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 Stephen The Great’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 The Great 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.
Yeah, this dude is on every bill of Moldovan currency (printed AND as a watermark). Back at school we had to learn a poem (called “Stefan cel Mari si Codru”) where basically he was returning home after a defeat and his mother didn’t let him into the castle, saying that he can’t return unless he wins. And since his troops were killed, he went into the forest (the Codru) and trees turned into a new army and he won! Isn’t this wonderful!!! Well, the poem is much more interesting than this narrations, but you get the idea.
During my 2005 visit to Romania, the monastery I found most intriguing was not one associated with Stephen the Great or Vlad Tepes, but Vlad’s grandfather. That monastery is at Cozia. I actually used a Lonely Plant guide book during that trip but overlooked it in my reading. Was so glad our translator & tour guide took us there. Its a beautiful place, inside and out.
What a sweet family…but I wonder who was the cooler uncle? Badass, or Dracula?
@Vit – I love that kind of trivia. Thanks!
@J – Cozi is really something, isn’t it? And so way off the tourism beaten path. I loved it.
@Zach – Yeah, I was wondering what family reunions would be like with those two. Never a dull moment.
Vlad Dracula’s greatest achievement – putting Stephen the Great on the throne of Moldova.
Just a small correction, he won 44 battles hence the 44 monasteries.
I am headed to Europe next week, and am contemplating a side trip to Romania. Assuming that I have time enough for only one, which of those monasteries should I pick?
@Alex – Thanks! You should see the numbers I see at various sources. Makes a guy doubt pretty much all history older than 1989.
@Griffin – I’m afraid that’s impossible to answer. It all depends on what your preferences are. I’m personally partial to Voronet and Sucevita, but one of the best guides in the area swears by Moldovita (which I find comparatively ho-hum). It’s all in the nuances. I’ve described them all here. http://romaniaandmoldova.com/romania/moldavia/the-painted-monasteries/
All directions I was given ore heard in Iasi start with Stephen the Great:
“You know the ATM right on the corner at Stefan cel Mare?”
“Walk over to Stefan cel Mare, go about 3 blocks toward the palace, hang a left…”
“What? That’s way too far from Stefan cel Mare. Take a maxi taxi.”
You can pretty much tell he’s a badass from his sweet little molestache and goatee.
I think the most badass part is that many of the places he erected were made world heritage sites.
Oh wait, I read that wrong.
Stephan is the greatest hero of romania i advise you to come here to visit some of his monuments but with our president basescu the worst leader ever lived in romania will shurely tax every breath you do in this porr country .Dont come here
Stephen Cel Mare also backstabbed Dracula and left his cousin at the most vulnerable time, only to try and take Chilia land in 1462. Dracula many years later forgave his cousin and even helped him when the sultan invaded Suceava. Dracula fought alongside his cousin, but what many do not know, is Stephen was relative of Ivan the third. His daughter Elena married Ivan the thirds son. Stephen gave up his daughter to secure ties with Russia.
I find it angering, that not many know of Dracula’s galantry and always think Stephen was the good guy. Stephen did many worse things to people(much more than Dracula). Then he is the “athlete of Christ”??? The poems and propaganda people seem to think is all true about Dracula. Mathmatically and using only the True historical documents most supposed attrocities could not have occured. There was not populations to sustain the text incriminating Dracula in these “made up” crimes. During Stephens hiding from Petru aaron after Petru killed his father and Draculas uncle Bogdan, Dracula helped stephen regain his throne.
Yet not more statues are erected for Dracula.
Stephen was injured in the battle for Chilia castle by Dracula’s men, and oddly enough, this was the injury which continued to ail Stephen and eventually caused his death. No wonder he was so pious afterwards because he knew he betrayed his own blood!
They reconciled but clearly he was taught a huge lesson….or maybe he was just bitten by the Vampire….maybe this played a part in the spread of the legend…..Stephen had the fame and power to effect hisorical memories of the nation.
Alex, could be interesting to check the historical records. My understanding is that not only did SCM erect a church after each battle but he also erected one after each of his (8?) legitimate sons
births’. That could be where the difference in numbers may be. Please correct me if you wish.