Journey through the Liturgical Bucharest




From April 15th to June 30th 2019, the Bucharest Municipality Museum – the Suțu Palace, will present the temporary exhibition called ”Journey through the Liturgical Bucharest”.

Among so much uncertainty and injustice that they face anytime and everywhere, the Romanian has only one escape: the Church; kneeled in the small dim lit church, in front of the iconostasis, where hundreds of candles smoke in front of the still figures of the saints – only there – he feels at home; protected, delivered, maybe even loved. The prevalent features of his religion are humbleness and serene acceptance of God’s will. The Book of Job and the parable of the Pharisee and the publican in the Scriptures are certainly the closest to his heart. Prayer beads, kneeling, endlessly crossing oneself, the ardent kissing of Christ’s feet in icons, all these gestures have nothing ostentatious; they are not obligations, nor Phariseeism, but humbleness and genuine repentance, entreaty of God’s endless mercy”. These words written by Neagu Djuvara in his book “Between the Est and the West” come to remind us of the lamp burning in each of us, the faith, the love of tradition and identity. These make us unique in the cultural diversity that surrounds us.

We have many records of Bucharest’s liturgical life, belonging especially to foreign travelers, impressed by the large number of churches. For example, James William Ozanne, a British man who arrived in Bucharest in September 1870 to take up a consul position, wrote in his journal about the 200 churches which, during the summer, shone in a beautiful spectacle that was noticeable from the Southern hills. The same number of churches is given by Patrick O Brian, and Irish man who visited the Capital during the winter of 1853. Nowadays, after nearly 159 years, Bucharest has about 270 churches.

Taking into account the local features of this old capital-city, we can assert that the cultural past of Bucharest cannot be separated from the religious life of its inhabitants. From the Middle Ages until the dawn of the modern times, cultivating one’s spirit, collecting one’s thoughts and the artistic manifestations happened around holy places. The city’s first scholars came from the ecclesiastical environment, and the first cultural environments were the churches and monasteries. That is where people could study, translate, copy and illustrate old religious manuscripts as well as paint icons. The first printing workshops appeared in monasteries, our first typographers were monks, royal figures or priests, and the first printed works which appeared in Bucharest were religious books.

This is why we decided to take a journey through the mysteries of this city in the exhibition called “Journey through the Liturgical Bucharest”.

We will attempt to rebuild a part of the sacred solemnity of a church, using valuable artistic components and worship items belonging to old monasteries and churches in Bucharest.

We will exhibit liturgical books printed in Romanian, during the 17th – 19th centuries in Bucharest’s printing houses (The Princely Printing House, The Metropolitan Church Printing House, Snagov Monastery, St. Sava Monastery): The Gospels, 1693, 1697, Missal, 1741, The Apostle, 1683, Pentecostarion, 1743, Hymn Book, 1792, The Akathist of the Mother of God, 1823, 1828.

In the past, liturgical books were used not only in the Church, but in the School and the Family as well. They were meant for sacred services in monasteries and churches, but served as reading manuals and for teaching religion in schools, as well as personal prayer books used at home.

At the same time, the liturgical clothing in BMM’s patrimony – the Textiles and Clothing Accessories collection – are authentic pieces, kept with great care, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, and which have been presented to the public before. This attire, also called “wedding attire” (Mathew 22, 11-12) is worthy of the sublime and majesty of the divine priesthood. Ever since the old times, the church established that priests should wear different clothes from the ones worn by laymen, because “during the divine service, they represent the heavenly servants of God”, and even during everyday life their costume should differ from the ones of laymen through form and color.

In this exhibition, we aim to present priest attires made of brocade, metallic thread and even embroideries inspired by oriental art from the Phanariot times. Decorative themes were borrowed, but faith remained the same.

The collection of Icons and Worship Items helps us recompose the image of the church through valuable pieces of art made in Balkan workshops or those specifically patriarchal.

The collections of Photographs, Post Cards and Photographic Negatives, Printed works and Graphic Art, offer us unique images of the churches in Bucharest, some of them demolished by the communist regime.

We aim to recompose an image of the old city, so that we may never forget what defines us.

Dr. Maria-Camelia Ene