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On the left bank of the Mures River, some 15 km away from Arad City, there is the Hodos-Bodrog Monastery, one of Romania’s oldest monastic establishments still in existence.

Photo credit: (c) Ioan WEISL / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The monastery, which was mentioned for the first time in a written record more the eight hundred years ago where monastic life was uninterrupted all along, is one of the few old Mediaeval monuments still standing in the Lower Mures Valley, along with church groups in the Hateg Land and Zarand Land, also being the most important of them.

A valuable monument of ecclesiastic architecture, the monastery has preserved elements of the 14th century architecture, murals from the early 17th century, and many Slavic-Romanian manuscripts from the 15th-17th centuries and vestments from those very early times.

Legend has it that the monastery was founded by nearby believers on the site where previously a herd of cattle would pasture and where one day a bull dug out with his horns a golden shining icon of St. Mary. To honour the site of the discovery, the altar of a monastery was built at the scene and in order to strengthen tradition the petrified skull of the bull and the icon that is said to work miracles are displayed at the monastery. The icon painted on wood is not that old, probably just from the 16th century, depicting Madonna and Child, both wearing crowns.

Photo credit: (c) Ioan WEISL / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The first written recording of the monastery goes back to 1177, but local historians in the early 19th century claimed the monastery had been inhabited by monks of Eastern rite since the times of the voivodeships before the Magyar Conquest.

Other mentions are in documents from 1213, 1233, 1278, with derivations of the name of Hodos. In 1293, it was recorded as ‘Hudus-monostura,’ while in the next centuries the name of Hodos was generalised and in the 15th century the toponym Bodrog was added, which was more often used after the disappearance of the village of Hodos in the 18th century. In 1784 the two toponyms started being used again together.

The current monastic church going back to the second half of the 14th century, built in a tri-conic Byzantine style of Roman stone and brick, greatly resembles the similar churches at Vodita, Tismana, Cotmeana and Cozia, according to historian Nicolae Iorga, in the context of the existing relations back then between Wallachia and the Christian Orthodox of the Magyar Kingdom. It has undergone various changes in time, especially in the 18th century, when the old Byzantine structure was rounded up with Baroque elements, while preserving most of the initial structure.

Photo credit: (c) Ioan WEISL / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The monastery was built of carved stone and brick, the same as Wallachian churches, and much later, probably in the time of its restauration in the 18th century, some of its walls were plastered. In the church walls and an exterior pavement some Roman bricks have been identified that probably came from a Roman settlement which traces have been found close to Bodrogu Nou.

The interior was adorned with fresco paintings in 1658 by painter Nicodim Diaconul. In 1938 — 1940, renowned church painter Atanasie Demian cleaned the old mural paintings from the early 17th century and painted the ceiling and the walls of the narthex, which had been damaged in time, in the style of old paintings. Among the remarkable paintings are those depicting important church feasts, the Passions of Jesus, some of Jesus’ miracles and some themes from the Old Testament, all in a Byzantine iconographic design. A new restauration of the paintings took place in 2009-2010, conducted by restorers Adriana Scarlatescu and Marius Oprea.

In 1940, father superior Ieronim Balintoni sculpted the furniture and the iconostas of the monastic church at the monastery’s carving workshop.

Photo credit: (c) Ioan WEISL / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

On the outside, the church is plastered on three sides, with the northern wall left un-plastered. It has exterior niches, some of which have fresco paintings by painter E. Profeta from 1968.

In the late 19th century, the ‘Hodos — egumen Mihail 1523’ inscription was still visible on the northern wall, while on the southern wall the year of the refurbishment, 1776, was carved. The current frame of the doors was made in 1766 (as the year carved above them says), while carved on two stones to the exterior of the straight apse are ‘1742 Nicolae Ioanovici am scris aicia’ (I, Nicolae Ivanovici wrote here in 1742) and ‘Ioan Dragoevici pravoslavnic român,’ (Ioan Dragoevic, Romanian Orthodox). In 1790-1976, the church also had a closed porch that was remade in 2000.

Many personalities have contributed in time to the edification of the monument: Sava Brancovici — 1607; Sofronie, bishop of Lipova and Gyula — 1651; Isaia Diacovici — 1690; Eugene of Savoy, who extended protection to the monastery in 1716; monk Naum Ramniceanu — 1788; Nicolae Iorga — 1906.

Left standing of the old structures are a belfry tower, the father superior’s headquarters and part of the interior wall, on the north side.

Photo credit: (c) Ioan WEISL / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

In the 18th century, young people aspiring to become priests would come for apprenticeship here. Children of the peasants from nearby villages would also come here to learn how to read and write.

The monastery survived the Ottoman Conquest and it was refurbished in the early 17th century, playing an increasingly more important part in the religious life of western Romania. Another important refurbishment of the monastery occurred in the second half of the 18th century, while under Bishop Sinesie Jivanovici it became an important pilgrimage venue for monks from the principality of Transylvania, even for monks from Russia and Greece.

Archimandrite Nestor Iovan, the monastery’s father superior, says that one century ago, on the feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother, thousands of pilgrims would come here from many settlements, some of which were quite afar. In late 19th century, the monastery was headed for more than 10 years by Bishop Ioan Mesianu, and his successor Augustin Hamsea conducted vast refurbishments of monastic buildings. Among the monks of the monastery, there were some of the most prominent personalities of the Romanian Christian Orthodox Church, including Romania’s first patriarch Miron Cristea and Roman Ciorogariu, promoted to bishop immediately after the 1918 Union. The monastery was taken good care of when the Arad eparchy was led by Bishop Nicolae Corneanu, who later on became metropolitan bishop of Banat, and Bishop Teoctist, who became the metropolitan bishop of Moldavia and later on the patriarch of the Romanian Christian Orthodox Church.

The Hodos-Bodrog Monastery has an old cache of arts from various eras: silverware, old icons, an important collection of Slavic-Romanian illustrated manuscripts and plated wares from the 16th century. The monastery also houses a valuable library of old ecclesiastic books that still keeps books and manuscripts from the 16th century, along with a rich archive from the first half of the 18th century that comprises Latin, German, Serbian, Hungarian and Romanian documents of great documentary significance.

The entire monastic compound has been overhauled over the past years, with a new room, a belfry tower and the entrance gate having been added. AGERPRES

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