Rare Books

The Greek-Romanian Gospel of the Horezu Monastery

Medieval History
18th century
Gold encasing, silk, gold and silver thread, wood, paper, black and polychromous inks.
Typing, binding, encasing, forging, incision, embossing, chiseling.
Length=34 cm; width=24 cm.

    The Greek-Romanian Gospel of the Horezu Monastery

    Place of printing / binding: The Royal Press of Bucharest / the workshop of master Sebastian Hann from Sibiu.

    Limited partner: Ruler Constantin Brâncoveanu.

    Typographer: Ieromonah Antim Ivireanul. Editor: Șerban Greceanu, vtori logofat.

    Beneficiary: The Church of Horezu Monastery.

    Texts: Dr. Ginel Lazăr / Photos: George Nica


    On one of the domains owned by the Brâncovaenu family in northern Olteniei, namely Hurezi, ruler Constantin Brâncoveanu erected, between the years 1690 and 1693, a wonderful monastery. The monastery enjoys a picturesque location, at the foot of the Căpăţânii mountains, where the silence is only broken by the sound of the birds which lent their name to both the monastery and its surrounding area. The church bears the title of “Emperor Saints Constantine and Helena” and, together with the rest of the monastery’s buildings, it represents a remarkable sample of the Brâncoveanu style. After Brâncoveanu’s wish, his tomb was set on the premises of the church, but it remained unused, as the martyr ruler is buried in the “New St. George” church in Bucharest. Before its founding, the ruler bestowed many donations upon the church and monastery, in the form of valuable cult objects and vast domains. Such a donation is the Greek-Romanian Gospel, printed by hieromonach Antim Ivireanul, in the year 1693, at the Royal Press in Bucharest. The cult book was bound in golden covers paid for by the ruler, in the workshop of Master Sebastian Hann from Sibiu, and was to be used for the performing of liturgical service in the church of the Horezu monastery. At present, the Greek-Romanian Gospel is a part of the permanent Exhibition The Historical Treasury at the National History Museum of Romania.


    On the first white page of the liturgical book we find the inventory notes: No. 292, гоп. 6644/434. Tp. 29, Gr. 12546. There represent the proof that the Gospel in question was aq part of the inventory of the Romanian historical treasury which was sent to Tsarist Russia in 1917, whence it was returned, during the age of communism, accompanied by a small fraction of the original historical and archaeological valuables. The title page of the gospel, displaying two columns of writing, in Greek and Romanian (using the Cyrillic alphabet) reads the following presentation: “The Holy and Godly Hellenic and Romanian Gospel now for the first time compiled in both languages, following the way of the Greek Church. At the behest and with the sponsorship of our blessed, most enlightened and greatly revered lord and ruler of all Walachia, Ioan Konstadin Băsârabă Boevod, for the common use of Orthodox clergy. At the helm of the Orthodoxy, most blessed Metropolitan Father Kir Theodosie, in the year 1693 A.C. Printed for the use of the Holy Mitropoly of Walachia Bucharest. The Press of the Holy Mitropolym,1693”. The book covers are wooden, encased in gold leaf, a work of great artistic and religious finesse, executed in the workshop of Master Sebastian Hann from Sibiu. Both the book and its binding are 320 years old. Throughout the Gospel, one finds several stamps with the coat-of-arms of the Bucharest Museum of Antiquities. On the back of the title page, laid out in two columns, there is a preface signed by Șerban Greceanu, vtori logofăt (counselor). The preface Predoslovia is titled “Political Verses on the Emblem of Most Enlightened and Blessed Ruler Ioan Constandin BB voevod”. Between the title and the introduction, there is the coat-of-arms of ruler Constantin Brâncoveanu, made up of Christian symbols of Byzantine inspiration, having at its center the eagle holding the Constantinian cross in its beak, and above, there are depictions of celestial objects such as: clouds, the Sun, and the Moon. Below the coat-of-arms, there is the text of the preface, in the form of an epigram dedicared to the ruler after the biblical fashion of David’s psalms. This is followed by another preface, longer, spanning five pages, with the following title: “To All Who May Happen to Read it, Orthodox Clergymen and Our Brothers before the Lord, Joy to You”. At the same time, the author of the preface informs us of the worth of the book, bestowing praise on the martyr ruler worthy of a Byzantine emperor. The importance of spreading the message of the Gospel among the masses is also mentioned.

    The scholarly approach displays academic coherence, completely devoted to the model of the Byzantine chronicle, using parables from the Bible, from the lives and acts of the prophets and apostles, and eloquent examples of Constantinoplean art sponsorship. The book is printed in Greek and Romanian, with bilingual text inserted along two columns, Greek on the left and Romanian on the right. Each Gospel opens with a short chronicle relating the life of the evangelist, written by Sofronie, and a portrait of the evangelist posing as a scribe, and the title page with the beginning of the evangelical text. The latter features a frontispiece adorned with little depictions of the Savior, in thee cases, and the Deisi scene, in another case. Also, the text is preceded by large initials, inserted into ornamented vignettes. Above the evangelical text there are specifications as to when each Gospel must be read. For instance, John’s Gospel must be read on the “Holy and Great Sunday of Easter”. The first page of a Gospel has an average of 34 lines, typed into two columns. The beginning of the second preface by Şerban Greceanu has 44 lines on the page, and its next pages have an average of 48 lines, all typed into two columns. Also, the precious print is furnished with a bookmark, made from silk and strengthened with precious metal insertions. The book weighs a total of 4845, 00 grame. This exceptional copy belonged to the Bucharest Museum of Antiquities, according to a stamp with its name, applied on the title page. The first cover of the encasing has the shape of a floral frame with 18 cartouches containing scences from the life of Jesus Christ. In the centre, there is a medallion depicting the canonical scene of “Jesus Christ’s Descent into Hell” or “Anastasis” (in Byzantine tradition). The second cover features seven cartouches, and in the centre, a depiction of “Saints Constantine and Helena Holding the Savior’s Cross in Their Hands”. In the upper register, there are two scenes: “The Nativity” and “The Assumption”. In the lower one, there are “The Saints Peter and Paul”, and “St. John”.


    During the reign of Matei Basarab, several print shops were established across Walachia, which had the role of printing religious books in the Romanian language, and thus the process of Romanianization of church service began, through the reading of the Homily in the people’s language, from the lectern. Later, towards the end of Șerban Cantacuzino’s rule, we witness the progressive elimination of Slavonic as a language of the church and its replacement with Greek. Gradually, the Romanian language is introduced to the altar, through reading the Gospels and the Apostle, but liturgical service is still performed in the Slavonic language, as cult books necessary to the performing of the service in the Romanian language did not yet exist. The process was a slow and lengthy one, due to the discrepancies between Slavonic church music and the Romanian grammar of the time, which lacked the means to express “dogmatic subtleties”. During the age of the martyr ruler, churchly Slavonic was no longer comprehensible to the clergy, and the young Romanian language was not yet fully fledged and ready to replace Slavonic. Around 1680, metropolitan priest Theodosie notes in his writings that priests as well as monks “are helpless”, do not know the ways and ceremonies, and cannot perform the service at the altar because of their “lack of knowledge and understanding of the Slavonic language”. Moreover, an intense preoccupation with retiurning to original Greek texts can be observed in a series of scholars, thoroughly knowledgeable of the Greek religious literature.

    The translation of holy books is no longer performed using Slavonic models, unclear and confusing, but making direct use of the primordial Greek source. Among the experienced translators of the time were the Greceanu brothers. To conclude, during Brâncoveanu’s age, fundamental cult books were being read in the Romanian language in churches, such as the Gospels, the Acts, and the Homily, while the Liturgy, with its sung parts, was performed in Slavonic or Greek. Thus, Romanian was partially introduced into the church, for the benefit of churchgoers. Divine service is made up of three parts: the Liturgy (performed by the priest at the altar), the reading of suggestive passages from the four Gospels, from the Acts or the Epistles of the Apostles (only by the priest or deacon) and, finally, the reading of the Homily, with commentary on the evangelical text, followed by a moralizing sermon (mission reserved to the cantor in the lectern). The Homily, which Hierarch Varlaam called a “book of learning”, because it contained sermons and it addressed the people directly “for to strengthen their Christian virtues”, is of great importance to the Romanian people, as it is comprehensible to them. The reason for the printing of the other cult books in Slavonic had to do with a national solidarity unequivocally manifested through the church as well. Copies of the Tetraevangelion printed up until Șerban Cantacuzino’s time displayed the traditional order of the New Testament. They reproduced, in print, the manuscripts with calligraphy and miniature painting found in great monachal cultural centres, of Medio-Bulgarian or Serbian inspiration, containing blessings of the church’s fathers, the Gospels in relation to Sundays and holidays throughout the year, the liturgical calendar, etc. Cult books of this type were very diverse and lengthy, hard to read and explain during the service. Priests no longer knew written Slavonic, and the people did not understand it. Starting with Șerban Cantacuzino’s reign, the Gospels are divided into pericopes (the abridged version of a Gospel), fit to be read every day, adapted to suit certain religious occasions within the church’s liturgical service. Thus, these pericopes of the Gospels were read by priests and cantors, in the middle of the church, in the Romanian language, and explained for the people to understand.


    The activity of translating and printing religious books in the language of the country would receive a considerable boost during the rule of Constantin Brâncoveanu, through the agency and skill of Antim Ivireanul. The bligualilingual Greek-Romanian Gospel of 1693 was printed at the Royal Press in Bucharest under the supervision of Hiero-monach Antim Ivireanul (of Iviria). He came from a wealthy family of Georgians from around the Azov Sea, a Turkish-dominated area. Fallen into slavery since his youth, he manages to free himself under unknown conditions, making a name for himself in Constantinople, in the cultural sphere of the ecumenical Patriarchy through his undeniable artistic and scholarly abilities. He is discovered and appreciated by ruler Constantin Brâncoveanu, and brought to Romania, where he will study the Romanian and Slavonic cultures, then he is appointed head of the Royal Press of the Mitropoly, from 1691 to 1694. He becomes a monk under the name of Antim, being ordained a hiero-monach. At the Royal Press of Bucharest, he prints four books, one of which was the Greek-Romanian Gospel of 1693. Later, he becomes abbot of the Snagov cloister, where he organizez a press blessed with Greek and Romanian editions of remarkable value. He climbs the hierarchical ladder of the clergy, becoming the bishop of Râmnic in 1705, and in 1709 he is elected metropolitan father in Kir Theodosie’s place. Vlădica was relentlessly preoccupied with coordinating the printing of books for liturgical purposes in six Walachian print shops, raising the art of typography to a very high level. At the same time, he was an unflagging creator of new churchly language in the popular tongue, being considered one of the greatest scholars of the medieval Romanian space.

    Radu and Șerban Greceanu, translators of the “Bible” of 1688 were part of the ruler’s counsel, very highly appreciated for their erudition. Together with his brother, Radu Greceanu, author of the chronicle “The Life of Constantin Brâncoveanu“ of 1711, Șerban Greceanu was involved for many years in the translation and printing of religious books. This endeavour was a part of a political project of consolidation of southeast European orthodoxy, aimed against the Ottomans. The strategy was initiated by ruler Şerban Cantacuzino and continued by Constantin Brâncoveanu. The names of the two scholarly brothers are also linked to the translation of the “Bible of Bucharest” or “Şerban Cantacuzino’s Bible”, after the original text of the Septuagint. The book was printed at the Royal Press of Bucharest in 1688, during Brâncoveanu’s rule and was the first integral Romanian language edition of the Holy Scripture. Şerban Greceanu was born in the village Greci, near Găeşti, in the land of Vlaşca, today’s Dâmboviţa. He married Ilinca, the daughter of treasurer Papa Greceanu, from the village of Grecii, in Ilfov. The marriage brought him as a possession, from his wife, the Dragomireşti domain. He was also called Dragomirescu, after the name of the village in Dâmboviţa, where he had founded a church. His father was a common man, a modest but liberal-minded land owner, who enrolled his children in school and inoculated them with the desire for ascension. He thus joined the ranks of the nobility, completing important dignitary mandates. Between the years 1685 and 1694, he was a vtori logofăt (counselor), in 1695 a vel vistier (treasurer) in the Divan, and in 1704 he was a high counselor. His son, named after him, became the son in law of ruler Constantin Brâncoveanu, receiving as dowry the Corneşti domain. Şerban Greceanu, the editor of the Greek-Romanian Gospel in 1693, was one of the outstanding scholars of the Brâncoveanu Age, a firm believer in the utility and importance of his own cultural endeavour.