Saint patron day: Coverage of the Mother of God (October 1st)
Year of foundation: 1859
Prior: Casian Oniţa
Cenobitic life: 7 monks
Accommodation: 10 persons
The Călugăra Monastery (1859) is the oldest Romanian Orthodox monastery from Banat with an uninterrupted past of monastic life. Here, the traveller finds peace in the murmur of service and prayer in the heart of the mountain, guarded always by the cross from the gates of heaven.
From Oraviţa, the road takes the pilgrims towards the Călugăra Monastery, 2 km east of Ciclova Montană, in the heart of the secular forests of Mountainous Banat, at the foot of a steep, almost 1000 m high, called “The Rolului Rock”.
At Călugăra, the soul of today’s man regains the peace of a legendary world. It is said that, even in these agitated times from the beginning of the third millennium, the faithful still hear the angels singing on the Monk’s Valley.
The history of the monastery is related to the discovery of the four “signs” for which the place is considered holy: the voice of the angels, the relics of the hermit from the cave, the healing spring, and the wondrous icon of the Virgin Mary and the Infant in her arms.
Tradition says that, almost 200 years ago, on June 8th 1830, a goat shepherd, Iancu Cârşovanul, heard the choir of angels coming from the forest where today the road winds up to the monastery. The voice from “heaven” was heard then for the first time. Returning to the village, the shepherd told the story to his mates. Since then, from mere godliness, the simple people began hanging icons in the trees near the rock where the divine songs echoed. On Sundays and Feasts, the believers lit candles above the icons and knelt to listen to the voice of the angels. Even today, in front of the monastery, there is an icon of St. Elijah the Prophet carved in a more than 100 years old beech tree. More amazing is that the icon, after all these years, has not been covered with the bark of the tree.
Also from the local tradition we can find out how the hermit’s bones were discovered in the Rolului Rock cave. From a family of priests, the young theologian Alexie Nedici knew about the story of the young people from Ciclova Montană, according to which “two monks from the Ciobeni Monastery used to come to the Ciclova Montană area each year, on the Sunday of the beginning of the cheese fast. One was sheltered in the rock cave that separates Ciclova Română from Ciclova Montană. Later, in 1727, the Roman Catholic Church “Mary of the Cliff” was built on the rock, from where the hermit would read prayers for the Romanians and for the colonists. The other hermit found shelter in one of the caves on the Rolului Rock, where the divine songs were heard. “[Timiş C., 2011]
The testimony of the practice of the hermits is preserved this way, who, coming to the Călugărului Valley in the mountains, cherished tranquillity and prayer. Therefore, although they were making their endeavours on the same location, they had small chapels right in their cells, where they prayed by themselves for the whole week. Only on feasts they used to gather in the cell of their confessor.
According to the theologian’s story, two believers from Oraviţa, Mihai Nafir and Ilie Strâmbei, together with a local, Ion Izverniceanu, investigated the place thoroughly and in the cave with the ceiling crafted by human hands, in the Rolului Rock, discovered the bones of a hermit and an icon of the Mother of God with the Child in her arms. After an older chronicle, here was the cell of the shepherd who brought the icon from Mount Athos, addressing his daily prayers to it.
“After the discovery of the cave, a miner widened it, a carpenter fixed a wooden cross over it, and then it was adorned with icons painted by the painters Mihail Popovici and Dimitrie Turcu, from Oraviţa. The cave thus arranged was consecrated by the priest George Petrovici, together with the young theologian Alexei Nedici, on the night of 10th – 11th July 1859, in the presence of the teacher Constantin Popescu and a lot of believers from Ciclova. “[Joanţă V., 2004]
After consecrating the cave, Alexei Nedici became a monk and went throughout the surrounding villages and in Caraș Valley to raise money for building a monastery, arriving even to Vienna to meet Baron George Sina, from whom he received great financial help. This is how the church of the monastery was built in the years 1860-1861, consecrated with a great ceremony on October the 1st 1861, by Bishop Emilian Kengelat of Vrşeć and was given the saint patronage of “Coverage of the Mother of God” (1st of October).
The church of the monastery is today a historic monument, built of stone and brick, with tin roof, having a rectangular plane of 17.30 m long and 7 m wide, divided into semicircular altar to the east, a nave and narthex. The tower is in the Baroque style, with a height of 12 m. Over the years, more improvements have been made to the monastery. In 1862 the monastery’s cells were built, and in 1942 the church was renovated according to the design of the architect Dimitrie Boitor from Oraviţa. The interior painting realized in Byzantine style, using the tempera technique, was made by the painter Nicolae Popovici, a priest in Cacova (today’s Grădinari). The iconostasis was carved by a talented sculptor from Oravița, Aurel Cotarlă. After the completion of these works, the monastery was consecrated on the 3rd of October 1943 by Bishop Veniamin Nistor of Caransebeş.
During the Communist period the church was in an advanced state of decay, so it was restored in 2000 with the blessing of IPS Laurențiu Streza. On October the 1st 2009, Father Lucian, bishop of Caransebeș, celebrated the Divine Liturgy in this place, marking the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the monastery.
In times of need, the Călugăra Monastery and the nearby caves were the shelter of Adam Neamţu’s outlaws and his partisans of the anticommunist resistance.
The reflective silence of the woods and the monastic tranquillity that surrounds it are disturbed only by the murmuring of the healing spring, with its clear and cool waters descending among the limestone cliffs of the Rolului Rock. The priest and the historian Nicolae Tincu Velia testifies in his work about the healing waters of the spring, writing in 1865 the following:
“Believers of all nationalities and confessions, even from Vrsat, were running to this place for worship to bathe in the spring’s water that seemed to be healing. The Călugăra Monastery has the same age as the oldest Romanian monasteries … it is more than 600 years old. “[Joanţă V., 2004]
In the nave of the church they preserved, the relics of the hermit in a burial coffin, whose name remained unknown, petrified bones discovered in the cave in 1859.
But look for the “priceless treasure” of the monastery, the wondrous icon of the Mother of God, who listens to the sins and troubles of people, pouring comfort and soothing on those who come to the monastery. Darkened by weather, discoloured by time and perhaps by the tears of the hermit, the icon wants to remain as it was made. The monks had tried to restore it, but at night the paint fell off. The icon of the Virgin Mary and the Child in her arms has never left the church of the monastery. No one can say how it happened, when after its discovery, it was taken in the evening by the believers and taken to the “Church among the willows” in Oraviţa, and at dawn the icon was found in its place again, in the church of the Călugăra monastery. In time, the hand of the Mother of God has done several miracles: a woman, who had been blind from birth regained her sight by asking to see her child for the first time; a man straightened his paralyzed hands and feet, healing himself by going around the church three times, at the urging of the Holy Mary in his dream.
The spiritual founder and the first abbot of the monastery was the hieromonk Alexi Nedici, and today the monastery is under the care of the father abbot Casian Oniţa, who chose to embellish the church, to expand the cells and to pave the access road to the monastery. The difficulty of climbing reminds us of the Road of the Cross, of the sufferings that Jesus Christ has endured for the forgiveness of the men’s sins. But once you get to the monastery, you will have the blending sensation of heaven with earth, the joy after suffering with the joy of heaven. A wonderful, legendary, world-famous landscape where you feel closer to heaven and you can find peace and shelter from the worries and insecurity of the world.