The Legend of Putna Monastery #Im4Ro

It took the strength of two men to open the massive wooden doors of Putna Monastery, and they groaned with legends as they parted. And it took two to open the massive doors leading to its nave, a stone engraving overhead remembering all those who helped rebuild and protect it.

A boy struggled inside. As if the rushed get away hadn’t dazed him enough, his glasses and cane lost in the swirl of escape, the simple effort of squinting to focus on the altar, so far away, made him sway. He found support in a pew and steadied himself, its edge smoothed by so many other hands before his. All around, solid, stone walls reached to the sky. Candles threw whispers of light. Only his blood still rushed through his ears carrying the uproar of battle and human outcry.

He hesitated. His fresh memories were too savage for this sacred space.

‘Go in and pray,’ his mother had nudged him. ‘Bring thanks that we’re still alive. And safe…’ Her voice had wavered. He knew, she needn’t have said it, that he ought to pray for his father too. Left behind. To fight.

He filled his lungs with the familiar scent, candles and frankincense. The people here may speak a foreign language, but the church felt like the one back home. Except bigger. Much bigger.

He glanced along the nave again.

‘You know,’ said a grave voice speaking his mother tongue, ‘there’s a legend as to why the altar appears to be so far away.’

The boy turned, focusing on a round face topped by a tall, black hat. Smiling eyes.

‘A legend?’

The monk, as the boy recognized by the long cassock, shifted in the pew and glanced ahead, nodding, smiling, looking ready to share. It was quiet in the church, the wind only singing outside its tall, narrow windows. It was safe. The boy felt safe.

The monk spoke softly, following one sentence with another, pausing where the story asked for a pause, his words spilling on the wave of a smile. The way good stories ought to be told.

Putna Monastery, a legend
Putna Monastery, Moldova, Romania, 20 km from the border with Ukraine

The Legend of Putna Monastery

‘It was a long time ago, so long ago that the sturdy tree you saw outside was a mere sapling at the edge of a mighty forest. A forest that, unafraid, climbed hills as high as mountains. Mountains that kept this brook, the Putna brook, always cool.

And in those mountains, among bears and wolves – and friend with them – lived a monk, Daniil the Hermit. His home was in a cave in these mountains, where he felt the closest to God. And it is said that he had been taken down from Heaven by God Himself, to do good to mankind.

One evening, a weary traveler arrived at his door. One that we know of, for he was the one who told the story further. He was Stephen the Great, the very Prince of this land of ours the way it was then, smaller, and named Moldova. Prince Stephen how he was known to all didn’t arrive the way a ruler would have, making a great entry. He didn’t even walk like a ruler, strutting and proud. But taking unsure steps, looking down, his broad shoulders collapsed under his cape, his mouth drooping, his long hair still full of the smell of battle, and of defeat.

Prince Stephen dropped on a stone to rest. Not as a traveler would after a long journey, but the way a hopeless man would, when he feels he reached the end of his journey – at least the way he hoped it will pan out, yet it didn’t. So he sat down to rest on a large stone by the monk’s very shelter.

The very rock where Daniil the Hermit took shelter

As he stood there, he saw a sliver of light coming from a slit in the rock, kind like a window. And as the Prince’s breath steadied, he heard a string of words coming out, like the chant of a prayer, for at that very moment Daniil the Hermit was saying his evening prayer.

Prince Stephen bowed his head and prayed too, then knocked on the rock.

‘Who’s there?’ said a raspy voice after a long pause, guttural like that of a man who barely used it.

‘Good man,’ said Stephen.

‘If he’s a good man, then he better come in!’

It took the Hermit one look at the foreigner to know that something was amiss. Straight-forward as he was, he quickly asked what happened. Annoyed and bitter, Stephen dismissed him with a wave.

“I know what’s wrong with you,” said the Hermit. ‘Follow my advice and you will overcome paganism. Only then all will be good again. Now put your ear by my left foot. What do you hear?’

A little doubtful but curious too, Stephen bent and listened by the Hermit’s left foot. And shuddered. Crying and mourning he heard.

‘Now listen by my right foot,’ said the Hermit softly, his eyebrows moving up, a smile appearing in the corners of his eyes.

‘I hear… song, hymns!’ exclaimed Stephen forgetting all about his troubles, such was the beauty of the music he’d heard.

‘Well said,’ said the Hermit. ‘Think of building a monastery like the one these songs come from?’

Stephen looked around, bewildered. ‘But where do they come from?” he asked.

‘There’s that hill,’ the Hermit’s thin finger pointed out through the slit-window, ‘Get on it early tomorrow morning and shoot an arrow with your warrior bow. And where you’ll find the arrow stuck, know that from there the singing comes.’

Putna Monastery view of the forested hills, a legend
Putna Monastery, view of the forested hills

That night the Prince slept in the Hermit’s cave, on the stony ledge that served the monk as a bed, while the Hermit remained outside to guard him. As soon the sun rose, Daniil knocked on the rock.

When he woke up, the Prince felt like a new man, like a man who new what to do next, to make his plans come together. He got up immediately and went up the Cross Hill, the hill that Daniil the Hermit had showed them. Stephen drew his bow and fired, the arrow shooting like a free bird, out of his sight. Over the valley, and into the woods it flew. So he went looking for it. Eventually, he found it planted in an old maple tree.

The altar of this monastery was erected in that very place, and part of the maple tree survived, as it is found in the altar.

Saint Stephen, how the Prince is known today, laid the foundation stone of this very monastery on July 10, 1466,’ said the monk.

The boy looked at the altar again and it appeared now to be more in focus. Then he stood, one hand still on the pew, and readied himself to walk the long way through the nave, to the sanctuary. Curious to see what was left of the maple tree.

‘Was he tired, the Prince, when he finally found his arrow?’ he asked softly.

‘Oh, I should think so,’ agreed the monk. ‘I am sure he was. But he was glad too, for he’d found what he’d been looking for, searching for since before he met the Hermit.’

‘What was that?’ asked the boy.

‘Peace for his country,’ said the monk.

The boy nodded. His chin lifted, one hand on the pew, and on the next one, slowly shifting his weight from one lame leg onto the next, he negotiated his way to the altar. Maybe peace had not found his country yet, but one day.


Romanian monks have welcomed Ukrainian refugees at Putna Monastery.

31 Replies to “The Legend of Putna Monastery #Im4Ro”

  1. Fantastic, dear Patricia. I really enjoyed reading about the Putna Monastery. I would love to know more about Romanian Culture and folktales.

  2. I knew the legend, but it was so moving to read it as if told to a young refugee. Who knows, maybe one Ukrainian boy was comforted by the story, his hope for peace renewed. ❤️

  3. Don’t we all?
    When I was young (and winters were so cold indoors) I was fascinated by chilia lui Daniil Sihastrul. How could he live inside a cave, and at his age.
    I loved the featured image of the article at the very end of this blog post and it reminded me of the legend. 🙂

    Thank you for stopping by, Jo. 🙂

    1. I should imagine hat too, Martina. And no matter if a fire was lit or not (hopefully yes) – all I can think of is Rheumatoid arthritis. But maybe some cures unknown to us where also available.

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Martina, and for visiting 🙂 Stay safe.

  4. Patricia, thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story. I really want to visit Romania and see all these amazing places you share in your blog posts, like the Putna Monastery. I hope I can visit one day.

  5. Am fost și la Putna și la chilia lui Daniil Sihastrul, știam legenda dar citind-o aici tot m-au trecut fiorii. Tare, tare frumos, felicitări pentru tot ceea ce faci și cum promovezi România.

  6. I’m fascinated to read that the robust tree we see outside was once a little seedling at the border of a great forest. Unafraid, a forest climbed slopes as high as mountains. This brook, the Putna brook, was kept chilly by the mountains.

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