We need poets and poetry more than any time before, today when we are faced with a worldwide pandemic because poets have more heart in their hearts and more life in their poems than these are pandemic statistics released daily.
We need poets and poetry to help us escape from the present, apparate ourselves to a time where all is well with the world and amour’s heartbreak or the familiar in nature are enough to fill our daily thoughts.
Poetry, much like a warrior in disguise, is a shot of strength and optimism hidden under a shabby, fragile clothing.
In a time when the focus is on the outer world, poetry stirs emotions within ourselves, shifting our focus inward, even for a brief time; releasing emotions, tensions, and fears.
In a world focused on living inside walls, poetry brings back images of nature, this millennial reminder that, no matter what, life survives, life goes on, life is beautiful.
During a time when life seems to stand still, yet hours do stretch beyond the norm, leaving us out of tune with the passing of the day or of the week, poetry is the portal we can use to escape the cabin fever, the lockdown pressure, the endless thoughts and questions swimming in circles through our mind.
During times when life focuses on harsh reality, on stark colors, poetry is a lyrical rainbow. Like any color, perceived as a different shade by each individual, poetry leaves space to interpretation, something we do crave during times of pandemic, when scientists seem to be having it black on white. Death seems so technical these days, so sterile. Poetry is the colorful glass we can look through to connect with the world on an emotional level again.
Poetry ~ and books ~ are the only needed luxury during a pandemic.
I am sure that, no matter what your Faith in God may be, at some stage you came across Christian altars or shrines and asked yourself what is their symbology.
Recently I had a Twitter chat with my good friend and fellow author Jessie Cahalin. You may know her as the fantastic supporter and bubbly personality behind Books in my Handbag Blog. We discussed traveling under #lockdown and where we went via the books we read and via our WIP (work in progress).
And that’s when I realized that both my travels led me to a church.
My current read is Death du Jourby Kathy Reichs, whose books I’m hooked on. This specific novel begins with Tempe Brennan digging (how else) for a corpse buried more than a century ago underneath the floors of a Montreal monastery. My current WIP begins in the church of Putna Monastery, a Romanian Orthodox monastery built and dedicated by Stephen the Great during his 47 years of ruling of medieval Moldavia.
I entrust you with a short passage from my WIP:
‘The first monk hurried towards the altar. The second one, still throwing glances at the silent graves left behind, broke his pace. Growing on each side were the two massive columns that supported the church ceiling, just before the crossing. The wide space seemed now shrank by shadows. Fighting the urge to turn his body sideways and squeeze through, he closed his eyes and entrusted his spirit to the powers above.
Ahead, a whisper of pardon brushed his ear, an auditory sign that his leader had just passed the crossing and had kneel to pray at the altar by the icon of Saint Mary, the spiritual patron of Putna Church.’
Patricia Furstenberg, High Country, WIP
So I went over my research notes…
Altars, Shrines and Christian Symbology
The word altar originates in Latin altus, a raised area forming the focus of sacred ritual or worship. An altar would be usually erected and placed within a building or an area dedicated to a deity.
A shrine is alto the focus of a sacred activity, but can be anything from a small niche where a holy object is placed (a statue, a cross, an icon) to a place of pilgrimage.
But be it altars inside a place of worship or a shrine on the side of a rural path, natural or man-made, they are sacred and symbolize ways of spiritual connection with a higher energy and are places of meaning and power. A safe ground.
Many see an altar as a the universe in a nutshell, reproducing in a small scale the sacred tradition it represents, the focus of the spiritual world. The way a heart is at the (symbolic) center of the body, the hearth the center of the home, such is an altar at the center of the spirituality it represents. Its sacred point.
An altar also symbolizes the place where a holy act is performed (in Christianity weddings or funerals are performed before it), or where an individual may become holy or is united with Christ (through baptism).
Candles and incense are placed on altars, symbolizing light and the promise of a Kingdom to come, of further life. And also a reminder that we do not need our earthly possessions in the afterlife.
The earliest altars were places of sacrifice and therefor were open towards the sky so that the smoke of the burned offerings would rise up, up towards the gods the altar was dedicated to.
The first altar mentioned in the Bible is the one built by Abraham after his arrival in Moreh and his sighting of God, and the purpose was to lead a life of faith.
Location ans shape of an altar
Altars are positioned east because that is the direction of the rising sun, symbolizing, the resurrection, although this was not the case in the very beginning.
Extremely simplified, in Catholic Church the altar, centrally located in the sanctuary, is to be the focus of attention in the church.
In eastern Christian rites the altar has a broader sense, including also the area surrounding it, the entire sanctuary. The altar may be referred to as either the Holy Table or the Throne. Here the altar is found behind an iconostasis (altar screen, usually made of a number of icons).
Altars have a rectangle shape, similar to a table yet never refereed to as a table, which symbolizes the table used during the Last Supper. Although first Christians celebrated Mass on the top of stone tombs in the catacombs, the first altars were built of wood because it was cheap and readily available. Later, altars became built of stone. There is an extra symbology to an altar built of stone: it signifies Christ Jesus, the Living Stone or the cornerstone.
More symbols found in churches or shrines
Bread and chalice:
The bread and chalice represent the Last Supper and remind us of Jesus breaking bread with his disciples. These are symbols we use during Holy Week, Săptămâna Mare or Săptămâna Patimilor, as well as during the receiving of the holy communion or during weddings. The bread represents Jesus’ body, broken for us, and the chalice / cup represents His blood, sacrificed for us.
The loaf also reminds us of the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes and the words he spoke to his disciples in Matthew 4:4: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Candle and Light:
So close connected with Christianity, a burning candle is a symbol of spiritual illumination and of the joy of witnessing God’s omnipresence. It also symbolizes symbolizes light in the darkness of life, holy illumination of the spirit. Lit in times of death, it signifies the light in the next world, representing Christ as the light.
Yet its brief time reminds us of ow short our life is and is also a metaphor for the solitary human soul.
Its components also have great meaning:
wax – pure flesh or humanity,
wick – soul, light – love, divinity,
flame – godhead,
fire – obedience,
heat – humility.
The cross is the universal symbol for Christian faith, a constant reminder of Jesus’ death for our sins and of His joyous resurrection. Here are some of the crosses that appear in churches today.
The crown reminds us that Jesus is King of kings. The crown also represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore on the cross and the crown of glory given to Him in Heaven.
Circle / Halo
The circle has no beginning and no end. In Christian faith it symbolizes love that knows no end; a commitment or promise (wedding rings), and eternal life (the halo)
Christograms are monograms for Jesus’ name.
And another quote from my WIP, this time involving a Christogram:
‘Above, the eyes of God and of the saints painted on the church’s dome watched them, their right hand fingers raised in the benediction gesture and spelling Jesus. The index finger points upward, forming an ‘I’. The middle finger curved to form a ‘C.’ The fourth finger crosses over the thumb to form an ‘X,’ while the little finger was curved too, shaped as another ‘C.’ ‘IC XC’, the Christogram, a monogram of Jesus Christ.’
‘Stay here, my son. I’ll take this sin upon myself alone,’ whispered the first monk before disappearing inside the altar.
Patricia Furstenberg, High Country, WIP
The dove is a traditional sign of peace especially when carrying an olive branch (another sign of peace, according to the Ancient Greeks). The Bible tells us of the dove that returned to Noah with an olive branch, a sign that the storm had ended, flood waters were receding, and solid ground – and hope – were within reach. In the New Testament, a dove descended on Jesus at his baptism.
The fish was the secret code word / sign used by early Christians that were meeting in secret for fear of Roman persecution for the their Christian Faith. The Greek word for fish is Ichthus, which is also an acronym:
Iesous CHristos THeou Uios Soter
This means “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.” The fish reminds us of the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes, and how Jesus called his disciples to be “fishers of men.”
The flame represents the Holy Spirit.
Fleur de Lis
The Fleur de Lis is the lily and a symbol of resurrection. The white and pure lily represent Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The three petals represent the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
These letters were inscribed on the sign that hung over Jesus when he was crucified. It’s short for the Latin phrase meaning, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
The Lamb and the Shepherd
David described God as his shepherd, and Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd, watching over his flock. The Lamb is a symbol for God, sacrificed by God, our Shepherd, for us. But the Lamb is also a reminder that we are all part of God’s flock, of how God cares for us, goes with us wherever we go, seeks us out when we are lost, and protects us.
The triquetra represents the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is seen to form the Carolingian Cross and the Celtic knot.
Water symbolizes baptism and thus a new life, born of the Holy Spirit. Water represents cleansing and healing.
Some churches are cut in rock
In Ethiopia there are over eleven churches cut in rock dating as far back as 12th century BC. They have secret passages connecting them with secret crypts and grottoes dug deep into the adjacent hills.
Such is the Chapel of Daniel the Hesychast near Putna Monastery.
Have you ever walked past a shire in your travels? They are often placed along roads in many Christian countries, but even in homes as well as holy buildings.
Shrines are often dedicated to Virgin Mary or to various patron saints important for a specific community as a special time. And such is a Christian grave, with its tombstone and flower offerings.
Altars and shrines are often decorated with candles, flowers or incense, as well as images of deities or saints.
I will leave you with this quote: ‘“Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.’ ― Joseph de Maistre
Plants are deeply rooted in Christianity and Romanian Folklore, this positive blend of cultural creations and ancient spirituality. Plants have been used as cures, in ritualistic traditions and for magic spells for centuries, all over the world. Let’s discover how a few of these herbs and flowers got their names in Romanian folklore, the legends behind it and their connection with Christianity.
Flower Sunday, Floriile or Palm Sunday
A special Christian celebration is on Palm Sunday: the day of Flowers, Floriile, Goddesses of Spring. Flora, in Roman religion, was the goddess of flowering plants and was the patron on month April. In Romanian folklore April is called Prier (from Latin aperio, to open, correlated with the opening of the buds’ leaves), and May is called Frunzar (leafy) and Florar (flowery).
So if you know someone whose first name is that of a flower, send them your best wishes on Palm Sunday, on Florii Day.
Sfintele Paști, Easter celebrations and Flowers: Wood Anemones and Violets
The wood anemones are Easter flowers and legend says that they sprouted from the earth wet by Jesus’ tears and that Saint Mary shared them to the four corners of the earth, at His request. Wood anemones have various nicknames in the folk tradition that symbolizes their strong correlation with Easter: the White Flower of Easter, the Flower of Blessed Friday, Easter’s Bread.
Folklore tradition calls for picking the White Flower of Easter this time of the year and decorating the Easter table with it as well as taking it to church as an offering on Good Friday. It is seen as a blessed flower.
Violets, too, are Easter flowers with a somehow mellow connotations. They represents young girls, children, metamorphosed into flowers. Is it pain, premature death that causes this? Certain is that violets are made into little crowns placed on the graves of young maidens or lads.
Plants and Christianity in Romanian Folklore
In Romanian folklore there are numerous plants named after Christian holidays, saints, Virgin Mary, and so on, depicting popular belief in the plant’s incredible powers in aiding the body and the soul.
Plain hogweed is called earth’ cross;
blue anemone hepatica is warrior’s cross;
orpine or livelong is Heaven’s Table;
bugleweed is God’s Mercy;
Mock Orange is Heaven’s Tree;
Sweet William is Priest’s Seat;
Rose Champion or Rabbit’s Ears is Saint Mary’s Belt;
begonia is Angel (îngeraș, probably due to the resemblance that popular imagination created between the angels’ wings and the plant’s leaves);
sage or Sage of the diviners is Virgin Mary’s Hand;
maidenhair fern is Virgin Mary’s Hair.
The common vervain, its Romanian meaning translating to God’s Arrow, is considered a holy herb, bringing wealth in the house and predicting the future too. It is believed to have grown first on the Mountain of Transfiguration and the plant can only be picked by fairies, Sânziene, who bring offerings before collecting it: bread, salt and a silver coin. It is believed that this specific plant helped heal Jesus’ wounds.
On the other hand Lunaria annua, honesty plant, is called the Plant of Thirty Silver Coins, Judas’ Plant and many banish it from their gardens.
The White Lily and its Symbology in Iconography
The white lily, Lilium Candidum, is believed to be Virgin Mary’s flower who is depicted holding baby Jesus with one arm and a white lily in her other hand. White lily is believed to be the first flower to ever be cultivated by humans and is associated with purity. Archangel Gabriel is also depicted offering Virgin Mary white lily after the birth of Baby Jesus. Saint Joseph is also depicted as holding Baby Jesus and a white lily as a symbol of purity and of Saint Mary.
We can clearly see that Virgin Mary is highly revered not only in the Christian Orthodox Church, but also in Romanian folklore. Yet by eighteenth century Carol Linnaeus), the founding father of modern scientific biological nomenclature, discouraged the practice of attributing names of saints to plants, a sign that scientific terminology was on its way towards gaining autonomy from the ancient naming practices.
Poppy flowers is believed to have been initially white. They turned red when a few drops from Jesus’ blood fell on them, underneath the cross. Since then poppy flowers are red, in remembrance of His sacrifice.
Basil in Christian Tradition and a Spell too
Basil is also a herb with deep christian connotations. It is associated with Jesus, Saint Mary and God. Romanian folklore says that basil first sprouted when Jesus was born, but also that it grew when Saint Mary wept by the Cross.
If maidens place under their pillow a strand of dry basil received from a priest, on the night of Boboteaza, Epiphany night,6 January, also considered the coldest night of the year, they can dream of their future husband. If they don’t dream that night they can try again on Sânziene Day, on 24 June.
On the same night maidens can take a handful of basil and go to a river, a running water. They dip the basil in water and then they wash their faces with it so they will be liked and loved by lads.
Basil and its role in Christianity and Romanian Folklore, Saint George’s Day, 23 April
To keep its holy powers basil must be planted on Saint George, on 23 April, and harvested on 14 September, on the day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is then hanged by icons till it dries.
Basil is considered holy because it has the power to turn water in holy water, agheasma, used in Christian churches.
On Easter, Christian believers wash their faces with the water in which they kept a basil, a red painted egg, and a silver coin – to be liked and loved.
On Saint George and Saint Andres old women hang basil tied with a red ribbon on the stable’s door so that the cow’s milk will flow on and on.
Siting under the shade of a tree
Myrrh, smirna, with its waxy branches and thorns, give us a resin that changes color from yellow to reddish, scented when burned and bitter to taste. Its scent a smoke are said to induce meditation and prayer and warn off any evil spirits.
Fascinating is how the effect of this resin spilled into the Romanian language. We say a sta smirna, meaning sitting quietly, or tacut smirna, meaning really quiet, as one would sit in meditation, which is exactly the effect of burning myrrh, smirna.
A branch from the bladdernut tree, clocotișul or clocoticiul, tied around your waist is said to warn off any evil spirits and no hail will bother you in your travels either.If you take these twigs to church on Easter Sunday their good powers will increase tenfold. Very long ago, before a woman would embark on a long journey she would fashion for herself a necklace made of young twigs of the bladdernut tree and wear it around her neck to warn off evil and not get lost Her courage will also increase, that she would be amazed by herself.
Also warding off evil spirits is the mugwort, a plant said to protect against pandemics too, so wear some around your neck.
Without any doubt, we can observe now everyday plants and flowers in a different light. From a sacred meaning to the scientific one, and through their legends, plants are so much more than they reveal to us. Don’t you think?
I hope you enjoyed reading about Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore. Do return for more herbal folk tales.
Welcome to our journey through medieval Sighisoara as we discovered it not so long ago. So far we climbed the Clock Tower and visited the house where Vlad the Impaler was born. Let’s explore some more and see what are these medieval horns adorning one of Sighisoara’s oldest houses, as well as climb a medieval staircase to Sighisoara’s hill for more amazing winter scenes and photos.
The City Square, once the center of medieval life
The City Square, within easy reach, is a must-see. All around there are the houses that once belonged to the noblest families of Sighisoara.
During medieval times, City Square was the place in Sighisoara. Food markets as well as public trials took place here.
Also, the pillar of infamy rose here as well, where public hangings took place. And if you were part of the city’s nobility you could witness the executions seated at your dining table, not mingling with the peasants in the square.
The Stag House
The Stag House showcases an authentic late renaissance – early baroque architecture as well as authentic stag antlers.
The Staircase Way, Strada Scarii, is the way towards the medieval staircase of Sighisoara, for great views and amazing photos
Turn left at the Stag House and you will see a stone-paved street winding towards what looks like a covered entrance. Dare you go in?
The Scholar’s Stairs
The Scholar’s Stairs are 175 covered steps leading to the School on the Hill and the Church Hill. Built during the 17th century, the stairs protected the school-going children during long winters.
“Scara acoperita construita in anul 1642” = the covered stairs, built in 1642:
Finalized in 1619, the first and smallest building of the School on the Hill went by the name of New School, Naye Schull. It was only in 1793 when the main school building finally rose.
This medieval staircase of Sighisoara was one of my favorite places to visit and take photos of. I imagine it holds a multitude of stories, spanning centuries.
The Church on the Hill
The Church on the Hill, devoted to Saint Nicholas, is a symbol for Sighisoara’s history, being the most iconic landmark of the town and one of its most valuable architectural building. It ranks third in size between all the Gothic churches in Transylvania, the biggest Gothic church in Transylvania and the whole of Romania being the Black Church in Brasov.
Historians have discovered that the church, built in 1345, was raised on top of a Roman chapel dating back to 1200. Here, on this hill, was the safe place where the people who lived in this area before the Saxons’ arrival would have gathered in case of invasions.
The church’s bell tower would have been the tallest building, most probably used as a sighting spot.
The Church on the Hill as we know it today was first mentioned in 1345 in a letter stating that the people of Sighisoara were loyal to King Ludovic 1st and have built a church dedicated to Saint Nicholas.
Yet the church that first used to stand here was later turned into a crypt.
Behind the Church on the Hill is the Evangelic Cemetery on the Hill.
Here, trees as old as the fortress itself guard the tombstones of some of the first Saxons settlers. Their headstones carry the inscription of their name as well as that of their occupation.
In a secluded area, lined up as for parade, are the graves of a handful of local soldiers.
In their youth, they probably attempted climbing the fortress’ walls or its towers and chased up the School’s stairs in the last minutes before the bell rang. Until the Great War started and they went to fight, to defend their country, not knowing that the last time they will see their native Sighisoara will be from the top of the hill, during their endless sleep.
“Den toten Gelded. Jedes Heldengrab ist heilige Erde. Alle storben dass uns Friededn werden” ~ “To the dead soldier. Each hero’s grave is holy ground. They died so that we have peace.”
The Monastery Church
Across the Clock Tower is the 15th-century monastery church with its tombstones, a Gothic-style holly place renowned for its sculpted altar. During the 14th century here was a monastery for Dominican monks and near it a convent for Franciscan nuns.
Inside the Monastery Church 35 old oriental carpets were discovered – proof that Sighisoara had economic ties with Persia.
The monastery was first mentioned in 1298 in a document signed by Pope Boniface the 8th. In the place where once the convents stood, now rises a Roman-Catholic church.
Lower City: Romano-Catholic Church Saint Iosif
This beautiful church was raised at the end of the 19th century in the place of a medieval convent for the Franciscan nuns.
For a true journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara try to attend the Medieval Festival of arts and theater – during August.
More spectacular views of our journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara
Today, over 200 people still live in the medieval citadel of Sighisoara.
I am sure that, in the midst of winter, this street makes a perfect sleigh slide:
The significance of Sighisoara City
Searching beyond its gray rampant walls shadowed by a tumultuous history, and remembering its Saxon merchants and shepherds, as well as its prominent, Draculesti leaders (Vlad the Impaler and his father before him), a journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara is sure to unravel the fortress’ high status. To this contributed its perfect location, at important crossroads between the roads connecting Moldavia with Wallachia, and Transylvania with Western Europe.
Although they did not leave their mark on the fortress’ walls, during the Late Middle Ages 95 students from Sighisoara went to study abroad, in Viena and Cracovia, spreading the fame of this fortress. The two evangelic churches, the Monastery Church and the Church on the Hill, also showcase proof of the rich cultural center that Sighisoara became during and after the 16th century. Painters, sculptors, woodworkers, masons, and organ builders arrived here from Salzburg or Tirol to work alongside the local baroque sculptor Elias Nicolai, as local architecture and even gravestones still stand proof. General Melas of the Austrian army, who defended Napoleon Bonaparte at Marengo was born near Sighisoara.
The Orthodox Cathedral
Located across Tarnava Mare River, in the ew, Lower City, is the Orthodox Cathedral I must include. Look at its perfection, unlike a snowy castle reflected by icy waters, it is a place of emotional warmth and rich traditions.
I hope you enjoyed our journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara, looking at strange horns on buildings, at a dark staircase and snapping some great photos in between. Its history spills into the present in an enchanting way, and this is a place to visit more than once, a town that reveals more secrets with each trip.
Rafik is the youngest character of Silent Heroes, a brave boy of about eight years of age with a big heart. He is an Afghan boy who takes a physical journey, but one of self-discovery and growth as well. Rafik is like any other civilian caught in a war zone. He is uprooted from his home village and what he does, traveling on a mission, is out of an instinct of self-preservation and desire to help.
Have you followed his journey so far? After arriving as an emergency at the medical facility of Camp Bastion Rafik ends up in the desert…
Away from his friends and their worry-free childhood.
At his mother’s desperate request, Rafik leaves the false safety of his village behind yet his plans spin out of control and he ends up at Camp Bastion, later named Camp Shorabak, an international military camp in Afghanistan with a state the art medical facility.
Rafik should have only went from his home village of Nauzad to the hamlet nearby. Yet he is now further south, near Lashkar Gah city and fortress. The fortress is on the banks on the Helmand River, hidden from direct view by a hill. Lashkar Gah has a rich history behind it, once was even the winter capital of the Ghaznavidi Empire. It belonged to the same Turkish dynasty that conquered Afghanistan a thousand years back, bringing Islam along.
Along these brown, rocky hills live farmers who breed sheep and camels, but Rafik meets none.
And he runs again… a little boy on a mission. I cannot hold his hand, he has to do it all on his own.
“A sense of foreboding took over him and his eyes shot open with a will of their own. A pair of grubby feet in dusty, old sandals and the edge of a filthy shalwar kameez appeared in his eye field as a menacing hand grabbed hold of his shirt collar, throwing him aside.”
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Run, Rafik! Run!
“The boy stopped dead after rushing through the last row of doors, blinded and dazed by the bright daylight. His eyes hurt, his body overwhelmed by the outside temperature as if he had hit a solid, arid wall of heat and sand. ‘Where am I, where had they gone?’
Behind him, the vacuum noise of the hospital doors sealed the insides in an encased gigantic hangar.
Ahead, past the perimeter fence, the deadly desert. Five flags, barely soaring in the wind, rose to one side. One of them, bright red like his mother’s best dress, displayed a white cross with a snake. Past the five flags, two dark silhouettes were marching in a cloud of dust, heading towards an unkempt gathering of mud-walled compounds that sprouted along a field of opium poppy. Above their heads and heading north, two Harrier jets roar, having just taken off from Camp Bastion’s airfield, their wingtips luminous against the clear sky.”
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
And Rafik is gone again. Is he one of the Silent Heroes, soon to get lost in the Afghan desert? Not the right time, as it is the beginning of the long, scorching, and arid Afghan summer. Here, over the course of the year the temperature typically varies from 35°F to 108°F.
“Behind everything and everyone, dragging his feet under the midday sun and with only a gush of wind for a company came Rafik. Now crawling, now running, now letting himself fall to the ground in an attempt to conceal himself, looking more like a desert dog than a human being. For each stride the men took trough the sand, the boy’s wobbly legs took two, yet he pushed on, his eyes on the twin menacing shapes, his attention wrestling an army of questions, his legs moving forward with a mind of their own.
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Where will help come from? What shape will it take?
“As he stood above him, the dog seemed twice as big as the child due to his shaggy mane, thicker around the neck, and his reassured posture. His shoulder blades moved accentuating his strong physique, yet for all that muscle he was as gentle as the moon. In seconds, the boy’s face was covered in slobber, the dog’s sandpaper tongue sliding all over the pale skin, doing a perfect job at cleaning all the dried-out blood.”
Because of their isolation, deserts often symbolize clarity and revelation. Purity too, as they are unspoiled landscapes. Yet the desert is a difficult terrain, threatening, challenging. It is a symbol for challenges, both physical and spiritual. It is a struggle calling onto the traveler’s deepest reserves.
Yet there is no adversity between the spiritual and the physical. Although deserts have been seen as the ultimate purging landscape by hermits, prophets, seers, the ultimate holy ground, it is the spiritual strength they enhance in humans that eventually augments the individual.
Thus deserts, through the personal conflicts they call upon, bring humankind the closest to heavens.
Rafik’s journey through Silent Heroes does not end here, in the Afghan desert, with the mere warm support of a friendly military dog. There is more for this young boy to encounter and survive to before he can call his home a home again. Before he can close his eyes and fall asleep feeling secure in his own bed.
Romanian folklore is a rich source of fairy-tales and traditions filled with wisdom and symbolism and bearing witness to a millennial culture, such as Dragobete, the Romanian version of Valentine’s Day, Ziua Indragostitilor and celebrated not on 14 February, but on 24 February.
Dragobete, origin and signification
A few theories explain the origin of this celebration and the etymology of its name. Some say it derives from “dragubete”=”dragu” (meaning dear, beloved in Romanian) + “-bete” (a Slavonic suffix meaning gathering). Some say it coincides with the Christian celebration of The First Finding of the Honorable Head of Prophet John the Baptist, named in Slavonic Glavo-Obretenia and adopted during the Middle Ages by Romanians under various names, such as Bragobete, later Dragobete. Some see in Dragobete an old Dacian tradition taking place during this specific time of the year, beginning of spring, by using the connection with two Dacian words: ‘trago” (tap, goat) and “pede” (picioare, feet). And the Dacians inherited their legends from the Thracians, Indo-European tribes mentioned as far back as the legends of Iliad and Odyssey, 600 -800 years before the times of Saint Valentine.
Perhaps the best connection with Valentine’s Day is by associating Dragobete with a character from Romanian mythology, patron of love and good cheer. He was the son of Baba Dochia, a figure that marks the return of spring, described as a demigod with special powers, young and good looking, and kind hearted. And with spring comes the renewal of nature and love. This explains why Dragobete is celebrated on this day, as 24 February was considered the beginning of the new agricultural season.
Based on the popular tradition surrounding this specific date in Romania, 24 February, birds and animals all find their mates and build nests, as it is a celebration of fertility and nature’s rebirth. I is said that if girls and boys enjoy a day of jokes and fun together then they will enjoy of a year full of love, for sure. For Dragobete protects love and those who share it on this day.
Dragobete is also a symbol for spring and new beginning, for changing of seasons from winter that we leave behind, to spring, ahead of us, a change from long night to shorter ones and longer days, filled with sunshine.
Romanian folklore presents Dragobete as a handsome young man with hair as black as ebony and eyes as green as the spring leaves, who would play his whistle and make the girls fall for him. He is the one responsible for teaching humankind how to love. As a reward, Virgin Mary turned him into a plant, Navalnic, Impetuous or hart’s-tongue fern. Other folk tales speak of Dragobete as teasing Virgin Mary and making her lose her path in the forest, thus she changed him into the same plant.
Up to today, this plant is said to bring young maidens good luck in love if they wear it tucked in their bosom in a silk bag. Although modern times swapped the plant for a banknote.
Popular tradition speaks of young girls and boys meeting outside the village church and heading for the woods to gather spring flowers. If raspberry flowers were in sight, it was a good sign. They were soon picked while the girls would sing:
“Flower of raspberry, Born in February, Make the whole world like me And take away all that’s beastly”
Romanian country song for Dragobete
Afterwards, the boys and girls light up fires and sit around and talk. At noon, the girls sprint for the village, each followed by a boy the boy who liked her the most. If the boy catches the girl and if she also likes him, they kiss in front of everybody, thus becoming engaged for one year, on Dragobete, by showing their attachment for each other in front of everybody.
I don’t know what happens if two boys chase a girl. But all young adults were urged to take part in this ceremony for, as tradition also says, participating in Dragobete will protect you from any illness during the coming year. I would say enough for any elderly villager…
Want to have luck in love? Here’s what you should do on Dragobete, on 24 February
Wash your hair with snow. Gather fresh, unspoiled snow, melt it and wash your hair and your face to stay beautiful all year round and for the boys to notice you first. The Dragobete snow is said to be perfect for love charms.
Kiss your loved one on Dragobete or at least make sure you get to see the one you fancy and you two will be together forever or at least you will increase your chances of ending up together.
Be merry and joyful on Dragobete day and you will stay like this the entire year.
In some parts of Romania the common belief says that stepping on your partner’s foot on Dragobete will establish your dominance in the relationship. At least during the year ahead.
You can pick or buy crocuses, violets or snowdrops to hang them above the icons in your home – it will keep you young as well as chase away any bad thoughts or envy held against you. These flowers, once dry, can be thrown on a moving water on 24 June, on Sanziene Day (or Dragaica, a night when all magic is possible), to attract all bad luck down the river with them.
Clean your house on Dragobete day for a fruitful year and to guarantee your husband’s love. But, if you are a boy don’t dig or work the ground or Dragobete might punish you because you don’t have fun.
Boys and all men should not tease the girls or be nasty towards them on Dragobete, or they will set themselves for an unlucky spring.
Plant basil so it will grow until Saint George, the day after Easter, when it’s the perfect time to replant it in the garden. The basil planted on Dragobete is perfect for spells, charms, and cures, for it is said it hold special powers. Besides, the Dragobete basil is the one girls can use in various rituals throughput the year to help them foresee their chosen one.
Try to spot a hoopoe on Dragobete and you will have good luck all year. But if you spot a pair of birds, you will have good luck in love.
If you drink cherry tea on Dragobete you will know love all year round.
A Dragobete spell from Ardeal region of Romania:
Old women would go in the forest to pick hart’s-tongue fern. Before they pull it from the ground they whisper the name of the girl they collect for and drop honey, flour and some sugar at the plant’s root. Picked only this way can the fern be used for magic spells that are supposed to make a certain boy love the girl it was picked for.
What you should NOT do on Dragobete, on 24February, to avoid any bad luck
Because it is a celebration of love and rebirth, don’t buy or sacrifice any animals on this day.
Don’t sew, wash or iron, but you can clean your home.
What makes Dragobete or Valentine’s day so special ,lasting the test of time?
Is it the nostalgic feeling all tradition carries, the romance that puts a spring in our step, no matter how much we deny its importance during the rest of the year?
Or is it simpler then that. It is the need for hope and the feeling of belonging, to know that our existence carries some sort of meaning for someone else? Someone we care for too.
How many Saint Valentine are there?
The Saint Valentine we all know so well was a 3rd century Roman saint venerated by Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, and Lutheran Church on the 14th of February.
Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Saint Valentin, Bishop of Umbria, on the 30th of July. Saint Valentine of Umbria was born in 175 AD in Interamna (today Terni, in Umbria Italy), and performed numerous miracles, healing the sick. When he was almost one hundred years old he was arrested in the middle of the night (to avoid protests from people of Terni), tortured and decapitated in Rome during the ruling of Marc Aureliu.
What turns a house into a home? Is it the light that peeks inside through its windows? The scents rising from the kitchen? Or is it the people, the mingle of generations, of shared laughter and tears? While we visited the house where Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes, was born, I asked myself: what was the light like inside? What street noises reached every morning to little Vlad’s room and woke him up? What childhood memories he kept locked in his heart that reminded him of his mother and home – while imprisoned by the Turks? Or when he was fighting them, surrounded by the sights and the stench of war?
Imagining the medieval Sighisoara fortress at the time Vlad Tepes was born
Imagine 164 houses and thirteen public buildings up on a hill, within the protective walls of a fortress. Tall or short, stone or wood, depending on the wealth of their owners, the houses have one floor, some two. But not more.
Well worth looking up, their roofs have sharp slopes to reduce the weight of the snow in winter, as well as a small window acting as a watchtower, for protection. One can see far away from the tiny, dark attic as well as keep an eye on whoever approaches the house. Friend or foe?
The doors are narrow and so are the windows – functionality and safety are paramount. If the house has an extra floor, then the inner stairway is narrow and most probably dark. The homes are built close together, often sharing a wall, making for narrow, dark streets and passageways. Comfort, as we know it and understand it today, meant a shelter overhead and safe, strong walls during the Middle Ages. Yet shiny stones pave the streets and there are gutters too, aiding to the drainage of rain-water, melted snow, and – how else – the household’s gray water.
The city has only eight wells for drinking water, not enough for the increasing number of inhabitants or siege or fire hazard situations. But it is fresh, clean water, and it is almost enough for their families’ usage during peaceful days, when they can also up the supply from the river.
Let’s meet little Vlad, his family and the house where Vlad the Impaler was born.
The house where Vlad Tepes was born
As you leave the Clock Tower behind, just ahead and on your left, on the corner of Cositorilor Street (Tin-makers Street) stands a tall terracotta house with clean lines. Today it rises with two levels above the ground floor plus a dark attic. You will want to have a good look at it as, although not supported by plenty of historical documents but letters signed by Vlad II and written from Sighisoara , so not impossible, it is the house where Vlad Tepes was born, also known as House Paulinus after its 18th-century owner.
But when it was just built in the vicinity of the Clock Tower, out of river stones and with only one level, this house belonged to the guards protecting the main entrance into the fortress.
Vlad’s family was well-off, his father, Vlad II, a first-class member of the Order of the Dragon and lawful prince of Wallachia but without a kingdom at this stage. They settled in Sighisoara and rented guestrooms in a house of stone, awaiting the right moment to raise an army of trusted boyars and reclaim his land.
This is the house, the oldest one in the fortress and still standing because it was built of stones thus withstanding the big fire of 1676. The round vault on the ground floor is the original one, constructed with the stones picked from the nearby rivers, Tarnava Mare especially. Its second floor rose much later, during the 18th century.
It appears that in the basement of this house there was a coin mint at that time – when the coinage was only the monopoly of the Hungarian Kings ruling the Kingdom of Hungary. This is another proof of Sigismund’s trust and respect towards Vlad Dracul II as Vlad II minted his own silver ducats, the “new ducat”. He did this in preparation for his expected ruling. These coins were first used in Transylvania, then in Wallachia too (yay!). They had the eagle on the head side and a winged dragon on the coin’s tail.
It was now, during the time Vlad Dracul II spent in exile in Sighisoara preparing for his rule over Wallachia, that the Romanian name of the fortress appears in writing for the first time. Double yay!
Vlad Tepes was born in 1431 (or some sources state 1429), the middle son of Vlad Dracul II, Prince of Wallachia and son of Mircea cel Batran (Mircea the Eldest) from the Basarab Dynasty. King Sigismund of Luxembourg held Vlad Dracul II in high regard, awarding him, as mentioned before, the Order of the Dragon on the 8th of February 1431 in Nuremberg, for ultimate services in the gruesome fight against the Ottoman Empire.
The Order of the Dragon (Societas Draconistarum, Society of the Dragonists) was a monarchical chivalry order awarded only to selected members of the nobility. Founded in 1408 by the Hungarian King Sigismund von Luxembourg (later Holy Roman Emperor), it was similar to the military orders of the Crusades. Its members were expected to defend Christianity against all enemies, especially the Ottoman Empire.
I liked the dragon featured on the sign above the door, I thought it is a great reference to the Order of the Dragon.
The symbol of the Order was a dragon with the tip of its tail coiled around his neck and a red cross on his back, the Red Cross of Saint George.
Calling him Vlad Dracul, correct or not?
Before 1475 Vlad III signed his name simply Vlad. But from 1475, before his third ruling as Prince of Wallachia, he signs as Ladislaus Dragwlya (or Dragkwlya, Drakulya) which appears on his seal too.
Hence Vlad the Impaler’s nickname Dracul (and identical with the Romanian word for devil) or Draculea, his ancestors named Draculesti, from dragon, or Drachen in German.
Vlad’s mother was also of Romanian royal blood, Chiajna Musatin, a Moldavian Princess and the eldest daughter of Alexandru cel Bun as well as aunt of Stefan cel Mare (Stefan the Great), of the Musatin Dynasty.
So, Vlad Tepes and his parents hopefully lived in Sighisoara until 1436. Just imagine, young Vlad might have used one of these cups to drink fresh milk.
Vlad would have been five or seven years old when his parents moved to Targoviste when his father took over Wallachia (the principality located south of Transylvania) and was – finally – crowned the rightful Prince of Wallachia.
In the middle of the 20th century, a hidden mural was discovered in the house where Vlad the Impaler was born, that of a man resembling his father, Vlad II.
A Sad Reality
Without saying too much, here are some pictures from the upper level of Vlad’s house as it looked when we visited. No skulls here, just misunderstood advertisement.
A Secret Entrance into Vlad the Impaler’s House
Most tourists are familiar with the front entrance of the house where Vlad the Impaler was born.
Yet if you play “what if” and follow the narrow street on the left, walking underneath the arch connecting the two buildings and feeling tiny compared to their height…
You will soon discover the back entrance, through a small, walled yard:
We took this way in.
Sighisoara City: Coat of Arms and blazon symbology
Sighisoara’s coat of arms is so fitting for its rich medieval ancestry. It depicts a rampant golden lion and a silver fortress with three towers on a red shield topped with a silver crown with five crenelated towers. The lion, facing right, dexter (with respect to the person carrying the shield), wears a gold crown, his tongue sticks out and holds a gold sword.
The fortress on the shield symbolizes the medieval Sighisoara and its crucial economical and military strengths as well as the cultural and religious roles it played. The lion, through the way it is depicted on the shield, symbolizes the judicial autonomy Sighisoara held, having the right to decree the death penalty, the right of the sword, jus gladii. The lion also symbolizes strength, generosity, and beauty. The crown shows that today, Sighisoara is a municipality. It is worth noticing that the lion’s hind legs are apart, symbolizing stability.
Medieval Sighisoara has much more to reveal besides the house where Vlad the Impaler was born, with its history and secrets.
Moving on from it, our eyes fell upon a beautiful building with clean lines and… a pair of horns.