Brancoveanu Monastery, Sambata de Sus

Brancoveanu Monastery, Sambata de Sus, Brasov

Brancoveanu Monastery at Sambata de Sus, is a Romanian Orthodox monastery in Brașov County, in the Transylvania region of Romania. At the end of the 17th century Constantin Brâncoveanu, Prince of Wallachia, built a stone church (1688-1714) in place of an older wooden one.

If you wonder how a Wallachian Voievode built a monastery in a different principality, know that the hamlet and the land on which the monastery was built belonged to Preda Brâncoveanu, his grandfather. Who even built a small wooden church on it in 1654.

The custom was for a Voievod, a christian ruler of a historical Romanian principality, be it Wallachia or Moldavia, to buy land and build a monastery on it, thus the land being donated to the holy abbey. The Voievode was the founder, his portrait painted on the church wall, and his name mentioned, for eternity, during the church service.

But building a church was more than just a spiritual act, it was a political manifesto too, showing the ruler’s strength in the principality.

We were lucky to visit Brâncoveanu Monastery at Sambata de Sus in 2008 and, as you will see from the pictures below, its doors stand open.

Part of Brâncoveanu’s motivation behind rising this monastery was to strengthen the Orthodox presence in the region at a time when Catholicism rose together with the Habsburg domination over Transylvania (who had just escaped Calvinism). Brâncoveanu wanted to leave a legacy to the Christian religion of Romanians on both sides of the Carpathian mountains (Transylvania and Wallachia).

It was a time (right after 1683), when Romanians of Transylvania knew religious persecutions at the had of the Austro-Hungariam Empire. Losing their forefathers religious belief would have meant them losing their national identity. Many Transylvanian churches and monasteries supported the orthodox Romanians. Many, 150, were destroyed by Viennese General Bukow.

So the catholic administration of Vienna waited. And waited. They waited for the killing of Brâncoveanu in 1714. They waited for the death of his wife Marica (and heiress) in 1729. And they waited for the death of Brâncoveanu‘s grandchild. And in 1785 they sent General Preiss to destroy Brâncoveanu Monastery until no stone was left standing. Thus, the last bastion of Orthodoxy in Fagaras Contry (today Brasov and Sibiu) was no more.

It was in 1926 when the monastery was rebuilt the way we see it in these pictures. Someof the old paintings survived in the church the the architectural style, the Brâncoveanu style, was kept.

At about the same time the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church was founded, drawing numerous Transylvanian Orthodox under Papal authority.

But establishing a church was more then that, it was an act of spiritual responsibility.

Brancoveanu Monastery, Sambata de Sus

Today, a monastery holds no great boundaries to the outside world and during the entire Medieval era of Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania, no matter how well fortified churches and monasteries could hardly protect themselves against mean acts or thoughts of non-believers. And I think now of Albu the Great, boyar during the times of Vlad Ţepeş, who burned down Govora Monastery (built by Vlad Dracul, the father of Vlad Ţepeş), as well as stealing land from it. Land gifted by the voievode – all in an attempt to prove himself stronger than the previous ruler of Walachia, thus able to rule the country on its turn. Of course this would have been one of the reasons Vlad Ţepeş held against Albu, when he ordered that Albu (any other boyars involved in the killing of Vlad Ţepeş’ father and older brother ) be executed on Easter Sunday, 1459.

It was wrong of Albu to burn down the monastery, but it was also wrong of him to steal its land – for the land of a monastery, gifted by a voievode through an official paper, are considered holy land. I wonder if Albu thought of the spiritual consequences, not only material, of his actions.

And this was the privilege we had, as tourists, when visiting Brâncoveanu Monastery in 2008.

Brancoveanu Monastery, Sambata de Sus
Brancoveanu Monastery, Sambata de Sus

On the site of the Brâncoveanu Monastery also functioned a school for secretaries, a workshop for fresco paintings and a small printing press.

Place of worship and inner introspection, a monastery is, today, open to public, yet its arches and murals invite the visitor to quiet meditation. To measuring one’s step to that of the silent flora around, to the lowered gaze of the monks. To the hushed voice of the wind.

Throughout his life as a ruler, over 20 years, Constantin Brâncoveanu built or restored over 24 churches. Like many rulers before him, Vlad Tepes included, Brâncoveanu fought to protect Wallachia against the Ottoman Invasion. But the greedy Sultan Ahmed III kidnapped Brâncoveanu, his four sons (Constantin, Stefan, Radu and Matei) and son in law Ianache – and had them all decapitated on 15 August 1714 because they did not wish to convert to Islam. But, as with any page of history, there are hidden, political truth behind this killing.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature connecting door lovers from around the world through photography. You can join by creating your own weekly Thursday Doors post and sharing the link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

As always, you can find my books on Amazon.

Incredible Myths and Folklore from Romanian Woods

Myths Folklore Romanian Woods, spooky Hoia Baciu forest

Incredible myths and stories of folklore hail from the Romanian woods, this green gold that once covered three quarters of Romania. Throughout centuries, forests fed and sheltered humans from invaders, ‘forest, best buddy bloke of Romanian folk’ goes the ancient saying (Codrul, frate cu romanul), but woods also offered their buds of wisdom and tales.

In Romanian culture, as in many others, the house represents the spiritual center of human life, the place where profane meets sacred and around which gravitates many of the intriguing creatures populating myths (stories and beliefs rooted in human’s origin, often involving gods) and folklore (fictional tales and superstitions, legends, involving fauna, flora and creatures with unusual powers).

A beautiful Romanian myth speaks of a distant time, long, long ago and right after God created the world, when humans needed no shelter for the sky was near and the sun, the moon and all the stars would walk among people. And keep them warm. But then people turned against each other and this made God so sad that he lifted the skies high above, beyond the flight of the birds and the arch of the rainbows, so humans started experiencing the cold and the rain and the sleet and the wind. And to look for a shelter. For the first time. So they found shelter in caves, and in forests until God, in His kindness and love for His creation, inspired humans to build a shelter of wood. And the house became a home.

Apart from building homes, almost always out of trees, especially fir, the wood was used for creating tools and weapons necessary for survival (with the added benefit of iron parts), but also household objects and works of art and spiritual connection with God (the wooden vesper bell), a physical representation of the Romanian spirit.

Listen to the song of the wooden vespers bell of Petru Voda Monastery:

You would have noticed tat the monk bends and touches the ground when he crosses himself. It is to take earth at a witness of his love for God, the earth that was made and blessed by God, but also to show his appreciation towards the earth he lives on.

Wood and Forest Myths from Romania

In Romanian mythology and folklore the cult of the mother (Mother of the Earth, The Mother of the Forest, the Mother of Flowers, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Rain) is widespread and is linked to the mystery existence itself, to the life and death circle of life.

Many were our ancestors’ forests, vast and dense were they, enriched by mysterious creatures, bathed by springs. And countless are the characters that climbed out of the Romanian forests into our folklore, and found refuge in the woods, only to come out in our myths.

Myths Folklore Romanian Woods

Muma Pădurii, The Forest Crone Mother (synonym with Gaia, he ancestral mother of all life in Greek mythology)

Muma Pădurii is a mythological representation of a long ago civilization, mainly focused on woods as she personifies everything that comes out of a forest. She lives in the depths of her realm, in its hollows, safe from the woodcutter’s ax and human sightseeing. She is a sad mother though, for she moans, mourns, sighs, snorts, and wails. People are cutting off her offsprings, the trees.

Muma Pădurii is portrayed as an old and anthropophagous (feeding on human flesh) woman, a patron of evil spirits who populate the forest. She is hideous, her mane reaching the ground, and often the woods resonate of her shrieks. They say this sound is enough to scary any traveler. At night time she can be spotted sleeping near strange fires (for they never burn with wood) or sliding like a ghost, a chimera, through forests and bushes, across the plains and crossroads. And she brings whirlwinds and bad weather, entering homes at midnight. You know it is she, for she slams open doors and windows.

How does she look like?

They say she can take the shape of many animal (be it a mare, buffalo, or cow), or that of a woman looking like a knotty tree, with withered legs, hair like braided strands that fall to the ground, like snakes, a woman dressed in bark or moss. She can be as tall as a house or as small as a rabbit, as beautiful as a fairy or as hideous as a monster with a big head, eyes as big as a dinner plate, teeth as big and as sharp as a sickle. She comes on foot or riding a mare with nine hearts.

If she is hungry for flesh nothing can stand in her way for she knows 99 tricks with which she entices people to leave the safety of their homes and get lost in the forest – where she fries them and eats them.

Myths Folklore Romanian Woods

Some of her children are the spirits of the night, Murgila, Miazanopte, Zorila (Twilight, (Midnight, Daybreak)

They are her sons cursed to always follow each other, yet never to meet, a personification of the passing of the time. And they are ugly, so hideous, always crying, that she constantly tries to exchange them with human children. For this reason, mothers with babies take extra care to guard them till they are baptized (usually between 3 – 6 month in Christian Orthodox tradition). So they don’t let them out of sight, day or night. If they must leave them alone, then a metal object will be placed nearby, for protection. Remember, metal cuts wood. Anything they have, a sickle, scissors, pliers, a silver coin, that they whispered upon, a spell from the heart, a prayer for protection:

You, Forest Crone
You, Woodsy bag of bones,
Arriving by cow,
By cow be gone.
From [name] be banned!

And:

Sickle,magic reaper,
By day thou art be cut,
By night be it to guard,
For [name],
On bed,
Under bed,
On bedding,
Under bedding.

Myths Folklore Romanian Woods

And if the baby was changed?

There are various magical practices by which one could bring it back. Thus, a witch or even the child’s mother would lit the fire in the hearth, takes the changeling in her arms (often a baby displaying macrocephaly, a large head, thin, but always hungry) and threatened to throw him into the flames. Of course, faced with such imminent danger Muma Pădurii returns the stolen child.

She will punish robbers yet assist those in need, be it honest fugitives or lost children. Like any mother, she knows each and every tree in her forest, for she nurtured them all since they were but shoots. She scolded them when they grew crooked, and when they upset her she cursed them, to meet the woodcutter’s ax or be struck by lightning.

But her wrath spills into villages too, if women who spin on Tuesdays or pick berries on Saint Mary’s Day (6th of August), or if men whistle or sing in the woods and wake her children.

To defend yourself against her wrath, simply make the sigh of the cross, and if your hands are occupied, make it with your tongue on the roof of your. If you are brave enough and you hear her whimper, ask her, ‘Great Lady, why are you crying?’ – and if she answers ‘ I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten in a week,’ then give her something to eat and you are good to pass through her forests.

As the goddess that she is, a true mother of nature, Muma Pădurii can be also good.

Beneficial, she is the sacred plant Asperula odorata, Wild Baby’s Breath, and also Lathraea squamaria, the common toothwort, used in invoking spells that drive away children’s diseases. But there is a sacred ritual before picking it and only on the night of Sanziene, (23-24 June), in silence, so it won’t get scared nor hide in the ground. The plant is then dried and stored as something of the greatest value, only to be used when needed. As for treatment, it is smoked or used as incense or put in the bath water, always accompanied by a spell.

In case you wondered, there is a Daughter of the Forest too

The Daughter of the Forest lives in the depths of the woods where she emerges from, taking on the appearance of a familiar girl, as sweet as a fairy, brought forward by winds and storms. Like her mother and brothers, she can only travel by night and sometimes she shows herself as a half-girl – half-fish or animal, usually a mare. She only emerges to deceive lads, whom she kidnaps, plays with their minds only to abandon them in the forest, forever lost.

Unlike her harpy mother, the Daughter of the Forest is cheerful, happy, always ready to sing and dance. She is tall and willowy, and her only item of clothing, apart from shoes made of animal skin, is her hair that twirls around her. In winter, perhaps, she chooses to cover herself with moss. From the front, she looks like a woman, but from the back she appear to be the bark of a tree, like the hundreds surrounding her. Brothers, sisters.

To be rid of his maddening love for her, the lost lad can be aided by a witch who crafts a life-size puppet out of straws. The replica is dressed in the young man’s clothes and left by the crossroad, in the woods. Fulled by its appearance, the Daughter of the Forest falls for the puppet thus releasing the lad from the power of her spell. Of her love.

But if the lad wears a belt, she will keep away for she is afraid that he’ll use the belt to tie it around her, squeezing all her secrets out of her.

The Father of the Forest, or Old Man Wood, Moșul Codrului

He is a mythical representation of the wooding craft and of the golden, old age. Moșul Codrului together with Muma Pădurii grows trees and bring life in the forest wherever they go. He has the same physical features as his wife,except that he does not steal children. And he is friendlier.

The Forest Goddesses, Vâlve or Charmstresses

Are said to hold power over herbs, magic flowers, thermal springs, winds, mountains and forests, where they lived among themselves, speaking a language no one understood.

Myths Folklore Romanian Woods, Valve, Charmstresses of the forest

Folktales and folk belief hailing from the Romanian Forests

A very long time ago, Romans (like many other cultures, I am sure), respected trees so much that when they had to cut them down, they first prayed and asked for forgiveness, showing us that they believed the woods to poses a soul.

An important tree in Romanian culture is the beech. In many areas it is used on the celebration of Arminden, May 1st. Beech branches are placed above the windows and stable door, with the belief that they protect against the undead. In some villages of Oltenia, the coffins, called “thrones”, are made only of beech wood.

Another magical tree is the oak. On the Column of Trajan it is depicted that Decebal, the renowned Dacian leader of 87-106 (today Romania) killed himself under an oak tree to escape being taken prisoner by Romans, led by Trajan, after the second Dacian-Roman war. You can read about the Legend of Traian and Dochia and the myth of the Romanian people’s ethnogenesis.

In some areas in Ardeal (western Transylvania) there is still the custom taking the holy communion at Easter time in the form of fir or beech buds, instead of bread and wine, after which they say “Christ Has Risen”.

Situated on the curve of Carpathian Mountains, east of Brasov, is Vrancea county. A place where shepherds confess in front of a fir tree. With the tip of their ax or with the aid of a pocket knife they would craft a cross on the bark of the tree and confess their sins, while making the sign of the cross with their right hand. Then they would remove a few wood chips from the fir tree, and throw them away. If the tree dried out in one year, their sins were forgiven. Holding fir tree in high regards is still a custom today, when a new born is presented to a fir tree, for blessing, in the absence of a priest.

Considering that the Romnaian word for fir, brad, is of Geo-dacic origin, proving the old spiritual connection with this tree, its strong presence in the Romanian spirituality should not surprise us. Also of Geo-dacic origin are the following Romanian words for forest and trees: codru, copac, stejar (oak), mugure (bud).

Biserici de Brazi, The Fir Church

The Fir Church is a cluster of fir trees growing in a circle pattern where young shepherds would choose as a natural church, to mary the girl they loved dearly, but whose parents opposed to the wedding. An old shepherd or even a priest would thus marry them in a Fir Church. The sky and the stars above their heads would be witnesses, in this sacred church of God. The marriage would be out of love, without a dowry.

Folk art involving wood

Worth mentioning is also the Folk-Art ~ Romanian Symbols: when carving in wood, the Romanian folk artists puts a lot of thought. Each carving tells a story, some symbols are for protection, others to remember them of the families left behind:

A cross is for protection.
A cross in a circle symbolizes God.
A circle is for eternity, a dot for perfection.
A diamond represents the woman.

Folk belief:

If yellow clouds lift when wind blows over fir trees, called mana, wealth, a good year will follow.

If you jump three times forward and three times backwards over a stump of wood you will never get lost in a forest. Or in an orchard.

If you cut trees to build a house, leave none stumps behind and say: for the rot, for the fungus, for the mildew…

If you are looking for fir trees free of mildew, better cut them in January or February, under heavy frost. And if you do it in March, do it under the New Moon.

It is for protection that fir branches are placed on the roof of a newly build home, to be strong, and the people living in it to be healthy and happy.

We see fir tree at weddings too, atop a pole, with colorful ribbons attached to it. And a bell.

In Bucovina, NE of Romania, before the sheep are taken into the mountains, the are walked through a Live Fire, smoked with burning branches of fir tree to be free of danger all summer long. Laurel leaves and rosemary are also added to the fir fire.

The sky opens in the night of Saint George (St. Gheorghe), when all trees can flower: walnuts, willow, and all forest trees.

If you hear the eagle owl singing in the forest, know that bad weather will follow.

The groom should never go in the forest or by the water well or bad things will happen to him.

For the first 40 days after the baby was born, he (she)is not removed from the house or Muma Pădurii will take him.

A Romanian spooky forest

Located west of Cluj-Napoca, in the north of Romania, Hoia Forest is considered one of the spookiest places in the world. Because trees grow different here. Of course, ghost sighting and UFOs have been observed here, earning this woodland the nickname of “Romania’s Bermuda Triangle”.

But spots of light have been shooting from the forest, without a reasonable explanation. The locals say that the trees are thus curved because they are nothing else but the souls of those lost in this place.

Worth mentioning is that a wind called Austrul, hot and dry, blows at 20-30 km/h in this western part of Transylvania.

Myths Folklore Romanian Woods, spooky Hoia Baciu forest

Did you know?

Transylvania means ‘the land beyond the forest” (the forest of Apuseni Muntains).

Bucovina means “strawberry forest” in Slavonic.

As always, discover all my books on Amazon.

Wooden Doors of a Medieval Chapel, Snagov Monastery

Snagov monastery, paraclis wood carved doors

Almost 600 years old, these wooden doors of a medieval chapel, long sunken they say, built around 1453 near Snagov Monastery, 40 km northward from Bucharest, can still be admired in the Art Museum of Bucharest.

For the weary traveler, approaching the chapel as a meditation, its wooden doors with their visual and scripting messages would have been the first welcoming sign: arms folded in prayer, ready to open, to receive, and to fold around, in absolution.

On the history of Snagov Monastery

Monks settled on Snagov Island, this snake shaped lake, during the times of Mircea the Elder, Mircea cel Batran, Vlad Dracula’s paternal grandfather and ruler of Wallachia during the 14th century.

Vlad Țepeș (Vlad III or Vlad Dracula) too improved the monastery and he would have come here to pray, for his people, for Wallachia, for good fortune in fighting the Turks.

And perhaps Vlad Țepeș came here to pray for enlightenment and forgiveness too.

Will he forgive the double crime?

It is said that a storm pulled the chapel from the ground and threw it in the lake nearby, where it sank. Its doors floated on the waters to the nearby hamlet of Turbați (today Siliștea Snagovului). The nuns from the convent here rescued, dried and kept the carved, kingly doors safe. The hamlet was aptly named Turbați, Rabies, for the nuns were skilled in curing rabies.

On a Monastery Built for Peace and on Medieval Plots and Revenge

You see, in 1447, while Sultan Murad II had young Vlad III and his brother Radu in captivity, their father Vlad II (Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Dragon), ruler of Wallachia, had to balance his crusader oath and his his pledge of neutrality to the sultan. To honor and protect Christianity. Or to keep his two younger sons alive.

John Hunyadi, leading Hungarian military figure, wishing his puppet, Vladislav II, on the throne of Wallachia, invades it. So the local boyars (noblemen) revolt against Vlad II. Caught between the three forces Vlad II is captured and killed by Vladislav while his oldest son Mircea is tortured by boyars and burried alive.

So Vladislav II now rules Wallachia. And in 1453 he build the chapel of Snagov Monastery with these wooden sculpted doors.

Come 1456, Vlad Țepeș defeats Vladislav II in a hand-to-hand combat. Fair and square.

Thus Vlad Țepeș second reign of Wallachia had begun.

Finally, the Chapel Door and its Three Panels Carved in Wood

The carved wooden doors are meant to depict the Feast of the Annunciation, Bunavestire.

The top panel: Angel Gabriel (on the left side) and Virgin Mary (on the right side, praying).

Do you see the vase with flowers? One of them should be a white lily, believed to be the first flower cultivated by humans, associated with purity and, Christianity, the Blessed Virgin.

the Wooden Doors of a Medieval Chapel, Snagov Monastery. top panel - Feast of the Annunciation, Bunavestire.

The median panel depicts saints: Saint Basil the Great (Vasile cel Mare), Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (Grigorie din Nazianz), Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (Ioan Gură de Aur) and Saint Nicholas (Sfântul Nicolae).

wooden doors medieval monastery, Snagov chapel, usi paraclis

The lower panel: we see Saint George, Sfantul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe, on his horse, slaying the dragon with his spear, a symbol of Christian faith, at any cost.

wooden doors medieval monastery, Snagov chapel, usi paraclis

The inscription is a prayer in Slavonic, for hospitality that each weary traveler shall find in this place of worship.

Since we are at Snagov, you might like to know tat in 1475, the year before he was killed, Vlad Țepeș ordered that a defense wall be raised around Snagov Monastery, a bridge, a prison for robbers as well as a secret underwater passage that will confer a secondary exit from the island.

For Norm’s Thursday Doors, joining art and photography lovers from around the world.

Doors of Brașov, Transylvania, Romania

We began looking at doors from Brașov, this 800 years old city from Transylvania, Romania, with a church door and a short story. We went lucky to visit that fascinating place, once more, during a holiday in 2019.

Work on the building of the Black Church of Brasov began in 1383 – 1385 and one of its benefactors was John Hunyadi (do you remember him from our visit to Hunyadi Castle, or Corvin Castle?)… but if you listen to the whispers of the wind, it says that Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes also had a word in the building of this church, completed soon after 1476.

For the building of this church Bulgarian workers were employed, and craftsmen who proceeded to establish a Brașov Bulgarian colony in Șcheii Brașovului. But Scheii name has nothing to do with the Bulgarian workers arrived here in the 14th century. Scheii was formed when the slaves settled here, centuries earlier. Schei was the old Romanian word used for slaves (Bulgarians included).

Scheii area was first named Catun, designating a small enclosure right under Tampa fortress, on Tampa mountain. This was an area left outside of the Brasov fortress walls when the walls and Bastions of Brason were raised in 1455. So the Romanian guards of Brasov fortress lived here, outside the fortress’ walls. Because of their military duty they were called schei, pardoned iobagi or serfdoms (farmers once bound to land and the will of the landlord).

Here are a few doors from today’s Scheii Brasovului.

Doors Brasov Transylvania Romania
Doors Brasov Transylvania Romania
Doors Brasov Transylvania Romania

Below are two modest shrines from Brasov. Do you see the cross on top? This universal symbol for Christian faith, a constant reminder of Jesus’ death for our sins and of His joyous resurrection.

Shrines such as these can often be found in Romania, build so that weary travelers, or passer by with a heavy heart, can have a moment of peace, for thought, for prayer, for palliation. Before reaching the Black Church, down the winding road.

a shrine from Scheii, Brasov
Brasov, crucea troita din Scheii
This cross was raised in 1761 by Gh. (Gheorghe) Anania and restored in 1992.
troita, Scheii, Brasov
Doors Brașov Transylvania Romania
casa in Brasov

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature connecting door lovers from around the world through photography. You can join by creating your own weekly Thursday Doors post and sharing the link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

As always, you can find my books on Amazon.

Plants, their Names and Romanian Folktales

plants romanian folklore

Healing plants can have wondrous names proving their millennial use in medicine, household or purely recreational as well as a fertile popular imagination when it comes to the Romanian folktales.

Herbs have been used in medicine since before Ancient Egyptian. Sumerian clay tablets, for example, list numerous plants, some highly used today such as myrrh and opium.

When it comes to the common names given to the healing plants, there is a fragile boundary between the sacred and the profane as some plants are named due to their association with legends (chicory, mil-foil), mythology (Sita-Ielelor ‘silver thistle’, snowdrop), celebrations (daffodil, garlic, lily of the valley, Năvalnicul ‘hart’s-tongue’, Sânzienele ‘lady’s bedstraw’), Christian worship while others are simply given human traits thus desecrating or sanctifying them (anthropomorphism).

Plants, their Names and Romanian Folktales
Romanian naive art

The fine line between the beneficial and the malefic use of plants is seen in their dual use, as medicine or as poison; in their various uses, for the soul of for the body.

It is worth mentioning that the beneficial and malefic use of plants is derived also from the way God and Satan are portrayed in the popular belief: associating flowers and green grass with the positive forces of nature and attributing thistles, thorns, prickly nettles to the underworld.

The Romanian Folklore of Plants and Celebrations

Celebrate originates in Latin celebratus “much-frequented; kept solemn; famous,” past participle of celebrare “assemble to honor,” from celeber “frequented, populous, crowded;” with transferred senses of “well-attended; famous; often-repeated.” – a collective experience meant to last.

Celebrations are perhaps meant to freeze into memory various events so that time, as a whole, will make sense.

Plants and Romanian folk celebrations

Dragobete, Head of Spring and Sister Flowers – 24 February

The celebration of Dragobete (first flowers of spring as Dragobete is celebrated on 24 February / 24 Făurar, Februarie in Romania). During the celebration of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, nicknamed in rural areas the celebration of Head of Spring, we can pick the very first flowers that lift their heads from underneath a blanket of snow: snowdrops, crocuses.

A celebration dedicated to pure love takes place now and we can throw these spring symbols down a moving water.
The concept of sister flowers appears now, flowers that grow during the same time of the year but never near each other. Pick them and throw them on a moving water so that they can finally meet and your sins will be forgiven.

Dragobete, dragobeti have a few connotations: lads which experience the first thrills of love, the green tiger beetles used in love spells.

Clean or unclean, how do we pick a Dragobete plant – the fern?
Once we spot it, before picking it one must make the sign of the cross upon it, to bless it. Then one must bring it an offering, such as is the custom, of bread, salt and sugar. Quietly, place the offering at the plant’s root. The Dragobete plant must be picked whole, with its root, then placed where it is needed the most, to perform its magic: a baby’s crib, a maiden’s bosom, the home’s eave… or behind the icon on the wall. Then, only, the Dragobete plant may be tucked in the maiden’s belt when she goes to the Sunday dance, in the hope that village lads will ask her to be their partner and they will dance and be joyful the way she, too, dance with the Dragobete fern tucked in her belt.

Because Dragobete, as a celebration, supports pure love, harmony, steadfastness and stability.

Plants, their Names and Romanian Folktales and Celebrations
Mircea Cojocaru, De Dragobete

Navalnic, Impetuous, and the Fern

Navalnic, Impetuous, as a plant connected with this time of year, has also a legend. Navalnic was a fine young man who enjoyed flirting a little too much. He often hid along the forest paths awaiting lonely maidens to walk by, hoping for a kiss. But Navalnic pushed his luck a little too far when he caused Saint Mary with baby Jesus in her arms to catch a fright. Saint Mary turned him into a plant on the spot:
“Impetuous you’ve been
And so you shall remain!
A weed of love, unclean,
A love weed to blame.”

The legend of Flyboy and its Speedwell plant

Flyboy, Zburatorul, is associated with the evil eye and is antagonistic to Dragobete’s symbology. Its plant is the speedwell or longleaf speedwel supposed to counteract the effects of the evil eye.

The Flyboy’s legend takes off like this.
Once upon a time there was a lovely maiden who fell in love with a Flyboy. A charmer. Now her mother thought it will be better not to intervene between the two so she cooked up a plan. ‘Our cow is sick,’ she complained to the girl. Do you think Flyboy will help? We only need a string of longleaf. The village charmstress will concoct us a cure, a good charm. It is our only cow. Will he help?’ And he did, and they got the longleaf and the charmstress boiled it and she extracted its essence. And she gave it to the mother, which sprinkled it over the maiden as she slept. And so the girl was saved.

Mucenici and Crocuses, Brândușele – celebrated on 9 March

For 9 March, 9 Martie, to celebrate the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste or the Holy Forty Romanians make Mucenici or Măcinici. This celebration also coincides with the start of the agricultural year.

Basically shapes of eight are made of sweet dough and there are two ways to prepare them, following recipes from Muntenia and Ardeal or from Dobrogea and Moldavia. I was lucky to enjoy both and, believe me, they are delicious.

Mucenici from Muntenia and Ardeal (left) and from Dobrogea and Moldavia (right). Double – Yummy!

What does the eight shape of Mucenici means?

The eight shape is named brânduși or brândușei – from brândușă, crocus.

From the eight shape the upper circle represents the crown (similar to a saint’s halo) and the bottom circle symbolizes the mace that as used to smash the martyrs’ ankles.

The Legend of How the Crocuses, Brândușele, came to be

It is said that long ago, before stories came to be written, earth had a step-mother… But she was kind-hearted and always kept busy. Each season something else to do, each month with its own routine.

Every March, after the long winter, when nature was still half frozen, she would pull the crocuses out of the ground so that humans could enjoy them and smile again after the long dreary months they just sailed through.

But also to remember that, the way they enjoyed the crocuses now, their dead relatives and friends enjoyed the same flowers during winter when they would show their flowers on the other side of the ground where living people could not see them.

All is relative in life.

These would be the Spring Crocuses, of curse.

The Legend of Young Basil and Lady Crocus (Busuioc si Brândușa)

Basil was a king’s son, a prince by birth and ways, by bravery, knowledge and nature. And when his time came he fell in love with a beautiful, gentle, clever girl named Crocus. But Crocus also caught the eye of a dragon, a fiery horse (a zmeu). Who did what any self-respectable, all-powerful creature would do: kidnap the maiden he wanted, taking her for himself. Yet Basil saved Crocus – and I think he killed the dragon as well. And today the world enjoys basil plants and crocus flowers, the offsprings of the first Basil prince and Crocus maiden.

The Sângiorz or Saint George (Sfantul Gheorghe) celebration, the Narcisus and the Lilly of the Valley – 23 April

Sângiorz or Saint George is a Transylvanian celebration of Spring held on the 23rd of April, honoring flowers such as Lilly of the Valley, Narcissus.

On this special day maidens pick flowers, narcissus and Lilly of the valley too, and make crowns they place on milking jugs. After three days the flowery crowns are fed to the cows, for abundant and sweet milk all year round.

Plants, their Names and Romanian Folktales, Saint Geroge
Naive art from Romania, Saint George Slaying the Dragon

The Feast of Drăgaica / Sânzienele celebrates Midsummer Day – 24 June

The day when the skies open and all the living creatures can speak.

Dragaica or Sânzienele are celebated in Romania on the 24 June (24 Cireșar, Iunie). During this feast we celebrate the Lady’s Bedstraw plant and other summer flowers: golden-rods, wild roses.

During this night we celebrate an agricultural deity, protector of wheat fields and of married women, a Romanian fairy similar in strength and symbology with Hera, Diana, Juno or Artemis.

Lady’s Bedstraw and golden-rods have both yellow flowers

Legend says that fairies who bath in spring on the night of Sânziene wear clothes made of white flowers. In the North of Romania, in the corner of Maramures county, there is a minuscule geographical and historical area called Forest Country, Țara Codrului. Here, between the fields of hemp, folk tradition calls to sprinkle the yellow flowers of Sânziene so that their yellow tint will rub onto the shade of hemp flowers.

On the night of Sânziene the maidens ready to get married can place under their pillows white and yellow flowers, to dream of their love to be. They also plate small crowns of flowers they later throw on the roof of their homes. Of course, the white of the Sânziene flowers is symbolic for purity of heart and body.

The yellow flowers of Sânziene are also known as the flowers of Saint John the Baptist. Popular beliefs says that Lady’s bedstraw can cure epilepsy, ‘le mal caduc‘.

More plants and a few spells

If you wish to convince a man to get marries, legend days, put a few petals of borage or Starflower, limba mielului, in a glass of wine and he will be willing soon. But remember, true love doesn’t need spells.

If you take a bath in lovage (privet), leustean, leaves and rose petals the boy you fancy is sure to fall in love with you. Privet is also good to warn off the evil action of the full moon.

Have a strong wish? Write it on a piece of paper and wrap in in leaves of mint, menta. Then tie it in a piece of red cloth. By the time the scent of mint will warn off your wish will come true.

The Legend of the Olive Tree

It is said that Zeus, the ruler of the Olympian gods, decided to gift the new city of Athens to the God that will gift its inhabitants the most useful gift.

Poseidon came with his almighty trident derived from Zeus’ lotus scepter and hit the rock at his feet. At once salty water sprouted, running down the mountain.

Next came Athena with her battle spear and she plunged it in the earth. An olive tree sprouted at once.

Then the inhabitants of Athens had to show their preference and they chose the olive fruits over the salty water. So Athena became the goddess patron of the new city. Legend says that all the olive trees around Greece originate from this first tree gifted by Athena.

These were known as moria, olive trees considered to be the property of the state because of their religious significance.

The most sacred Moria tree is on the Acropolis, Athens
The most sacred Moria tree stands in front of the ancient temple of Erechtheion on the Acropolis of Athens, Greece. Thought to be the same location of the very first olive tree given to Athens by the Greek goddess Athena.

Olive oil against the evil eye

Romanians believe in the evil eye. It is enough for someone to pay you a compliment or glance in your direction, especially if they have green eyes, and if you complain of nausea or headache (among other symptoms such as dizziness, fever, stomach pain, bad luck, financial ruin, serious illness and so on) – then something has to be done to counteract the effect.

First, how do you know if you’ve encountered the bad eye? Pour water in a white bowl and drip some olive oil in it. If the oil gathered into globs, you’re safe from curse. But if the oil scatters around the bowl, that’s the evil eye. There are light spells against the evil eye performed with holy water and matches and rhymes that have to whispered.

That’s why babies are bathed in water with a branch of Lythrum salicaria, or purple loosestrife, rachitanul, to protect them from the evil eye.

I discovered these facts and legends about plants, as well as their various names and Romanian folktales during my latest research. I probably ran away with it, but I found everything so interesting that I wanted to keep it for further reference – so I wrote this blog post. It is sad that, with each generation, fewer Romanians remember our rich heritage and try to keep it alive, for I am sure that we wouldn’t have had such a wealth of myths and legends if it wouldn’t have been for our ancestors, who passed it on through stories and songs when no other means of safekeeping were available.

I hope you found it interesting too.

As always, find all my books on Amazon worldwide.

Dualism, a Square in Travel Photography

Zlatari Church, square photo

Dualism, a Square in Travel Photography: iconic Zlatari Church on Calea Victoriei, Bucharest, reflected in the glass walls of a futuristic cube building.

In a snapshot, dualism means recognizing and understanding the opposition’s point of view. It is choosing to look and see beyond the relative conceptions of good or evil, the universal opposites. Dualism attempts to restore balance, to seek the normal in an abnormal world.

I choose to believe that dualism is inherent to the human soul. It is trough dualism that we eventually arrive to our true self. Dualism is the thread with what it was and what will be. A thread that holds the individual, the microcosm, centered in an universe seen as the macrocosm, and forever connected, centered to a primordial axis.

How can we appreciate the heat of the sun if we haven’t experienced the chill of winter? The light of dawn if we haven’t held our eyes open in the darkest of nights, seeing, but not seeing any hope? The balm of water as it brings life to a burning throat?

Dualism Square Travel Photography, Zlatari Church
Zlatari Church on Calea Victoriei, Bucharest

This is the picture my daughter took of Zlatari Church on Calea Victoriei, Bucharest, reflected in the glass walls of a modern office building across the street.

Dualism, accepting two futuristic glass buildings in the middle of an iconic area of Bucharest. A cube and a cylinder, now landmarks amidst centuries old cultural architecture. Where once used to be a park gently rolling downhill with the curves of the land, now your eyes blink against glass on metal, drawn in simple lines next to the eclecticism of the adjacent buildings and the Byzantine architecture of Zlatari Church via-a-vis.

Happy to join Becky’s Square Perspective blog feature 🙂

An Ancient Door, Corvin Castle, Romania

ancient door, Corvin Castle, Romania

The visit to the ancient door of Corvin Castle, Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle in Romania takes us through a short history of knocking on doors and a look at some magnificent coat of arms.

Most doors shield a home from the outside world, and for that reason are both an invitation and a restrain, a question and a warning.

A short history of door knocking

Why do we knock on a door? Because it’s polite or because we’re weary of what we might discover on the other side if we enter unannounced? Any toddler or teen parent would agree on the importance of knocking on a door 🙂

Door knocking obviously follows the use door bells and door knockers…

Door knockers originate in Ancient Greece. Greeks were rather picky and didn’t like unannounced visitors entering their homes so they expected their guests to knock first. Wealthy Greeks had slaves chained to a heavy ring attached to the door, slaves meant to greet the guests. But Greece is a rather hot country and Greeks have always been renowned for their siesta hours… thus, in the event the door-slave had fallen asleep, the guest would jiggle and strike the knocker to awake the slave or rouse the home owner.

So the Romans, besides the art, philosophy, science, math skills, and trade inherited from the Greeks, continued using the door knocker and, obviously, it spread across the Roman empire, a habit that lasted until the 15th century. And as blacksmiths developed their skills, so did the door-knocker’s designs.

Three doors in Corvin Castle, Romania

Corvin Castle (Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle) as we know it today, was built and rebuilt over centuries, the first significant construction here being a small, oval fortress with towers built sometime between 1299 1399, although the site had been occupied since the a beginning of the Bronze Age.

By 1409, Voicu Hunedoara, or Romanian birth, was granted rights to the fortress and surrounding lands through the Donation Act of King Sigismund of Luxemburg, King of Hungary & Croatia. Voicu’s son, Ioan de Hunedoara (Iancu Hunedoara, János Hunyadi or John of Hunedoara) inherited the estate and improved on the existing fortress, making it stronger to withstand the Ottoman’s attacks. His son, the revered Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus, inherited the castle after his death and improved it further inspired by the Italian Renaissance, until the end of the 15th century.

On 13 April 1854, Corvin Castle was struck by lightning, severely damaged and abandoned until 1869.

Elements of the original fortress’ construction remain to this day.

All these doors below are part of the fortress built by Iancu de Hunedoara in approx. 1442 and they are on the ground level.

The first two doors are facing the castle’s courtyard that has been in constant use since the original stone fortress was constructed in the 14th century. Evidence of Gothic stone door frames from the original fortress can still be seen today.

On the first door you will want to notice three elements:

  • the jamb columns on either side of the door, creating a small recess for the door;
  • the tympanum, the semi-circular / triangular decorative wall surface above the door, displaying the coat of arms;
  • the two pinnacles (small spires) siting atop two buttresses on each side of the tympanum.
An Ancient Door Corvin Castle, Romania, John Hunyadi and Matthias Corvinus coat of arms
Evidence of Gothic stone door frames from the original fortress can still be seen today.

The door leads to the circular stairway.

An Ancient Door Corvin Castle, Castelul Hunedoara Romania, Coat of Arms of Hunyadis
Detail of the Entrance to the spiral staircase tower of the Corvin Castle representing the coat of arms of John Hunyadi and King Matthias Corvinus (the Hunyadis)

The use of a quarter shield is important as in Hungarian heraldic usage the quarter shield was only used by kings.

The raven (corbie) with the ring, profile, is for the House of Hunyadi (quadrant 1)
The white lion with the crown and the rampant lion with the crown are variants of the coat of arms of King Matthias Corvinus, his son (quadrant 2 and 3). The top right lion has a lion passant, tongue naissant from the crown, while the bottom left lion is rampant and holds the crown.

The presence of the two angels holding the coat of arms is also meaningful.

And this is why we looked at this door 🙂 the Hunyadi and King Matthias Corvinus coat of arms.
Below is the Hunyadi coat of arms on a shield (raven with ring and rampant lion holding the crown) with a helmet on top. On the right side is an image of John Hunyadi as appeared in the Thuróczi Chronicle, Budapest, 1488.

The azure behind the crow represent the righteous soul of János Hunyadi., the red lion represents the hero himself who defended the crown and offered it up to the king. There are a few legends surrounding the Hunyadi coat of arms, a raven with a ring in its beak, an image that understandably stimulated the imagination of many, and a story for another time as are the legends that surround Corvin Castle, some about Vlad the Impaler too… But more about this next time.

Looking at Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms were first used on seals and to establish identity in battles – that’s when they first made they appearance during the Middle Ages.The use of heraldic display in architecture reflects the social differences in medieval society, with the first heraldic display in Transylvania dating from beginning of the 14th century. Here, the first heraldic symbols appeared on the tombs of well-to-do aristocracy as well as on the churches they built and sponsored.

An Ancient Door Corvin Castle, Castelul Hunedoara, Romania, coat of arms Iancu de Hunedoara, Raven with a ring
A different version of the Hunyadi coat of arms on a secondary door of Crovin Castle.

The ancient door of Corvin Castle

One spots this door on entering the Corvin Castle. It is the door to the dungeon and to the torture chambers and it is 500 years old. It is said to be the only wooden door to have survived the great fire of 13 April 1854.

An Ancient 500 years old Door Corvin Castle, Castelul Hunedoara, Romania
The 500 years old door of Corvin Castle
a 500 years, original wooden old door, Castelul Hunedoara, Hunyadi Castle
The oldest, original wooden door of Corvin Castle

We will return to Corvin Castle soon…

Happy to join Norm’s Thursday Doors with this post 🙂

Subscribe to my e-Newsletter for fun and informative content on dogs, books, history, folklore and a castle or two:

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon