Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great)

Romania Month continues with a look at ‘Stefan cel Mare’ (Stephen the Great, ruled 1457-1504), defender of Moldavia, founder of monasteries and total badass.

It’s a rare day when a Romanian doesn’t speak this guy’s name, not only because he was the closest thing to a superhero that Moldavia has ever had, but his name adorns squares, boulevards, streets, statues and landmarks in virtually every city. When reading a Romanian address, if the place in question is located on ‘Boulevard Stefan cel Mare’, rest assured that this is the biggest or most important (or both) street in the city.

During his reign as Prince of Moldavia, Stefan repulsed forces from Poland and Hungary and his heroic resistance against the Ottoman Empire was admired throughout Europe. Pope Sixtus IV awarded Stefan the Atheta Christi (Champion of Christ) award. Although it’s said that he untiringly fathered over 20 illegitimate children, Stefan was nevertheless considered holy enough for canonization by the Romanian Orthodox Church under the mouthful of a title ‘The Right-believing Voivod Stephen the Great and the Saint’.

When he wasn’t building a battle record of 34 and two (sources vary wildly), he erected 44 churches and monasteries, many of which are now Unesco World Heritage sites.

Strong, battle-savvy leadership ran in Stefan’s family; his cousin Vlad ‘Tepes’ Dracula, though distinctly less pious in temperament, also fought – or, more accurately, frightened off – the Turks during his reign as Prince of Wallachia.

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