The Iași Metropolitan Ensemble is also called “Moldavia’s Jerusalem” or “Mother of all Moldavian churches” due to the fact that it is the regional residence of the Orthodox Church.
It was moved from Suceava to Iași in 1677 by Voivode Antonie Ruset, during the time of Metropolitan Dosoftei, in order to respect the Byzantine tradition of having the princely administration and the metropolitan’s chair in the same town. The metropolitan’s seat was moved in the current space after it was placed for a while in the Nicolae Domnesc church, in the Princely Court.
The Ensemble is comprised of the Metropolitan Cathedral (1887) in the central part, the Saint George Church (1769) towards the boulevard and the Metropolitan Palace (1905) to the south. A series of outbuildings were erected or remodeled during the works of 1962: to the south-west the Metropolitan Office, to the north-west, the “Dumitru Stăniloaie” Ecumenical Library and to the north, the Saint George monastic hostel (right wing) and “Epivata House” (left wing). After recent restorations, in 2016, an elegant Metropolitan Museum was founded in the basement, under the Metropolitan Cathedral, under the western terrace and under Hodocin’s fountain or the “Gothic Fountain”, an old wrought iron drinking fountain made in 1851 by the Czech engineer Mihailik de Hodocin.
Saint George Church or “The Old Metropolitan Church” was finished in 1769 and is reserved to monastic life. It has a typical Moldavian structure, with a thin shape and medium size. It is impressive due to the massive Corinthian columns, the accolade trefoil arches and the mosaics from the porch plated with tomb stones. The façade is decorated with Corinthian pillars and a braided frieze, symbol of the infinite and the Divinity.
In 1833 the works on the Cathedral’s construction began, after the demolition of the Stratenia Church (“The Meeting of Christ”) which dated back to 1682, also built on the ruins of the former White Church built in 1472. The Viennese architect Gustave Freywald adopted the neoclassic architectural style, influenced by the shapes of Italian Renaissance, following the towering proportions of Western cathedrals, with a capacity of over 3000 people. The construction was initially designed with a central dome of large sizes (as in the case of the St. Peter’s basilica in Rome), but its huge weight led to cracks in the resistance walls and it finally collapsed in 1839. After 40 years of ruin, the works were restarted by the architect Alexandru Orăscu, rector of the Bucharest University, which gave up on the central dome, replacing it with a system of four vaults separated through transversal arches, but kept the four lateral towers. The Cathedral’s inauguration in 1887 was made in the presence of King Carol I of Romania who contributed through consistent donations for the completion of the works. On the right side of the central nave, two years later, the relics of Saint Parascheva were brought from the Three Hierarchs Monastery, along with a part of St. George’s relics.
Above the entrance, on the western wall, the vaulted semi-circular mosaic is truly impressive, representing the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, and the bas-relief representing St. George. The church has a basilica plane, with two lateral naves, separated through marble plated archways and decorative Renaissance elements. The wall painting was also made in a Renaissance style by the great painter Gheorghe Tătărescu from Bucharest, and the windows are decorated with stained-glass. On the entrance wall, we can admire the founders’ painting, King Carol I and Queen Elisabeta, but also the metropolitans Veniamin Costachi and Iosif Naniescu (the first started the project and the second one, finished it). The iconostasis impresses through the ornamental sculpture in linden tree wood, covered with gold foil, and having floral motifs (stems, flowers and leaves of acanthus). The richly adorned royal and bishop thrones are placed in front of it. The icon of Virgin Mary, which is considered to be a miracle worker because it was noticed that it wept in 1854, is of great importance for believers.
The annual city celebrations are linked to the day of St. Parascheva (the 14th of October), when the biggest Orthodox pilgrimage in Romania (about half a million pilgrims) takes place. The cathedral is a magnificent place of prayer and collectedness where all age categories can be seen, looking for an approach to spirituality.
The Metropolitan Museum, located in the basement of the Cathedral offers an unforgettable experience through the seven theme halls: Synaxarion Hall, Oblation Hall, Founder’s Hall, Ekkelsia (“church”) Hall, the maze called the Path of the Cross, the Clerical History of Moldavia Hall and the Baptistery Hall with an impressive Neo-Byzantine painting signed by the master Grigore Popescu.
The Life of Saint Parascheva
In Greek, “paraskevi” means “preparation” or “Friday”. People have known St. Parascheva under the name of Saint Friday. She was born in Epivat, in the east of today’s Bulgaria, in the first half of the 11th century. Overwhelmed by the word of the Evangel, which she heard at the age of 10, she started giving her clothes to poor people, which terrified her parents. She couldn’t bear the torments and beatings of her parents and went into the wild, fasting and doing charity. She stopped in Constantinople, afterwards at the Monastery of Heracleea, where she did only good deeds. After she went to Jerusalem, she left for the Jordan Valley, where she lived at a nun monastery. She was buried on her native land, and after a century she was canonized.