Until the appearance of modern cultural institutions, the places of cult (churches and especially the monasteries) had often represented the only “centres of excellence” in which complex cultural activities were undertaken.
Built as a rule in isolated places – on hills or on the edge of forests – the monastic establishments had a discrete and peaceful activity. This was the environment of a concentrated spirituality where the first manuscripts and books in the Romanian language had been edited and printed. The circulation of these writings had favoured a circuit of ideas among the intellectuals, and, through them, the transmission to all the members of the parish. The monasteries were also the places where the first workshops of paintingand engraving had been set up, thus becoming schools which imposed their style taken over by the local and regional communities.
Then, the long spiritual exercises and preoccupation with theological problems gave rise to philosophical meditations and new concepts were born. Writers, poets, and philosophers had found there a proper place of refuge where to concentrate on their work.
Many monasteries shelter impressive libraries and treasures belonging to the national patrimony in the fields of history, science, literature, ethnology, arts, and education. We could even say that the network of monasteries in Romania had been the first “ministry of education”, the educational activity being developed in the rural churches.
Even though today these establishments are perceived rather as places of meditation, confession, and of pilgrimage – as they (still) give rise to popular processions –, monasteries attract people especially from the perspective of ecumenical tourism.
Certain testimonies and documents (topographic) show that, in old times, Maramures had a great number of monasteries. The vicissitudes of history brought about the destruction of many such places of cult. The most important mediaeval monastery built in the region was at Peri – on the right bank of Tisa (nowadays the locality is in Ukraine). It is believed that the first writing in the Romanian language was produced here.
St. Ana Monastery at Rohia (Lăpuş)
Situated at 900 meters from the centre of village Rohia, in a natural amphitheatre protected by woods, the monastery was founded in 1923, under the patronage of the Assumption of the Virgin, by the vicar Nicolae Gherman. The library built from the initiative of the abbot Iustinian Chira has about 25,000 volumes. In the precincts of the monastery there a “Poet’s house” built of bricks, with a verandah in the Brâncoveanu style, in 1977. This is where poet Ioan Alexandru used to retire and monk Alexandru Steinhardt had spent the last years of his life writing books which have entered in the Romanian patrimony.
The Bârsana Convent
The monastic complex from Bârsana could be considered a “vanguard” establishment. First of all due to its atypical location, close to the county road that links Sighetu Marmaţiei to Vişeu, on the Iza valley. The route is intensely circulated by groups of foreign tourists who visit the historical Land of Maramures. From this point of view, it is a “visiting card” and an incentive to strangers to visit the other monasteries from the region as well. The buildings of the complex have been executed in a style called “neo-maramuresan” in which the traditional style is combining with traces of modernism and monumentality.
Since its foundation in 1672, by archpriest Mihai Coman, the monastery of Moisei has not interrupted its activity. The merit of this consequence belongs to the local community that has always considered it as a “collective foundation”. Maybe this is the explanation why, each year on the 15th of August, impressive processions with pilgrims from all the valleys come to Moisei.
The Săpânţa Monastery – Peri
All what has remained from the legendary monastery of Peri from Maramures are its ruins. In order to rekindle the memory of the establishment and to resume the local monastic tradition, a new monastery has been built (1995-2003) on the left bank of the Tisa, at Săpânţa. The church tower is 75 metres high, being considered the highest in the world. The crosses are gilded with 4.5 kg gold, and the roof has 200,000 shingles.
The legends about giants – those mythical creatures “who had probably populated the Earth before the human beings” – have occupied a special place in all peoples’ covered in the dust of history mythologies. Romanian mythology is no exception in this respect, neither is that of Maramures.
“The old folks were telling that these places had been inhabited by some giants. They were saying that on the plains, on the Troian, between the villages of Groşi and Suciu, there had lived some people who were huge in comparison with how we are today. They dug where it was said they had lived and they found some pieces of huge pots in which they had been buried.”
The ethnologist and collectors of folk poetry were followed by teams of archaeologists who began digging in the zones indicated by the local people, trying to elucidate whether there was any grain of truth in the mystery surrounding the legends. Thus, in the Lăpuş–Maramureş area they discovered tumuli dating from the late Bronze Age. “Such a graveyard was found on a some kilometres long and hundreds of meters wide terrace, called ‘Troian’ (mould), at 1.5 km north-east from Suciu de Sus” (Marmaţia, 2003). The 3,000 year old necropolis had about 20 tumuli in which there were calcined bones which had belonged to humans and to sacrificed animals.
The scientific research done by archaeologists permitted the reconstruction of the aboriginal people’s religious practices on a temporal axis of two millennia. This was the interval during which the passage from the ancient rite of incinerating the dead to the burial in underground graves had happened.
Some legends from the historical Maramures are also about giants who had been either the founders of some settlements (such as Rozavlea) or inhabitants of some old strongholds. “The Giants had been there in the stronghold. This is what the old folks used to say”; “the giants had been here, at Onceşti, in the place people call ‘Cetăţaua’. From Borcut, you climb a round hill”.
The archaeologists gave their verdict: in the indicated area at Onceşti they really discovered the vestiges of a two thousand years old settlement, but there were only the remains of a group of 3-5 surface dwelling places, without stone foundation, made of light materials (probably wattle covered by a thin layer of clay). “The Giants” had belonged to the Dacian population of the area and probably had been shepherds.
Another legend, the one about “the giant Bogdan” – the founder of the country, had became, during the ‘60s, an incentive for the starting of diggings at Cuhea, whose result was the discovery of a fortified medieval settlement that had been really a residence of the voievode of Maramures, Bogdan I – the founder of Moldova.
The map of the archaeological sites in Maramures shows a great number of locations declared as protected historical monuments: in Ardusat, the place called “Sub Pădure” from the bronze age; at Bârsana, the point called “Cetăţuia” (Hallstatt culture), and “Podul miresei” – bronze age; at Bicaz, the point called “Igoaie” and the necropolis with tumuli (Suciu de Sus culture); at Buşag, “Coasta Buşagului” point (Palaeolithic); at Călineşti, the point “Rogoaza” (bronze age); at Crăciuneşti, the point “La Mohâlca” (period of migrations); at GroşiiŢibleşului, “Tăuşor” (bronze age, Suciu de Sus culture); at Ieud, the point “La Mănăstire”; in Lăpuş, a necropolis (bronze age); at Lăpuşel, village Recea; in the Chioar Valley; at Oarţa de Jos, the point “Vâlceaua Rusului” (bronze age, Wietenberg culture, Suciu de sus culture and period of migrations); at Oarţa de Sus: at Onceşti; Prislop, village Boiu; Sarasău; Seini; Suciu de Sus (bronze age); at Tisa, village Bocicoiu Mare; at Vad, village Copalnic Mănăştur (Hallstatt culture).