A Project Grant from the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University – titled “Documenting, Modeling, and Analyzing Post-Byzantine Sacred Spaces: The Case of Pătrăuți (1487)” – has made possible the documentation and analysis of the built space, mural decorations, liturgical furnishings, ritual celebrations, and ephemeral facets of a late-fifteenth-century Eastern Christian church on the UNESCO World Heritage List: the church of the Holy Cross at Pătrăuți Monastery, built in 1487 in the former principality of Moldavia, now part of Romania.
As the earliest unmodified structure built in the Moldavian style preserved to date, Pătrăuți is a prime example of the early stage of development of church architecture in the region. Moldavia’s location at the intersection of several cultural areas, and the church’s building in the wake of the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, make it a repository of precious information about major political, cultural, and art historical phenomena. This project integrates historical and art historical research with state-of-the-art technologies to produce a model study of a sacred space erected at the intersection of several traditions. Its analysis also contributes to our understanding of the over four dozen churches that were erected in this building tradition over several decades in Moldavia.
The present initiative grows out of preliminary analyses of the church at Pătrăuți, which point to a coherent design that combined the expertise of an architect from the Latin West with the virtuosity of painters from the Byzantine cultural sphere to create a ritual setting where sunlight was used to consecrate the rule of the royal patron and to reinforce the Christian faith especially after 1453. Inside the church, sunlight has been observed to fall on specific liturgical furnishings, architectural elements, and painted scenes in moments that were liturgically significant. In addition, certain elements inside the space are connected in symbolic ways through moving sunrays; a strategy thus-far unattested at other religious sites.
The goal of this project is to produce a complete photographic archive of the church, precise and detailed plans and sections, as well as a 3D model of the monument. The latter allows the inclusion of elements initially present in the church that had been lost, and the ability to test systematically the relationship between architecture, decoration, ritual, and light (natural and artificial). Essential information and finds will be presented on this website, while the complete analysis of the church and its historical relevance will be published in a monograph after the conclusion of the grant period (June 2023-June 2024).
The present initiative benefits from the support and collaboration of several scholars and friends, to whom we extend our thanks and gratitude, most importantly Fr. Gabriel-Dinu Herea, Petru Palamar, Tudor-Cătălin Urcan, and Prof. Dr. Liviu Popescu.
Research leading up to this project has been made possible through the support of Tufts University and the Volkswagen Foundation. Technical support for the design of this website has been generously provided by Tufts Technology Services.