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New Europe

Day Fifty-five: North to Maramures

Michael Palin - New EuropeWhat is so immediately striking is that the whole of the church is painted, inside and out, with every inch of its long, thin exterior walls frescoed in graphic detail, like a comic in stone and plaster.

Jesus rises in glory, flanked by prophets, apostles and evangelists. Man falls into hell, in a tumble of naked bodies prodded by black-tailed devils in an underworld populated by eels and octopuses. Miracles are reproduced with dramatic panache, saints are scourged and put to death. In one powerfully fantastic scene, an executioner with drawn sword stands beside a row of freshly decapitated martyrs, blood spurting from their necks whilst their severed heads, haloes still glowing, roll around on the floor.

There is a graphically depicted siege of Constantinople, which must at the time have been the equivalent of television news footage.

All were painted around the same time, anonymously, onto half a centimetre of rapidly drying plaster, with such skill that many of the frescoes have survived without restoration for nearly five hundred years.

The nuns who care for the church and the monastery cook us a wonderful vegan lunch. After an aubergine and tomato roulade, we have soup, then beans and gherkins rounded off with chocolate and walnut cake. They ply us with a distilled plum brandy called palinca which sends me quickly into a state of euphoria.

My last image of Moldovita is of a nun, all in black, bent over a vegetable patch with a low sun picking out the fine stone walls and turrets of the monastery behind her.

Nearly three hours later we're winding our way slowly behind logging-trucks up towards the 4,600-foot Prislop Pass. Once over it we're out of Moldavia and into the region of Maramures, a small strip of beautiful but backward country hugging up against the Ukrainian border.

By way of introduction a thick cloak of dark coniferous forest almost smothers us as we run down the valley, gradually giving way to meadows and small villages with wooden houses whose high steep roofs mirror the ridges of high steep trees until night falls around us and the houses and the churches and the fields and the forest merge into one long darkness.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Fifty-five: North to Maramures
  • Country/sea: Romania
  • Place: Moldoviţa
  • Book page no: 135

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