Meşterul Manole

Meşterul Manole

In Romanian mythology, Meşterul Manole (roughly: "The master builder Manole") was the chief architect of the Curtea de Argeş Monastery in Wallachia. The myth of the cathedral's construction is expressed in the folk poem "Monastirea Argeşului" ("The Monastery on the Argeş River").

In the myth, the monastery's walls kept tumbling during the construction, which caused Manole to pray to God for help, in order to continue his work. His plea resulted in a vision telling Manole that the only way he could finish the building was to sacrifice his own wife, Ana (in full Ana lui Manole - "Ana, Manole's woman"), by walling her inside.

A well-known fragment of the poem depicts the struggle the oblivious Ana took in order to reach the construction site. A devoted wife, she aimed to show up in time with her husband's meal. Manole would have been watching her from atop the walls, begging God to present her with all possible challenges. While God paradoxically listened, and unleashed all sorts of small-scale disasters, Ana kept on walking.

After the building was finished, Manole and his fellow workers were stranded on the roof of their own creation by the ruler Negru Vodă, who commissioned the cathedral. This figure appears to be a fusion the mythical Radu Negru and Neagoe Basarab, the actual builder of the church. The account states that the Prince was jealous at the thought that the magnificence of the building might have been surpassed as long as the architect was still alive.

The action forced Manole and his team to build themselves wings out of shingles (the only material available to them) and attempt to fly off to safety. They all failed, but Manole flew the furthest, crashing on a spot that was caused to burst water (the fountain on one side of the church).

Many Romanian writers had this motif as source of inspiration. Among them, Lucian Blaga (in his "Meşterul Manole" theatre play) brought forth a modern take on the myth. In Blaga's version, Manole's self-sacrifice is not prompted by any gesture of Prince Radu, being instead seen as a personal journey. A similar tale in Hungarian culture is "Kőműves Kelemen" ("Kelemen, the Bricklayer"), whose synopsis is essentially equivalent to the story of Manole. Similar stories exist in Inner Mongolia (related to the Hunnic city of Tongwancheng) and in the Southern Balkans, in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria.

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