Curtea de Arges Church & Canterbury Cathedral

 Curtea de Arges Church & Canterbury Cathedral

     Curtea de Arges Church

The town of Curtea de Arges lies 38 km northwest of Pitesti, at the foot of the Fagaras mountains, in the Arges river valley.
     Written documents give evidence of the fortified town of Arges since 1330, whereas during the Middle Ages, it was the second capital of Wallachia after Câmpulung and before Târgoviste. The Court of Arges stronghold includesthe oldest church in Wallachia, the Princely Church. Built by Radu Negru, the founding prince of Wallachia, otherwise known as Basarab I and his son, Alexander, the Princely Church has front sides made of apparent bricks and river stone. It is decorated with painted frescoes, actually the first samples of Romanian painting (14th.c), which, though observing Byzantine tradition, are very much alive and personalized, and thus much closer to Giotto's art styles than to the rigid mannerism of the Greek masters.
     A more impressive monument, the Episcopal Church, or the Monastery of Curtea de Arges, was founded by prince Neagoe Basarab between 1514-1517, on the site of a metropolitan church which had been raised in the 14th century and acknowledged by the Archbishopric of Constantinople in 1359.
     The legend has it that one day, a very wealthy and religious Wallachian prince, the Black Prince, rode with nine masons and their master Manole to find a place and build a church more beautiful than anyone may have seen before. The masons started to work, but whenever they reached to the top, the walls would colapse before they could ever finish it. They decided that the first human being they would lay their eyes upon was to be sacrificed in order to see their work done. And it so happened the Manole 's wife showed up to bring her husband's lunch, so that he had to keep his vow and immure his own wife alive within the church walls. The place of this immolation can still be seen between two walls of the southern front side of the church. This is how the monastery could be finished, and the prince was pleased to find that it was as beautiful as it could be. But the prince would not want Manole to build another church that could match his own. So he ordered the scaffolding removed, which left Manole stranded on the roof. In an attempt to escape, Manole made himself a pair of wings from shingles, but they were of no avail, and he would crash to the ground like Icarus and die. Upon his crash, on that very spot, a spring would gush forth, which is now called Manole's well. Today people would throw coins in its basin, to make their wishes come true.
     Like with so many other cultural sites of the world, at Curtea de Arges Monastery legend and truth intermingle and form up an inseparable whole, lending a special flavour to the flow of historic facts and figures.

     The Monastery Curtea de Arges, built in Albesti stone along with marble and mosaic brought from Constantinople by Neagoe Basarab (1512-1521), has the classical harmonious aspect of an Orthodox church: the pronaos (also a necropolis), the nave and the altar have a peculiar architecture and rich ornaments: a boxy structure enlivened by whorls, rosettes and fancy trimmings rise into two octogonal belfries, each having eight narrow windows frames, each festooned with little spheres and the three armed cross of Orthodoxy. The roofs of the four belfries seem to have been made by a goldsmith, whereas the chains which support the crosses seem to be large pieces of jewelry.

     A belt carved in stone as a rope twisted in four goes all around the church dividing its exterior walls into two sides, namely the lower side, decorated with rectangular tall panels framed in carved stone, with narrow windows, and the upper side, with a range of largely opened arches which encircle the church. The decorations of the disks which link the arches have Arabian, Persian and Georgian motifs, in green, in blue and golden colours.
Prince Neagoe's secretary, Gavriil Protul would describe the monastery as outshining in beauty the monasteries of Sion and St. Sofia built by Emperor Justinian. It was Neagoe Basarab's hope that his achievement might be a piece of "God's Heaven". In 1654, a foreign traveller would rank the monastery among "the wonders of the world".
Prince Neagoe Basarab died before he saw his "temple" finished. His son-in-law Radu from Afumati (1522-1529) took over and brought Dobromir of Târgoviste to paint the interior walls (1526). Unfortunately, the paintings restored in 1875 by Emile Lecomte de Nouy's brother are inferior to the original ones. Fragments of the genuine frescoes made by Dobromir can still be seen at the Art Museum and at the National Museum of History in Bucharest.

     Along time, the church was successively damaged by wars, plundering, earthquakes, fires and was restored during the rules of Princes Matei Basarab (1632-1654), Serban Cantacuzino (1678-1688) and Bishop Iosif Sevastis at the end of the 18th century.
Whatever the patrons and artists who designed this church, it remains impressive by its votive paintings, by its marble gilted bronze, by its onyx iconostasis, by its twelve columns with floral ornaments representing the twelve apostles. In the pronaos there are the tombs of its founders, Neagoe Basarab and Radu from Afumati, as well as of the first couples of Romanian kings and queens (Carol I and Elisabeta, Ferdinand and Maria) which render this church not only a princely, but also a royal necropolis, alongside a splendid monument of Romanian art and history.

   Canterbury Cathedral

     The first Archbishop of Canterbury was St Augustine who arrived on the coast of Kent as a missionary to England in 597 AD. He came from Rome, sent by Pope Gregory the Great. The story goes that Gregory had seen "Angle" slaves for sale in the city market and struck by their beauty, had remarked "not Angles but Angels". Such a people he was convinced should be converted to Christianity, and ordered Augustine and a group of monks to set out for England.
     On his arrival Augustine was given a church at Canterbury by the local King Ethelbert whose Queen, Bertha, was already a Christian. This building had been a place of worship during the Roman occupation of Britain.  Soon consecrated Bishop, Augustine established his seat (or "cathedra") in this place as the first Archbishop of Canterbury. The present archbishop, George Carey, is 103rd in the line of succession.

     Until the 10th century the Cathedral community was a family of clergy, living a regulated life as the household of the Archbishop. Not until 998 do we find evidence that they were living by the Rule of St. Benedict as a formal monastic community. The Benedictine community of monks continued until the monastery was dissolved in 1540.
     The next year a new Foundation, called the Dean and Chapter, was constituted by Royal Charter. Today there is a Dean and four Residentiary Canons in the Chapter, who, with the Precentor, make up the establishment of full-time clergy.
     Canterbury Cathedral is linked to the lives of many great ecclesiastical and national figures. Among the former are the Saints of Canterbury – Augustine, Theodore, Odo, Dunstan, Alphege, Anselm, Thomas and Edmund - all of whom were Archbishops of Canterbury and held in universal respect.

     The one who became most famous of all was Thomas Becket, who was murdered in his cathedral on 29 December 1170. Appointed by his King and friend, Henry II, to bring the Church to the heel of the monarchy, he did the reverse. He espoused its rights in the face of the King’s desire to control them.
     Four knights, with their own agendas of complaint, thinking to ingratiate themselves with the King, came to Canterbury and killed the Archbishop in his own Cathedral.
     In the Reformation period Canterbury had a series of distinguished Archbishops, among them Thomas Cranmer, who compiled the first two Prayer Books and established what was to become the liturgical tradition of the Church of England and Anglican Churches the world over.
     Cardinal Pole was Archbishop during the reign of Mary I, the period of the Catholic Restoration, and Matthew Parker and John Whitgift were the greatest of Elizabeth I’s Archbishops.
     With the Civil War, the Cathedral was sacked by the Puritans (1642), the Cathedral Chapter was dissolved, and it was not until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 that the Church of England was re-established and life returned to the Cathedral. The fabric was repaired, the daily services were resumed and Chapter re-established.
     Few changes occurred until the middle of the nineteenth century, when a series of energetic Archbishops and equally vigorous Deans, began a transformation of the life of the Cathedral.
     The twentieth century has seen a major restoration of the Cathedral fabric, the revival of pilgrimage (now on ecumenical lines), a re-ordering of liturgical services and a great renaissance of the Cathedral’s music. Outstanding among Archbishops has been William Temple, and Deans with international reputations have been George Bell, Dick Sheppard and Hewlett Johnson (the Red Dean).
     In 1982 Pope John Paul II visited Canterbury and with Archbishop Robert Runcie prayed at the site of S. Thomas Becket’s martyrdom.

     The Cathedral enjoys many links with cathedrals and churches throughout the world. A special relationship, both historic and contemporary, is with the Abbaye Notre Dame, Le Bec-Hellouin, in Normandy - normally referred to simply as 'Bec'. Archbishop Lanfranc, Abbot of St Stephen's, Caen, and previously Prior of Bec laid out the monastic plan of the Cathedral in 1070 and left the first great Romanesque church. His successor, Abbot Anselm of Bec - arguably the greatest of the Archbishops of Canterbury - followed him in 1093.
     Both lie buried in the Cathedral under stones inscribed with their names - Lanfranc in St Martin's Chapel and St Anselm in the chapel dedicated to his name. Today, a warm relationship exists with the community at Bec. This includes the sister community of nuns who live in the same valley at the Monastére Sainte Françoise-Romaine, over whom the Abbot of Bec also presides. Our common spiritual concern is for the unity of the Church, and visitors travel frequently between the two communities, just as did the monks of the 11th century.

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