Rare Books

The Tetraevangelion of Floresti Monastery

Middle Ages
August 9th 1578 (as marked on the final page); June 27th 1596 (as embossed on the casing)
gold-plated silver binding, metal rivets, wood, textile fibers, thread-marked paper, black and polychromatic inks
calligraphy, miniature painting, binding, encasing, forging, embossing, chiseling
length: 22 cm; width: 17 cm; 375 pages


    Texts: Dr. Ginel LAZĂR Photo: MNIR (project MANUSCRIPTUM)  


    The church and monastery of Floreşti have as their patron saint “St. Ilie Tezviteanul“, and are atested in documents dating back to 1590. Official records dated July 22nd 1598, issued by Ieremia Movilă’s chancellery, mention that the High Stewart of the Ţara de Sus (Upper Land), Crâstea Ghenovici and his entire family have bestowed, in addition to the village of Hrăneşti, their native property, with the two mills in the waters of the Bârlad river, and the village of Floreşti, bought for 300 Mongolian zloty, from „the sons of Lazor the baker and their relations”. The properties of the two villages comprise mills, glades, ponds, and bee gardens. Another monahal property, derived from the same document, is a vinyard and a house in the town of Bârlad. All these they have „for the glory of God to the newly erected monastery that goes by the name of ...“.

    The old name of the monastery was Smila, after the Slavic hydronym which means flower. In English, Smil/a translates as dwarf everlast or immortelle (Helichrysum arenarium), a beautiful shrub flower which keeps its vivid colours even after wilting. It blooms from June to October and it has a yellow-cream colour, also displaying medicinal properties. According to the accounts of high bishop Ioan Antonovici, a zealous documentarist, passionate about local history, the river Smila flows from the „bottom of the Lunca glen” in the town of Floreşti, then receives a tributary in the form of Hunăria creek, continues on its way through several villages and flows into the Bârlad. The two names, namely Smila and Florentina, the monastery has borne until the half of the 17th century, when they were replaced by the name of Floreşti, after the homonymous town initially located for km away from the monachal establishment. The monastic compound of Floreşti was of the fortified kind, with a strong enclosing wall, with towers, ramparts, guarded access roads. From archaeological digs and research, it appears there has occurred a progressive movement of the core of the village toward the proximity of the monastery.

    The church has a central position, correctly defined canonically, with a fortified aspect, surrounded by specialized constructions such as: the priorship, the monks’ cells, the clisiarnita, the guest house, the refectory, the kitchens, the workshops, and the art schools. 100 years after Crâstea Ghenovici founded it, the monachal compound, with specific reference to the church, would enter a different stage of reconstruction, restoration, and reconsolidation. The works were sponsored by Gavril Costache, biv vel dvornic, grandson of the original founder, later being continued by the sons of the second founder (High Steward Vasilie Costache, Antiohi Jora the hetman, and Lupul Costache, Great Treasurer). The above accounts are found on a memorial plaque of the church, dated July 20th 1694. The conclusions of archaeological research at Floreşti reveal a three-apse structure of the church, but divided into threshold, vestibule, nave, and altar. The two churches, of the late 16th and late 17th centuries, combine the three-apse plan with a typical Walachian facade, featuring a bell tower above the threshold, situated on the same longitudinal axis as the nave tower. According to the advised comments of experts, the fortified character of the monastery, focused on defense functions, evidences that this was a religious stronghold, with a role of local defense.

    The earthquakes of May 31st 1738 and October 14th 1802 seriously damaged the church and its bell tower. As time went by, the Floreşti monastery received several donations from rulers and noblemen, tax exemptions and other privileges, being endowed with vast domains, inns, vineyards, ponds, mills, bee gardens, alcohol distilleries, gardens, and cellars in the town of Bârlad, thus becoming one of the richest Moldavian monasteries. Another monastery founded by biv vel dvornic Gavril Costache is the Ciocăneşti-Bursuci monastery, with “St. Apostles Peter and Paul” as its patron saints. It was later devoted to the Esfigmenul monastery of Mount Athos on May 6th 1682, with a charity act “for the souls of our parents, and our own, and those of our children, that they may write our names on the great holy memorial list...” In general, a church donation did not have a definitive character, but was conditioned by judicious administration of the goods and maintenance of the buildings, as well as observance of traditions. Almost a century after Gavril Costache’s donation to Mount Athos, the Ciocăneşti-Bursuci monastery, left without resources and in danger of ruination, becomes a subsidiary of the Floreşti monastery. At the beginning of the 19th century, due to irresponsible hegumenic administration, the Floreşti monastery reached a noticeable state of decay. This fact determined the metropolitan father Veniamin Costache, from the founding family, to devote the Floreşti monastery and its subsidiary (Ciocăneşti-Bursuci) to the Esfigmenul monastery of Mount Athos (August 20th 1806). It was hoped that this would ensure better care and organization for the Floreşti monastery. Unfortunately, the Greek hegumenic administration did not objectively manage the estate and income of the monastery, giving rise to fierce accusations which generated strong negative autochthon reactions. Archimandrite Nil, the last Greek hegumen of Floreşti monastery, strove to expand the aspect of the church in a monumental form, that of the hegumenic palace and the precinct wall. Father Ion Antonovici, in his book exclusively dedicated to the Floreşti Monastery, printed by the graphic Workshops of Socec & Co., in 1916, would publish, on pages 88 – 98, the memoirs of old Gheorghie Drob. He was a notary in the township of Olteneşti, Fălciu jurisdiction, and had used to be a “house boy” for hegumen Nil of the Floreşti monastery. He related everything saw and heard between the years 1859 and 1864, while in the service of the monastery. His memoir was written in Olteneşti Township and dated July 15th 1908. From his lengthy account filled with precious information, we shall dwell on a single ample occurrence which had as its protagonist the ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza. The Hegumen Nil is known from writings found at the Floreşti monastery under the initials ANE (Archimandrite Nil the Egumen). We shall thus refer to him hereafter. ANE was, at the same time, very appreciated as an administrator, which is why he was appointed exarch (ecclesiastic inspector) of the Cotroceni monastery, in order to manage its wealth effectively for the benefit of the Holy Mountain. The author of the memoir, a 14-year-old choir boy, accompanied ANE on a trip to Bucharest. Initially, they visited the monasteries outside the capital, then they stopped at the Cotroceni monastery, where ANE ordered the renovation of the “Doamnei palace”, for it to be made a “Hegumenic palace”. At the same time, ANE ordered radical and luxurious repairs to the Şerban Vodă in the centre of Bucharest. The renovations took two months (May and June 1862). On a summer day, Prince Cuza would visit the Cotroceni Compound, but ANE, although aware of the ruler’s intentions, left for Bucharest, leaving the house boy to welcome him and later report everything. Prince Cuza arrived around three o’clock in the afternoon with a large retinue of civilians and militaries and stopped next door, at the other palace, located 50 metres away from the “Hegumenic palace”, the monastery being located in between the two princely summer residences. The ruler sits on a couch at the balcony, and the members of his retinue are arranged on chairs about him. The ruler’s adjutant commands the house boy, the author of the memoir, to serve them cold water and confiture. The boy immediately follows the order, and presents the guests with confiture arranged in highly expensive gold-plated silver dishes. Gazing intently at the precious metal cups and spoons, the ruler makes the following remark: “I wonder, is it fit for a monk to make use of such luxury”. The conversation with the young hegumenic servant continues, and the ruler questions him about his birthplace and aducation. After learning that he is a Iaşi-born Romanian, and an educated one at that, demands in an authoritative voice: “why are you a servant to Greek monks?”. Even though the questioned boy seemed intimidated by his authority, the prince continues the discussion in the same vein: “Boy, you’d better tell your master that a monk has no need for Princely palaces, but only of a small cell, wherein he sleeps on a mat, with a stone for a pillow”. Also, ANE is advised by the prince, through the house boy, to make haste and evacuate the “Hegumenic palace” at the Controceni monastery. At the end, when coffee was due, Prince Cuza categorically refuses, pretexting that “we Romanians do not want Greek coffees”. Upon his return to the “hegumenic palace”, ANE listens to the report on Prince Cuza’s visit and dejectedly orders the evacuation of the “hegumenic palace”. The following day, (June 20th 1862), very early, all the “luggage” was loaded into six carts, and transported to his Holiness ANE’s chambers at the Şerban Vodă palace. The Greek hierarch remains in Bucharest for some time in a vain attempt to put pressure on Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza. One evening, deeply desolate and hopeless, he confesses to the house boy, saying: “What is your Romanian ruler’s reasoning, that he should stir one like me, known in all empires? And you should know, boy, that I have the power to make him lose his throne; but never will a small Romanian Ruler will take away the fortunes of monasteries devoted to the holy Mountain and the holy Tomb. The Lord shall not aid him!” A few weeks later, ANE’s goods found at the Şerban Vodă palace in Bucharest were inventoried and confiscated by the Romanian state. Along with these goods, also confiscated were the estate records of monasteries devoted to the holy Mount Athos found in the possession of the Greek hegumen. As a consequence of the secularization of monachal fortunes, ANE would take the path of the Mount Athos monastery of Esfigmenul, where he was promoted to the rank of bishop, and metropolitan of the Pentapolis. He led the Floreşti monastery for two decades (1843-1863). He passed away in the autumn of 1888. Unfortunately, the church of the Floreşti monastery was never completed, and its consecration would take place on July 20th 1883. The law of December 1863 was crucial to the arable patrimony of Romania, since ¼ of the country’s surface belonged to monasteries subservient to the Greeks. The fortunes of these monasteries were managed exclusively by Greek monks, for their own benefit.greci and to the detriment of natives, despite the charitable customs and obligations stipulated by the medieval beneficence documents. The greed of Greek monachs, the secularization of monastery fortunes, the 19th and 20th century earthquakes, ruined the monachal establishment. Eventually, in 1881, the Ministry of Domestic Affairs instated a rural hospital necessary for the treatment of patients in the northern part of the Tutova area, set up in the Hegumen’s secularized buildings. The monastery was completely restored between the years 1998 and 2001 using funds from the Ministry of Culture and Cults


    The Tetraevangel type calligraphy and miniature painting manuscripts are an integrant part of the history of old Romanian literature, of which the late academic, Slavic studies expert Gheorghe Mihăilă said: “we must read the literary works of the past – just as we contemplate old works of art – with a fresh eye, and see genuine literary value where people used pass indifferently” (G. Mihăilă, Between Orient and Occident. Studies of Romanian Culture and Literature in the 15th – 18th Centuries, Bucharest, 1999, Foreword, p. 6). Scholarly monks represented, alongside chronicle writers and chancellery annalists, the elite of medieval Romanian intellectuality, forged in the spirit of the age of Paleologul dynasty and adapted to Romanian needs and realities, having the unmediated support of literary Slavonic, written and spoken in chancellories and monachal centres. The manuscripts were copied after prototypes widely circulated in the Slavo-Byzantine area of Otrhodox Christianity. In the medieval manuscript collection of the National History Museum of Romania, the Tetraevangel of the Floreşti monastery is preserved and stored. Among the most important religious objects once owned by the monastery, the Tetraevangel donated by founder Crâstea Ghenovici obviously stands out.

    The Tetraevangel manuscript was calligraphed and miniature painted in the Slavonic language and dated June 27th 1596. The book served for the commemoration of- and prayer for the founders of Floreşti church, the valley of de pe Valea Smilei. These were Crâstea Ghenovici and his wife, Anghelina, during the reign of Ieremia Movilă, and this is confiurmed by the relief inscription on the encasing covers of the Tetraevangel donated to the monastery by themselves: “This Tetraevangel was made by nobleman Crâstea Ghenovici biv vel dvornic and his wife Anghelina, daughter of Crăciun biv vel dvornic and given, to be used for prayer by themselves and their parents, unto the monastery named Smila, which bears the protection of the holy prophet St. Ilie Tezviteanul, in the year 7104 (1596) since the making of the world, the month of June, 27“. The calligraphy and miniature painting is very carefully executed, semi-uncial, using Slavonic letters, on paper with thread-marks representing a pig, having a total of 375 pages. The average of lines calligraphed per complete page, with subtitles, is 16. The text of the four Gospels is preceded by the organization of the Gospels in relation to the Sundays and holidays throughout the year, and the blessing of Archbishop Theofilact of Ohrida from Bulgaria. At the beginning of every Gospel, Matthew’s, Mark’s, Luke’s, and John’s, we have a page of Christian representations and symbols, framed by frontispieces embellished with geometrical motifs, and the text of the gospel features beautiful miniature initials. The titles, initials, and embellishments are calligraphed and painted using cinnabar, where green ink also predominates. At the end of the fourth Gospel, John’s, we have a liturgical calendar. The Tetraevangel is bound in wooden plaques, covered in gold-plated silver leaf, and the backbone of the encasing is gold-plated silver, shaped like a fishnet. The first cover of the encasing makes a reference to the scene “The Deliverance of Souls from the Bonds of Hell by the Savior” (Anastasis). The second cover shows “The Holy Prophet Elijah as a Raven Brings Him Bread and Meat”. The manuscript had been copied almost two decades before (1578), as suggested in the note on page 375. “This Tetraevangel was made and bound by the nobleman Gliga from Piatra and his wife Evdochia, so that they may be forever remembered, and for their son Vasilie to inherit, and for it never to be sold. And whoever should be tempted to sell against the will of them and their parents, or another relation, shall be cursed by God and all Saints. Let them not sell it, but read its contents and pray for the souls of they who made it in the year 7086 (1578), the 9th of August, in the days of [ruler] Petru Voievod and Metropolitan father Chir Atanasie of the city of Suceava, and Hegumen Theodosie of Bistriţa monastery”. This note, omitting the name of the copyist, may imply, among other things, a punishment of obedience. Namely, the manuscript was copied at Bistriţa monastery, located eight (8) km away from the city of Piatra Neamţ, by a monk assigned this divine work through a hegumenic order, as punishment, without any mention of his own name, only that of the ruler, the supreme bishop, and implicitly the abbot of Bistriţa monastery, in accordance with the customs of the age.

    It is unknown how Crâstea Ghenovici came to possess of the manuscript, but it is certain that it never came to be encased by its sponsors, although the text also mentions this work. The High Steward of the Ţara de Sus (Upper Country) probably bought the manuscript, in its final form, without an encasing, from the legitimate descendants of boyar Gliga. Later, he had it encased and a beneficence text written on it, for the endowment of his monastery. The religious book was keept in the church’s altar, was used during the performance of liturgical service, and the founders were mentioned in the deacon’s prayers. On the other hand, the founding family was allowed read from it, and use it for prayer during religious holidays or secular events. The school of calligraphy and miniature painting of the Bistriţa monastery was not very prominent at the time, as it had not stood out at all in the time of Stefan the Great. We must not be surprised that this Tetraevangel is not very spectacular, compared to the Tetraevangels copied at the behest of the Moldavian ruler, in the great cultural centres of Neamţ and Putna, meant to be bestowed upon the churches the ruler had founded throughout the whole of Moldavia. In fact, for the interval of Stefan the Great’s reign, there is no known Tetraevangel penned by a “writer” from Bistriţa. Moreover, in the Memorial List of Names of the Bistriţa Monastery, published by Damian P. Bogdan in 1941, only three “writer” names are mentioned. The three scholars come from the monasteries of Neamţ and Putna. In this context, boyar Gliga likely could not afford the luxury of ordering a parchment manuscript, calligraphed and miniature painted at Neamţ by Ghervasie’s apprentices, Teodor Mărăşescul, Ioanichie, Nicodim, Visarion, and others. Thus, he would have employed the miniaturists of Bistriţa monastery, more modest, less expensive, and geographically closer to the city of Piatra Neamţ. Nonetheless, boyar Gliga’s manuscript was made in a time when cultural reverberations manifested more discreetly than seven or eight decades before. Unfortunately, the material support on which it was copied, the lack of certain evangelical depictions and that of an illustrious copyist’s mark, as is the case with other Slavonic religious manuscripts in the Romanian soace, takes away some of the value of this precious manuscript. The religious work was sent by the Trusteeship of the Church of Floreşti to the Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1906. There, it was scientifically appraised and inventoried under two numbers: No. 332/1906 “Trusteeship of the Church of Floreşti, Tutova” and No. 702/1907 “Donations”. Exhibition officials awarded the Trusteeship with a gold medal for careful preservation and keeping. At the same time, research was performed on the Slavonic texts by Ştefan Nicolăescu, appointed translator for Slavic languages from the General State Archives.

    The manuscript was professionally photo-scanned in the autumn of 2011, entirely, at a very high resolution, through a project titled “Manuscriptum”, initiated and coordinated by the general director of the National History Museum of Romania, Dr. Ernest Oberländer-Târnoveanu. The total number of pages photo-scanned through “Manuscriptum” is 766. The book is wrapped in sheets of neutralal ph Japanese silk and in a layer of netex, encased in antistatic and fireproof polyethylene foam, and stored and kept in a cardboard box.