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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Biserica Sfintilor (the Church of Saints)

Once it entered its modern times Romania set for its capital the aim to become a Little Paris, and the new epoch built over the old ones. There is however a spirit of the place, traveling through centuries, a time capsule, keeping the hidden message of what Bucharest really is.

To decipher the code is difficult, if not impossible, maybe because each new age did its best to forget the old one, and Bucharest is in the same time many things (one of them being the desire to model itself over the Parisian universe, of course; maybe to be in sync with the modèle du jour: think at the period between the two world wars with the superb Avant-Garde constructions downtown; or think at the present period with the huge sky-scrappers and malls). However, beyond the successive models there is something else.

The old churches of Bucharest can give you a hint on the way to discover the spirit of the place. Nicolae Iorga coined the expression Byzance après Byzance: Bucharest became at a certain moment a very important pillar of support for the Eastern Christianity, the Greek Orthodoxy.

Please excuse this digression. I want to tell you here about one of the old churches of Bucharest that I passed by often, but only the last weekend I entered inside for the first time. It is a small church, like so many old churches of Bucharest, like all of them it is very well balanced architecturally and the tiny space offers intimacy for your thoughts and prayers.

It's Biserica Sfintilor (the Church of Saints), on Calea Mosilor (not far from Hristo Botev Boulevard). It was built in 1728, replacing an older church.

What makes this church distinct is the exterior painting. There are nineteen large mural icons, surrounding the church, built on the upper register of the wall.

Nineteen icons means nineteen saints, hence the name given to the church. Actually the nineteen images are not Christian saints. Ten of them represent sibyls, and the other nine represent philosophers: the exterior icons express the deep respect kept in the Eastern Christianity for the Greek wisdom of antiquity!

The images are symbolic, following the Byzantine tradition: one of the philosophers is represented having a coffin protruding his head. Life is all vanity.

As I said, I had never entered this church so far, I passed by often, looking at the sibyls and philosophers and trying to understand, as much as I could: Eastern Christianity recognizing the efforts and achievements of the ancient thinkers on their path toward reaching the primal and ultimate truth, the Logos!

And here can be a hint to help us in discovering the hidden spirit of Bucharest! Maybe we should talk here also about other old churches of the city.


(Icon and Orthodoxy)


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