Moldova is renowned due to its unique cave monasteries established inside natural and manmade caves onto mount tops. Such cloisters represent interest both for researchers and tourists: the monasteries keep many mysteries to discover. Scientists suppose that there are much more cave monasteries in Moldova than it has been known at present. Apart of the well-known cloisters in settlements Tipova (Rezina district), Saharna (Rezina district), Butuceni (Orhei district), Japca (Floresti district); there are several more cloisters in Cosauti (Soroca district), Calaraseuca (Ocnita district), Molovata (Dubasari district), Soroca and others, yet they are poorly explored or the traces of monastic life have vanished. A visit to a cave monastery provides for unforgettable impressions and one may penetrate into absolutely different life as it was led in remote times.
In Butuceni settlement (Orhei district), which is included into the historical-cultural museum complex Old Orhei, there is a unique monastery inside a rock over the Reut River.
The walls of the monastery are always cool, even when it is hot outside. Recently the monastery was reconstructed; the handrails and wooden entrance door have been installed. A church was established inside the cloister to see burning candles and crowds of people. From the church one may come out to a rock terrace to admire the picturesque scenery.
This monastery is inhabited: monk Efim is permanently residing in the cloister (his secular name is Nicolai Babici), who watches the order in the cave church and responds to the questions of frequent visitors. Only during cold winter days he goes to spend nights in the monastery onto the top of the rock.
It is arguable when exactly the cave monastery appeared. Some scientists allege that the monastic life was led here since ХII century, while others refer the foundation to ХV century. The monastery was discovered in 1821, when the residents of Butuceni settlement cut a 20-metre corridor in the rock and found themselves inside a church. The cloister was revived: a belfry was erected above the entrance, which at present indicates the position of the church beneath the earth inside the rock.
In the neighborhood of the monastery, onto the same shore of the Reut River inside a steep rock the traces of another church have been discovered, where once the divine services were carried out. The inscription onto the rock reads that the monastery was founded in the place in the year 1675 by parcalab (military governor) of Orhei town Bosie. According to other sources—the Moldovan deeds—the monastery existed here even earlier.
Close to the belfry above the cave monastery there is one more “ground” cloister. The walls of the church “Dormition of the Theotokos” constructed in ХIХ century are painted nice yellow. The monks are willing to tell the tourists their stories about the unique monument of Old Orhei.
Tipova cave monastery (Tipova settlement, Rezina district) is located onto the rocky shore of the Nistru River. This Orthodox cave monastery is the largest not only in Moldova, but also in all Eastern Europe. The monastic community of the cloister formed here much earlier than the Moldovan Feudal Principality. Some cells are considered to have been caved in a steep rock already in X-XII century. Another part of monastic premises dates back to XVII—the turn to XVIII centuries, when the Turkish yoke was thrown down and the monks settled closer to the mount top. This is the period that saw construction of a new church inside the rock, a belfry, 15 cells, refectory and many household premises linked by multiple galleries and stair passages. Since 1776 the monastery saw its blossom and expansion. The cave church was divided into larger premises parted one from another by massive columns.
In the soviet epoch the monastery was oppressed and closed. In 1974 the ruins of the cave monastery of Tipova were taken under State protection, while in 1994 Orthodox divine services were resumed. According to beliefs, Moldovan Gospodar (Ruler) Stefan cel Mare got married to Maria Voichita in this monastery, while another legend reads that these rocks witnessed the last days of Mythical poet Orpheus, whose relics were buried in the niche of a canyon’s cascades. The monastic ensemble encompasses 2 parts carved inside a rock at the height of 90-100 metres. All in all, 18 rooms have survived that are linked together by stairs, internal passages, terraces and balconies. Of special interest is the church “Dormition of the Theotokos”. It is rather spacious, the walls are plastered.
In the place that once hosted the church “St. Nicolas” which has not survived till nowadays the archeologists have discovered two ancient icons. The first depicts the Theotokos with the inscription in Old Slavic style: “This sacred icon appeared onto the rock in the year 1466 after the Birth of Christ during the living of Bishop Damian, who resided in the fortress of Bessarabia. Me, Bishop Damian, have installed the icon in the church “St. Hierarch Nicolas” constructed in the rock below the fort, during the living of Maria, daughter of the landlord of the fort Kyr—Stefan Toadere Basarab, that was left orphan aging 18 years old and inherited the fort. The inscription has been made by me, Bishop Damian, being 83 years old.” The monastery is open for visitors daily.
The cave monastery in Saharna settlement, Rezina district, was established approximately in ХII-ХV centuries. The nature of the place is divine. Should one come down from the cave monastery along the path, you will get to the waterfall with crystal clean water. Closer to the cave cloister there streams a powerful spring, the waters of which are considered healing. Several years ago a pool was constructed by the spring. Deep forests, rocks, pure water—all this helped the monks to subsist. While the cells of the cloister placed inside the rock in a canyon were well sheltered from enemies by trees. Thus, the nature saved the monks from persecution, and the cloister—from plunder.
Having established the cloister in the midst of the rocks, the monks arranged a facade-house in front of it. Later, in 1776, 1857 and 1992 the annex was renovated.
The monks residing in the cave monastery established a ground cloister. Atop a rock there is a footprint left by the Theotokos according to the legend. Above it there is a small chapel. The legend reads that a monk from the cave cloister saw a lit appearance of the God’s Mother. While reaching the top, the monk found a footprint in the rock—the signthey believed to be the divine proof of “Godly purity” of the place. Later, in 1777, closer to the canyon they built a new wooden church and founded the monastery “Saint Trinity”. At present, this is one of the most popular monasteries in Moldova.
The cave monastery is open for worship, yet there are no hermits. Though, tourists are often guests who come to witness the miracle. The monastery is located in isolation from the “ground” cloister half kilometre far and could be accessed via a mountain path protected by handrail.
Japca Cave Convent “Ascensio Christi” is located in the north of Moldova in Floresti district (160 km far from Chisinau). According to the legend, the founder of Japca cloister was monk Ezekiel from Lviv who was travelling across Bessarabia. With the feeling of compassion for the residents of Japca, who were deprived from the possibility to construct an ordinary church due to frequent forays of the Tatars, the monk proposed them to build a church right inside the rock located in the direct closeness to the settlement. With time, cells were carved in the rock by the church, and monastic community was formed.
Since its foundation in XVII century the cloister was much reminiscent of a fortified erection. The first reference of the monastery dates back to the year 1693, when the monks subsisted in rocky cells and carried out Divine Liturgy in the church carved inside the rock. In the year 1770 the monastery was located right in the place where we find it today.
This period the monks built auxiliary premises for household needs and enhanced the monastery. They also gathered a rich book collection. The stone churches were built to the turn to XIX century. The most prominent church of the cloister was rebuilt several times. At present, there are three altars in it: “Ascensio Christi”, “Holy Transfiguration” and “Life- Creating Cross”. This is the only one cloister that was not closed by soviet authorities. While inside the cave cloister there is a church as yet. Though, rare Divine Liturgy is carried out there for only a physically trained person is able to climb atop.