaf, gilded silver rivets, silk thread, green canvas, silver thread, watermarked paper, black and red (cinnabar) inks
printing, binding, beating, embossing, polishing, engraving, pressing
L= 34 cm; W= 24 cm

    The Greek-Romanian Gospel book, dated 1693

    Place: The Printing House of the Metropolitan Church in Bucharest; Typographer: Hieromonk Antim Ivireanul; Editor: Șerban Greceanu, vtori chancellor; Commissioner: Ruler Constantin Brâncoveanu; Metal workshop: Master Georg Helthner in Brașov; Beneficiary: The Hurezi Monastery, whose patron saints are “The Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helen”; Research: Ginel Lazăr, Ph.D; Non-destructive testing of the materials: Irina Petroviciu, Ph.D.; Migdonia Georgescu, Ph.D; Restoration: Expert restorer Cristina Petcu; Photo: George Nica, Ginel Lazăr, Ph.D.


    The Hurezi Monastery. Brief history 

    The two monumental enclosures of the Hurezi Lavra have been erected on the territory of the former estate “Huhurezi”, belonging to Brâncoveanu, on the outskirts of Romanii de Jos, 3 km away from the town of Horezu, at the bottom of the Căpățâna Mountain. A paved alley leads from the edge of the Romanii de Jos village to the entrance of the first enclosure of the monastery. Since its very foundation, the Hurezi Monastery, erected between 1690 and 1693, had been endowed with vast lands, privileges and royal donations, here living a numerous community of monks, some of whom became real scholars of their time (editors, translators, typographers). For almost two centuries, up to the secularization of monastic estates (1863), the monastery was one of the main cultural centers of Wallachia. The name of lavra is supported by the erection of some specific buildings in the vicinity of the monastic complex, namely the Chapel (the Western side of the establishment), the Hospital (on the Eastern side), the “Saint Apostles Peter and Paul” Hermitage (to the north) and “Saint Stephen” Hermitage (to the West). The ensemble of buildings reflects a particular architectural style, known by the name of the Brâncovenesc style, a synthesis of the artistic elements specific for the epoch of the Martyr Ruler, which were widely spread in the Wallachian and Southern Transylvanian space. The monastic establishment is the oldest and most prestigious religious, architectural and cultural monument founded by Ruler Constantin Brâncoveanu (1688-1714). The royal palace in the main enclosure, located to the south of the other buildings in the enclosure, was used as a periodic residence of the founder. The private rooms of the family members had a canonic icon painted in fresco on their Eastern wall. From its very beginning, the monastery was designed as the necropolis of Constantin Brâncoveanu’s family, but the martyrdom of the Brâncoveanus and the subsequent political context made this wish impossible to come true. After the restoration works carried out between 1960 and 1978 and coordinated by architect Ștefan Balș, the rooms of the royal palace were recreated according to their original forms. At present, this is the location of the monastery museum, which owns valuable religious art objects.   

    The place of worship  

    The Hurezi Monastery, whose patron saints are “The Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helen”, was consecrated on the 8th of September 1693, according to a side note in the Foletul Novel, written by Constantin Brâncoveanu himself. In the upper part of the 18th page of the manuscript owned by NMRH, cut and preserved only as such, there is the following annotation made by the ruler: “Sept 6, on Wednesday, I arrived at the Hurezi Monastery and I consecrated it [the church and the main enclosure] on Friday, September 8th, on the day of The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary“. 

    Built on a three-lobed plan, the church of the monastery completes the plan of the place of worship in Curtea de Argeș by adding both some slender forms and a church porch specific for the Brâncovenesc style, with stone arches and columns, decorated according to the style of late Renaissance. The facades are decorated with rectangular panels and apses with circles. The rotive in the church porch mentions the builders: Manea, the master mason, Istrate, the carpenter and Vucașin Caragea, the stone mason. The wall painting was completed a year after the consecration and presents religious scenes and votive paintings of a high artistic value.  

    The Greek-Romanian Gospel Book with gilded silver bookbinding, donated to the Hurezi Monastery by its founder, in 1693

    The Greek-Romanian Gospel Book in 1693 was printed by Hieromonk Antim Ivireanul at the Royal Printing House in Bucharest, and the etching, commissioned by the founder of the Hurezi Monastery, was made in Brașov; then, the religious book, an exceptional copy, was donated to the church of the monastery. After the secularization of monastic estates, in 1863, a part of the Hurezi Monastery’s treasure was included in the patrimony of the National Museum of Antiquities (NMA) in Bucharest, modernly organized first by Al. Odobescu and, later, by Gr. Tocilescu. The National Museum of Romanian History (NMRH) owns several masterpieces with the ex-libris stamp of the National Museum of Antiquities.

    A relevant example is also The Greek-Romanian Gospel Book from 1693, etched in precious metal, owned in the past by the monastery founded by Brâncoveanu at the bottom of the Căpățâna Mountain. The binding of this religious book has gilded silver plates applied on tree bark pieces, previously covered in burgundy silk velvet. The etching, made up of gilded silver medallions representing well-known apostolic figures and canonic scenes, is a finely crafted artistic and religious work, made in the workshop of Georg Helthner, a craftsman in Brașov. The artwork was commissioned around 1691 and completed in 1692, according to the date mentioned at the end of the text marking the donation made by Brâncoveanu. The book commissioned by Constantin Brâncoveanu is impressive by the minute attention to details in rendering the ceremonial costumes of Byzantine origin, worn by the Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helen, represented in the etching of the Greek-Romanian Gospel Book from Hurezi.

    The finely executed phytomorphic and ornamental motifs of the imperial garments remind us of the Transylvanian Saxon art of the second half of the 17th century. Besides the two central canonic medallions, on the front side and on the back side, first on the central left side of the scene entitled “The Savior’s Resurrection”, then below the Slavonic inscription marking the donation made by the ruler and his wife, we can notice the two trademarks of the master in Brașov, made up by the initials GH (Georg Helthner), inserted in a shield. The inscription below the canonic scene of the Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helen is the following: “Io(an) Kostandin B(asarab) B(râncoveanu) Voevod i gospojda ego Mariia, vă leat 7200 (1692)”. “Io(an) Kostandin B(asarab) B(râncoveanu) Voivode and his Lady Mariia; year 7200 (1692)”. In the four corners of the book there are metal knobs for support, and the clamping system is in the shape of two tulips. The title page of the Holy Gospel Book, printed on two columns, in Greek and Romanian (in the Cyrillic alphabet), reveals the following description: “The Holy Christian Greek and Romanian Gospel Book, written for the first time in both these languages and in compliance with the rituals of the Greek Church. Commissioned and paid by the Venerable, the Most Reverend and the Most Honorable ruler and protector of the entire Wallachia, Ioan Konstadin Băsârabă Boevod, for the use of the community of worshipers, assigning the mission of worship to the Holy Metropolitan Bishop kir Theodosie in the year of salvation 1693. And it was printed by the Metropolitan Church of Wallachia in Bucharest, in the Printing House of the Holy Metropolitan Church, in 1693”.

    On the back of the title page, on two columns, there are the verses dedicated to the coat of arms of Wallachia, with the title: “Political verses about the country’s coat of arms and its Most Reverend and Most Honorable ruler, Ioan Constandin BB voivode”, signed by Șerban Greceanu, vtori chancellor. Between the title and the introduction, there is Constantin Brâncoveanu’s coat of arms, containing Christian symbols of Byzantine inspiration: in the middle, there is the eagle that holds the cross in its beak and, above it, there are Christian representations, such as the clouds, the sun and the moon. Below the coat of arms, there are the verses dedicated to the ruler according to the Biblical model of David’s Psalms. Then, there is the preface written by Șerban Greceanu and entitled: “Joy to all those who might read this, the worshipers and our brethren“. At the same time, the author of the preface informs us on the value of the book, praising the Martyr Ruler as if he were a Basileus. We are also reminded about the importance of spreading the message of the Holy Gospel among the people.

    The bookish approach has an academic consistency, completely devoted to the model of Byzantine chronicle, with Biblical parables, from the life and deeds of prophets and apostles and with relevant examples of royal cultural patronage. The book is printed in Greek and Romanian, with the bilingual text inserted on two columns, the Greek one on the left and the Romanian one on the right. Each Gospel begins with a short chronicle about the life of the evangelist, written by Saint Sophronius; then, there is the depiction of the evangelist as a scholar, and the title page with the beginning of the text of the Gospel.