Wallachian Cultural Renaissance
Neagoe Basarab, according to his pious character, inclined toward celebrating the clergy and the embellishment of the churches, had not much time left to indulge in other things, because he is nothing but a long sequel of religious ceremonies. Although he arrived on the throne with the help of the Turks, he would be in good terms with the Hungarians, too.
We first see him in good relations with the Transylvanian Saxons,
as the fact shows up from several business letters that the Wallachian
prince sent to the town council of Braoov.
All these letters subsequently
proved his inclination toward the Hungarians, as he said in one of them,
that we swore "to be faithful and honest in character and duty to our
lord, His Highness King Lajos or Ludovic, because my lord had strengthened
us in our own country and made justice to us into everything". Even
more, this statement is directed toward the Turks themselves, as he
further added that "if it happened that the pagans and the enemies of
the holly cross and of the holly crown would wish to cross the land
toward the Hungarian territories to plunder them, than myself, my boyars
and the entire country would stand against them if we felt that we can
do so; and if we felt that we can not, we would let it be known to our
lord, the King, to the Braoov people and to ?ara Bārsei"
(Bogdan, Doc. si Reg., p.151.) But in the mean time, Basarab was in
close relations with the Turks, as we can see from another letter in
which he said that "a Turkish trader came to me bringing much quality
ware and he is a good friend of mine."
Neagoe Basarab was, like his predecessor, a very pious prince, who increased this soul passion since his young age, when he was the "accountant" (secretary) of patriarch Nifon, the one who took refuge in Wallachia.
Such a God fearing soul soon had to repent for the cruelty it proved
immediately after his coming to the throne, by killing Vladut and Bogdan.
A chronicler tells us that "Basarab, feeling repentant of Vladu?'s death,
called patriarchs, archbishops, bishops and townsfolk, that by the preparation
of the sacred unction God's rage would diminish" (Filstih, in Sincai,
II, p. 133.) Patriarch Pahomie, "accompanied by clergy and secular people
(Greek, of course), went to Wallachia and Moldavia. There he was received
with all the devotion by the princes of those lands, by the boyars and
by all the people" (Malaxa in Sincai, II, p. 132.) On the occasion of
this high patriarch's visit, Neagoe asks the metropolitan bishop to
baptise Macarie (Romanian anonymous, in Magazin Istoric, IV, P. 256.
Biography in Arh. Ist., I, 2, p. 143.)
The ceremony for Neagoe's remission just ended, that in the prince's head came to being the idea of another one, more lavish and marvellous, namely to reconciliate Nifon's memory, who had been disgraced and sent away from the country and who eventually died near the Athos Mountain. He thought of bringing back to Wallachia the saint's relics. So he sent to the Holly Mountain several boyars who, on arriving at the saint's grave, were, themselves and their accompanying monks, struck by a mysterious terror. None of them dared to start digging for the relics. Finally, one of them dared and started digging till he reached the relics that he put into a smelling wood coffin. "Kir Neofit and other monks accompanied Nifon's relics to Wallachia from the monastery". Neagoe gathered the clergy and the boyars and waited for the arrival of his spiritual father's relics. When he saw the coffin, he run to it, put his arms around it kissing it with tears of joy. Everyone was crying together with him, emotion that was of course sincere, although we can hardly imagine it today. It is curious to mention that one of the Neagoe's boyars did not kiss the saint's relics but not daring to show his faithlessness, craftily squeezed among the worshippers so that nobody could take notice of him. It is a pity that we do not know the name of this Wallachian from the beginning of the 16th century. Neagoe ordered a silver coffin adorned with gold, pearls and precious stones to be made and painted with a scene showing him kneeled before the saint. He sent it to the Dionissiou monastery from the Holly Mountain, as gratitude for the precious gift of Nifon's relics (Nifon's biography, Arh. Ist., I, 2, p. 144 - 145.)
The monks from the Holly Mountain, seeing Neagoe so generous toward them, do not hesitate asking his help for special embellishments or edifice building that, they said, were needed. Neagoe hastened to carry out their wishes. Patriarch's Nifon biography contains a long enumeration of the gifts, useful and adornment things that Neagoe paid with the country's money and sent to the Holly Mountain monasteries. We shall mention the most significant of them.
He ends the building of the Cutlumus monastery, started by Radu
Voda. It became the great Romanian "lavra" (big monastery in some of
the orthodox countries, where the monks dwell in distant cells, like
the houses of a village.)
He entirely built the St. Nicholas church that has refectories, cellars, infirmary and eating room, cells all around, a garden, etc. He makes a seaport at Ascalon and puts cannons to help guarding the port. He brings water to the big Ivirion monastery from a point situated a mile away from it. He does the same thing for the big Chilindar monastery.
All the churches that have been built by him, and not only, he adorned with sacred paintings wrapped up in silver, golden vessels, embroided clothes; he also gave annual sums of money (Arh. Ist., I, 2, p. 147.) "And he was a great founder of the entire Svetagora" - thus ends Nifon's biography the enumeration of these deeds of real importance at that time. And it is true that a long time had passed since the Holly Mountain monks last encountered such a generous voivode hand, which staid forever open to them, being unable to refuse a thing that they would ask for.
But Neagoe Basarab stretched his charitable freedom beyond the Athos Mountain. The Tzarigrad synod church benefited by it, too, being entirely covered with leaden plates, had all the patriarchy's cells renovated and received several gifts. Nevertheless the monasteries from Mount Sinai, from Jerusalem and the Sion Mountain; then other monasteries, as enthusiastically patriarch Nifon's biography exclaims, "to every single one from Europe, Tracia, Hellad, Achaia, Illyricum, Cambania (?), Hellespont, Macedonia, Titulia (?), Sirmia, Lugdunia, Paphlagonia, Dalmatia and from all the Iturs, from the East to the West and from the North to the South".
Wonderful generosity, but great dissipation of the country's money for
foreign interests! But what was at that time the country, if not a portion
from the great unit called Christianity. That is why, even before Neagoe
Basarab, the Romanian voivodes acted that way in the case of Eastern
monasteries but mainly for the much praised ones from the Holly Athos
Mountain. Thus we have previously seen that Radu Voda the Great started
building the Cotlumus monastery, and few inscriptions recently studied,
indicate that Stefan the Great had raised several edifices and offered
gifts to those scared establishments. But they have all been eclipsed
and forgotten by Neagoe's rich generosity.
Neagoe did not let out of view the country's churches and monasteries.
He covered in lead the Tismana monastery, adorned the Nucet
with precious gifts, bringing, with great expenses, a "miracle Worker"
sacred painting from Constantinople, adorning it with a gold garland
mounted with precious stones.
He built a big metropolitan church
at Tārgoviote where he moved the metropolitan residence, settled
until then in Arges; finally, he built the beautiful monastery of this
town, being even today the most celebrated monument of our entire country,
the monastery in Curtea de Argeo. Even the contemporary uneducated
people saw this church as a real marvel.
In 1520, when this church was to be sanctified, Neagoe decided to give another impressing feast, finding the occasion to please once again his taste for religious ceremonies. He first asked his beloved Fathers Superior from the Athos monasteries, by an invitation directed toward Gavril Protul, the author of Nifon's biography, from who we borrow these precious details:
"he called all the Fathers Superiors from the great monasteries, from Vatoped, from Ivirion, from Chilandar, from Xeropotam, from Caracal, from Alintie's church, from Coltumus which is a big Bulgarian monastery, from Simenca, from Dochiar and from the big Russian monastery Pantocrator, from Costamuniou, from St. Pavel, from Dionissiou, from St. Grigorie's church and from SimoPetra".
Excerpt from "Istoria romānilor din Dacia Traiana", the 4th volume, Institutul de Arte Grafice oi Editura " Librariei Scoalelor" C. Sfetea, Bucureoti, 1914, p. 242 - 248.