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Bathing its historical walls in "waves upon waves of billowing crests", there where the Olt gathers its waters after they have broken through the steep rocks - of the pass in the mountain which gave its name to the monastery, Cozia (like its sister Tismana, farther off, and like the neighboring monasteries of Turnu and Stânişoara), is set in one of the most picturesque of the many carpathian landscapes which are the pride of Oltenia, this immense repository of such monuments.
This natural setting is associated with an original architectural and decorative diversity, with one of the richest collection of old art and scholarly books, and, at the same time, with the indefatigable achievements of great cultural and national scopes carried out on both sides of the Carpathians for over five centuries; all harmoniously embedded in the unique magnificence of these legendary sites…
The foundation of Mircea the
Ancient was built between 1386 and 1388 in a
region which, at that time, was difficult to
reach, but where walnut trees easily grew; the
name of the place itself derives from the Petcheneg-Cumanian term "coz" = walnut, which
became Cozia = nut grove. On the grounds of
other philological information, this
interpretation of the name seems more reliable
than others which made it derive from the
Slavonic "koz" = goat. However, at the bottom,
both names correspond to the same local
features; the criterion used differing according
to circumstances and to either botanical or
There is no doubt that this Voievode, depicted by Grigore Alexandrescu in the poem "Mircea at Cozia" (a poem which contains the verse quoted above), whose memory will last as long as the monument exists, "a knight of faith… as his sword and armour show him", built this sanctuary in this secluded spot non only for the beauty itself of its surroundings, but certainly also for military and strategic reasons, as the monastery was, at the beginning, fortified like a stronghold, In the decision to choose this place, he may well have been prompted by the scholar monk Nicodem from Tismana who, even before this sainted dwelling, that jutted above a waterfall at the foot of the Stârmina, had created Vodiţa and - on the Transylvanian side of the Carpathians, - the monastery of Prislop. The same Nicodem was confessor to the Voievode ever since the latter was young and (according to certain documents) he was "Mircea's counselor in matters of religion", the proof of this being his very image painted in the narthex of Cozia, as well as the fact that the monastery’s first superior was one of his apprentices.
The first documents which attest
the foundation of Mircea the Ancient date from 1388: “so was it
My will in the name of the sainted and redeeming Trinity and I
alone have built the monastery in the place called Nucet…” And
his portrait, on the panel reserved for the Founder, can be seen
in all its majesty on the wall at the right of the narthex of
the big church, clothed in mediaeval costume, holding the
miniature of the monastery in his hand and, standing beside him,
his son whom he later associated to the throne. This portrait is
painted also on other votive panels in the precincts of the
monastery: in the northern chapel and in the monastery’s hospice
Mircea died at the beginning of 1418, at the princely residence of Argeş, he was brought to Cozia and buried in a sarcophagus resembling those which were, at the time, highly favored in the Occidental countries, and ornamented gravestone was set upon the tomb: this gravestone was
impaired during the 1916-1918 foreign
occupation and – through the
care of the diocese of Râmnic – it was replaced
in 1938 with a new tombstone upon which the
following inscription was engraved: “Here lies Mircea, prince of Wallachia, passed away in the
Next to the tomb of the great Voievode, there is another tomb: that of the mother of Michael the Brave, who took the veil in 1601 at Cozia under the name of nun Teofana. She died in 1605 and over her grave, a tombstone was set which can be seen to this day and which bears the following inscription: “Here rests the nun Teofana, mother of the deceased Mihai Voievode, whose daughter princess Florica and his son Nicolae Voievode took it to heart and had (her name) engraved under the reign of Radu Voievode 7114”…
Except these moving historical evidences, which meet the rounded, among other buildings, by the cells and a large hall the windows of which opened towards the interior of this courtyard, battlements topped the walls. This fortress was last used as a stronghold in 1821 by Tudor Vladimirescu: today, its whole aspect is different and one of the sides of the quadrangle opens onto the road which connects Râmnicu-Vâlcea and Sibiu; only the traces of the cell partitions are still visible in the foundations. It was repaired and new buildings were added by Neagoe Basarab (in 1517) and Constantin Brâncoveanu (around 1707). These two princes, in memory of their glorious forefather, built within the precincts of the monastery the two fountains, the roomy “princely abodes”, the four belvederes and “the old kitchen” with its annexes in the style created by Constantin Brâncoveanu.
After Cozia was thus embellished and extended by these new founders, whose portraits are painted on the monastery walls, other repairs have been made in the following centuries or in the first decades of the 20th century under the patronage of the Board of Historical Monuments. However, the buildings were seriously damaged and some were even destroyed because of the fights on the valley of the Olt during the First World War and the foreign occupation, which followed. Cozia has nevertheless regained its former aspect, but only in the years of the popular power did it acquire its seven windows, each adorned with different sculptural and floral compositions which belong to the time of Mircea the Ancient. The rosettes which are on the upper parts of the building are equally artistically worked out. With ornaments of thin bricks which surround them in a harmonious plastic design. The style of the building, soaring high through its monumental tower, impresses the visitors as well as the specialists as being an alliance between lines and Chapel on the southern side of the precincts forms which belong to the Serbian architecture of that time and Byzantine and local elements, a combination which marked the transition towards a peculiar formula of church architecture: a future autochthonous style, the prototype of which is Cozia.
At the beginning the big church - most important of all the monuments in Mircea Voievode’s foundation – was set in the middle of a quadrangle and it was sure visitor from the very entrance into the monastery, the interior of the princely church, as all great monuments of that time, is divided into three parts: narthex, nave and sanctuary; in 1707, the open portico was added to the front, the entire painting from the narthex has conserved the original 14th century character. The great hermits of Christianity, with their deeply furrowed ascetic features, are painted on the lowest register, higher up are the seven ecumenical synods and – on the wall between narthex and nave – a series if images representing the synaxary (calendar) and the Acathist Hymn of the Virgin. The altar screen with its sacred images completes this precious ensemble of icons and sculptured wood, dominated by the large chandeliers and endowed with remarkable sacred objects. On the outside, the church is built out of massive scone blocks, alternating with apparent bricks, the decorative effect is enhanced by the framing of the actual character of great historical monument, when, in the spirit of the previsions of the new socialist legislation which implies the reassertion of the past and the turning to account of its vestiges, the monastery has been wholly restored, the conditions themselves of monastic life have been modernized and at the same time on scientifically bases and provided with the proper equipment, collections have been set up for the benefit on the visitors, who are thus able to acquire a concrete image where the past ad present history of Cozia are joined.
This “Collection of ancient religious object” is displayed in the “Museum”, a succession of six rooms where we can admire: original documents, precious icons from the last two centuries (painted on wood and glass or mounted in silver), sacred objects skillfully worked out, printings which came out of the
Romanian or foreign presses, manuscripts
written in Cyrillic, Slavonic and Greek characters, gospels
bound in precious metal and inlaid with precious stones (among
them, the versified Psalter of Dosoftei), fragments of 14th century
pieces, as well as some parts of the tombstone
of Mircea the Ancient, documents from the time
of the monastery’s great founder, foundation and
donation charts, etc…
On the eastern side of the buildings, where we find the six rooms housing the “Collection”, a long gallery supported by columns in the Brâncoveanu style, between which boxes of flowers set a note of gaiety which we find all over the precincts – leads to the two large Monastery’s chapels: one of them is in the south-eastern angle and its walls descend to the edge of the Olt waters; it was built in 1583 under the reign of Mihnea II, as a princely oratory where mass is still served today. The patron saint’s icon dates from the 16th century, and some of the paintings were made in the 19th century, by “Voicu, painter from Piteşti”.
The second chapel, preceded by a staircase with a monumental portico, was built on the north-eastern angle of the precincts and contains two vaulted rooms; it was built in 1710 by the confessor of Prince Constantin Brâncoveanu. Inside, next to the portrait of the learned prince, we see the votive portrait of Mircea the Ancient and some other pictures of the XVIIIth century.
The first fountain, admired in 1657 by Paul of Alep, is a holywater font (where water for the great religious ceremonies is consecrated); it is ornamented with sculptures, in the midle, from the arms of a cross, water runs into the wide cut of the fountain. The second fountain is equally interesting: it is called Neagoe Basarab’s fountain and it dates from 1517. It is covered with a vault supported on the front on columns with chased capitals, and, at the back, it rests on two consoles embedded in the wall and
supporting a lion in the Brâncoveanu style. Outside the quadrangle formed by the buildings of the precincts, open to the west, at one km. Distance of the road which passes in front of the monastery, the ruins of “Old Cozia” look upon the visitor: centuries ago it was a hermitage in the middle of an imposing mountainous amphitheater; it was also described by Paul of Alep as a remarkable ecclesiastic monument, named “Hermitage of St. John of the Rock”. The waters running down from the mountain ruined it with the time; it was rebuilt for the last time in 1670.
In the immediate vicinity of the hospice church we find the "Cemetery" and the "Bell-tower". Its bells, donated in 1395 and 1413 by Mircea the Ancient, but taken in 1879 at Curtea de Argeş and Râmnic, are still waiting to bring back above the princely foundation of Cozia, the long forgotten voice of its Founder: "I, faithful believer in Christ, our God, loving and honoring Him, sole ruler, Io Mircea great Voievode and prince, by the grace of God and by the mercy of God, possessing and ruling the whole of Walachia and the regions beyond the mountains onto the country of the Tartars, duke of Almaş and of Făgăraş and prince of the Banate of Severin and, on both sides, of all the Danube up to the Black Sea and only master of the fortress of Dîrstor…" (Document no. 34 of the year 1406).
Also outside the precinct, but formerly part of it, on a hill which dominates the monastery, the church of the hospice (“Bolniţa”) of Cozia rises from the ground. It was built between 1542 and 1543 by Peter Voievode (commonly known under the mane of Radu Paisie), for the sick and the old of the community. For its architectural balance, it’s choice ornamentation and the exceptional beauty of the inner paintings. “Bolniţa” has been justly called by foreign and Romanian specialists: “The 16th century jewel of Cozia”.