08 December 2018

A Romanian centenary and
a reminder of cultural riches

An icon corner from a Romanian home, recreated in the ‘Experience Romania,’ exhibition in Limerick this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

On my way back from Dublin yesterday [7 December 2018], I stopped in Limerick to visit ‘Experience Romania,’ an exhibition in the Hunt Museum celebrating the centenary of the ‘Great Union’ that marked the unification of Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina with Romania on 1 December 1918.

This exhibition, organised by Eiro, the Irish Romanian Cultural and Business Association, is a celebration of Romanian culture and tradition through taste, sound, touch, scent and the visual, with moments of Romanian traditional music.

I have joyful family links with Romania, and have travelled throughout the country, working in Bucharest, Brasov and other parts of the country, to celebrate family connections, but also reporting on the general election in 1996 for The Irish Times, working on church projects with the Orthodox Church in Bucharest and Brașov, and also preaching in the Anglican Church of the Resurrection in Bucharest.

Those visits brought me to many parts of Wallachia, Moldova and Transylvania, and always included visits to monasteries, museums, art galleries and historic sites, from the Museums in the centre of Bucharest to Bran Castle and Sinaia Monastery, the Monastery of Stavropoleos and Cretulescu Church in Bucharest, and Holy Trinity Church in Brașov, known as the Greek Church.

However, it is some years since I was back in Romania, and this exhibition brought back many happy memories, as well as reminding me of places I must return to visit, particularly the ‘Painted Monasteries of Bucovina.’

Voroneț Monastery, one of the ‘Painted Monasteries’ of Bucovina … a photograph in the exhibition (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Bukovina is on the slopes of the Carpathian mountains, and was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire from 1774 until 1918, when it was united with Romania. The northern half of Bukovina was seized by the Soviet Union and is now part of Ukraine.

Voroneț Monastery is one of the many famous ‘Painted Monasteries’ of southern Bucovina, in Suceava County. The monastery was built by Stephen the Great in 1488 over a period of three months and three weeks to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Vaslui. Often known as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the East,’ the frescoes at Voroneț feature an intense shade of blue known as ‘Voroneț Blue.’

One side room is set up to look like a traditional country house, with the corner settle bed, the icon corner, and kitchen ware. There are photographs, textiles, pottery, icons, traditional clothes and furniture, and a small selection of books.

Easter eggs with traditional Romanian dyes and colours (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

There are reminders too of the Romanian tradition of dying Easter eggs in different colours. This is done by boiling the egg in natural substances, such as onion peel for brown, oak, alder bark or walnut nutshell for black, beet juice for pink.

On Easter Day, young children, family members or friends would face each other, declaring ‘Christ is Risen,’ ‘He is Risen indeed,’ and hitting each other’s eggs. The person whose egg did not crack or break believed they had received a special blessing for the year that followed.

The centre of Brașov … a photograph in the exhibition in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Brașov was once known as Kronstadt, and in the brief interlude of post-war madness it was given the blood-chilling name of Stalingrad (Orasul Stalin). Today, it is the most visited city of Romania, with its charm and popularity leading one guidebook to describe it as ‘the Prague of Romania, the Krakow of Transylvania.’

With its cobbled streets, castellated towers and ornate churches and townhouses, it is no wonder the legend grew up that when the Pied Piper charmed the children away from Hamelin, they emerged from the Carpathian Mountains in the town square of Brașov in 1284.

Bran Castle, 28 km south of Brașov, has prospered by convincing tourists that Bran Castle is Dracula’s Castle.

A traditional Roman glass icon in the exhibition in the Hunt Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Other photographs in the exhibition include the Romanian Athenaeum, the national concert hall and a landmark building in the centre of Bucharest. The ornate, domed circular building opened in 1888 and is a symbol of Romanian culture.

There are reminders throughout of the rich cultural heritage of Romania, where Iași, the Moldavian capital and the country’s second city, is known as the cultural capital of Romania, and Timișoara, the country’s third city, has been selected as European of Culture for 2021.

The exhibition in Limerick closed this afternoon, but at a time when borders are going up again throughout Europe, exhibitions and cultural exchanges like this are important reminders of variety and diversity in our shared European cultural heritage.

A cosy corner in a Romanian home … recreated in this week’s exhibition in the Hunt Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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