My Summer Research: Alice Isabella Sullivan in Romania


By Alice Isabella Sullivan, PhD Candidate
Jan 07, 2014 Bookmark and Share

sullivan summer research

Photographing the Church of St. Nicholas in Bălineşti

My summer research trip this year included visits to over 54 churches and monasteries from the region of northern Moldavia in modern Romania, museum visits, and study days in local archives. Support from the John H. D’Arms Fellowship, the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Program, and the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies made all of my research and adventures possible.

I started out my trip in Budapest where I spent a day visiting the medieval and early modern collections at the Hungarian National Gallery. Then I traveled to Timisoara where for about a week I worked with a local priest on the basic grammatical rules of Old Church Slavonic—the language in which most of the documents I work with were written in—as well as transcriptions and translations of certain relevant texts. I found it particularly useful to have these tutoring sessions prior to my scheduled trips to the archives. From Timisoara I traveled to Bucharest where I spent time at the National Archives, the National History Museum, and the National Museum of Art.

At the National Archives in Bucharest I was pleasantly surprised by the generosity and helpfulness of the staff members who showed me how to search for and order the documents I needed. I was also very impressed with how organized the archival materials were. For every document in the archive there was an inventory entry that listed the date of the document and a brief description in Romanian about its contents. I spent most of my time going through the inventories and selecting the documents I needed to study. My time there was very productive.

Most of the archival materials I studied this summer consisted of documents pertaining to the economic history of the region. I did come across a few letters that mentioned objects gifted to churches and monasteries, as well as documents that attested to the contacts between the princes of Moldavia during this period and the rulers of Russia, Poland, Hungary, and other parts of Europe. Some of the documents were already transcribed alongside the original, while others were even translated into Romanian, which was helpful.

At the National History Museum in Bucharest I was able to study firsthand a number of important objects from the reign of Stephen the Great (reg. 1457-1504) (e.g. an embroidered liturgical standard with St. George enthroned, made c.1500, that Stephen gifted to Zograf Monastery on Mount Athos; and a number of liturgical manuscripts from the period). At the National Museum of Art I met with the head curator from the medieval department who walked with me through the permanent medieval galleries. Then, she brought me to her office and gave me access to all of the images I requested of objects from the collection—objects that once belonged to the churches and monasteries I study, and objects commissioned by Stephen the Great and his son Peter Rares (reg. 1527-1538; 1541-1546), my two protagonists. I came across some of the images before, in various publications, but they were mostly in black and white and reproduced on a small scale, which was unfortunate and not very useful. Now that I have access to large scale color images of these objects it will be much easier for me to study and reference them in my future work.

From Bucharest I traveled to Ia?i where, in addition to the archival work I had planned to do while there, I started my daily trips to the churches and monasteries from the region. In total I visited 54 churches and monasteries! The majority of these monuments (about 50 in total) will be presented in the catalog that will accompany my dissertation. Prior to my trip I identified all of these key buildings and started organizing all of the information I had about them (mostly from my previous trip to Moldavia in the summer of 2012 and from secondary sources). Now that I have been to all of these sites I can describe the buildings from an architectural standpoint much more accurately in my catalog, provide current images, and supplement my initial notes with information gathered on site and from local publications, to which I did not have access to before. While visiting the churches and monasteries I also benefited from talking to various priests, nuns, monks, and caretakers, most of whom were happy to talk to me about the history of the sites, and the daily activities that currently go on there. At Sucevita Monastery the nuns even invited my brother and me to join them for lunch, which was truly an unforgettable experience!    

Close to the end of my trip I decided to visit two sites not included initially on my itinerary: Dracula’s Castle in Bran, and Pele? Castle near Sinaia, both nestled in the hills of the Carpathian Mountains in the region of south-eastern Transylvania. After going to so many churches in Moldavia, it was nice and refreshing to see two secular and more domestic, although quite lavish, architectural monuments.

My summer research trip this year was filled with adventures and very productive. Now that I am back in Michigan my plan is to complete the catalog for my dissertation and to draft two of the chapters. The support of the Constantine A. Tsangadas Fellowship will allow me to carry out these goals. Next summer, I intend to participate in the Medieval Slavic Summer Institute at the Hilandar Research Library at Ohio State University that offers courses in Slavic Paleography and reading Church Slavonic. After that, my plan is to return to Europe with clear research objectives for the remaining chapters of my dissertation.