In the first centuries of the Christian era in the Carpahian-Dniestrian space the first Christian appeared. Among them were the acolytes of the Audias bishop, which in the IV century were expulsed by the Roman Emperor in Schitya Minor (nowadays Dobrogea). They went north from the Danube, where they founded many monasteries. Within these, according to Epifanios saying “the monastery rule flourished”. In conformity with the early Christian tradition those monasteries could be only rupestrial (cave) monasteries. Since between Prut and Dniestr there were large places with calcareous breaches there were great possibilities for the Christian monks.
For the early Christian community the conditions form the Old Orhei micro zone were perfect. This mysterious area seemed to have descended from the heavens. Its pronounced cave character favored the primary monasticism and hermitage. It was isolated in a way from the outer world, far from the crowded centers of the Roman Empire, far from the intensive trading rotes it was beneficial for the establish early Christian communities. The Christians in the process of searching for Messiah could not miss such a divine place like the one from ravine near the nowadays Butuceni and Trebujeni villages.
At the beginning of the Christ’s era on the cliff banks of Raut should had been many smaller and bigger caves, cut deep in the calcareous rocks by the natives (Gaeto-Dacians, Old Thracians or other pre-historic tribes). Looking for more efficient protection means in dangerous times, edifying a more perfect spirituality they penetrated “inside the rocks” in order to “become a rock” and to be closer to the divinity. The Christians from the 300-400 AD probably had used the existent at that point caves in Raut’s valley as those from other similar regions of the Middle Dniestre basin (Saharna, Tipova, Japca, Socola, etc.) working hardly to build new religious places. Once the Christian light was lit and settled on these lands, it could not be extinguished, determining the leading path to the locals for many centuries ahead.
In the times of massive migrations Christian life from the caves at Old Orhei became eternal and saint. As a result of a profound spirituality setting up, which survived over the centuries the numerous moving, passing nations. In the medieval period the cave complexes from Old Orhei evolved very much. The monastery life intensification determined the monks to deepen the old caves, to rearrange them in accordance with the Christian cannons, to built in the rock new caves, cells for hermitage, underground churches and galleries with many monastery rooms.
At present some of the monastery complexes are preserved quite well, other though were damaged to a lesser or greater extent by the historic events or by the natural catastrophes (mainly by earthquakes frequent in this area). The analysis of the rocks from Old Orhei shows that over the centuries fell in the water of Raut tens of monastic cells, only some foundation elements from these are visible today. Still, many cave complexes are in a good shape even today, representing a genuine pearl string within the museum complex from the Raut’s valley.
The cave dwellings from Old Orhei in a result of century long evolution, got the present shape by the XV-XVII centuries. These complexes are dislocated in two sectors: in the northern side of the Butuceni headland and in the opposite bank of the river (Ruptura Bacotei) south form the Butuceni headland. From the archeological point of view, in the area 6 cave complexes are identified. These comprise about 100 Christian monastic rooms. From these two are complexes found on the northern slope of the Butuceni promontory (Pestere Monastery and Monastery of Bosie) represent distinct monasteries, with underground churches and galleries of adjacent monk cells. Other four cave complexes (Pestere, Holm, Stinca Corbului and Chiliilor (Crow’s and Chililor Rock)) are of a smaller size, but impress no less with their separate cells for recluses, and layered galleries for greater monastery communities.
The first cave complex located at the northern end of the cave range, at about 500 meters towards the St. Mary church, is the Monastery of Bosie situated at 20-30 meters above Raut’s water. This is a very archaic complex, with well thought architecture. It is formed of galleries arranged in few ranges with a cave church, having a nave and pro-nave, roomy cells and inscriptions from the XIV-XVII centuries, etc.
A writing in Slavic language is cut on one of the inside walls of the church. It says: “This monastery was built by God’s slave Bosie, chief magistrate of the district of Orhei, together with his wife and children, to the slave of God and the forgiveness of his sins. Selevestru, year 7173 (1665)”. There is also another writing in Romanian language with Cyrillic letters:” This writing was made by Vasile Adeescu with Rezmerita Leca in the times of Constantin Voda, when Ukraine has wintered in Ivance and Steta hetman had been to Ukraine and we wintered then here. Year 7198 (1689), November 20”.
We will mention that these inscriptions were made on top of other older writings, probably form the XV-XVI centuries, which are partially preserved till today. At the entrance in the church an icon was built in. On that place till today the time o fits installation is preserved-1772. Beside these, in different places on the stone walls there are mysterious signs, archaic crosses and Cyrillic letters.
The second cave complex, located at about 30-60 meters above the Raut water, is on the western side from the Monastery of Bosie, under the bottom of the Gaeto- Dacian citadel, in the area of St. Mary church and to the west from it. The complex comprises about 30caves, some of them inaccessible without special equipment, arranged in several horizontal rows in the calcareous rock on a portion of about 250 meters. In the calcareous walls of the cells there are many incised signs, some of which resemble signs from the early Middle Age, noticed on similar complexes from different regions on pottery, bricks or on stones.
The third cave complex is Pester Monastery, situated on a height of about 60meters above the waster of the river, next to the previous cells, with about 50meters to the west. The monastery was formed of a wonderful cave church with an altar, nave, pro-nave and patio, with a impressing number of monastic cells, and a corridor of stairs to the Raut, partly ruined, with a superb newer tunnel (1820), representing an unalienable symbol of the saint underground place. Next to the steeple, over the cave church on the verge edge of the headland a huge stone cross dated with the XVIII century is installed that organically blends with the saint scenery of this cave monastery.
The forth cave complex, the one from the Mountaineers’ Rock or Holm, is situated at a distance of 300 meters, down from the Butuceni bridge, in front of the western edge of the Butuceni headland, on the opposite bank of Raut. It is formed of recluse cells practically inaccessible, greatly destroyed by the earthquakes, and arranged at a height of 80-100 meters above the river’s water.
The fifth cave complex is “under the Bacota forest” or in Stinca Corbului, much more accessible that the previous one. In it on the same vergy right bank of Raut, at about 100 meters to the south from the previous complex, at a height of about 80-90 meters above the water of the river. It is composed of 20 monastery caves, placed in four layers, one on top of the other. Inside the caves, on the walls there are sacral signs and other inscriptions with an archaic character, some of them being similar with the early medieval vestiges.
The sixth cave complex, in the Cillilor Rock, is located 400 meters south east from the previous complex, on the same stage of the steep bank of the Raut river, exactly in front of the Gaeto-Dacian fortress and of the St. Mary church to the south. The respective complex is known under the name of “Schitul lui Rafail” (Rafail’s Hermitage). It is formed of more layered caves, adapted for a recluse life. The monastic life at Old Orhei continued till the year 1816, when after a conflict with the landowner from the region, the monks had to leave the caves from the Old Orhei and go to other monasteries in Basarabia. IN 1820-1821 people from Butuceni, not having a church of their own, decided to use for prayers the church in the rock. Then was built the tunnel that unites the cave church with the Butuceni village. The cave church functioned till the beginning of the XX century, when the religious service was held in the church of St. Mary, built in1904 on top of the Butuceni headland. In the following years the cave church was periodically used for certain religious ceremonies. This continued till 1946, when the canonicals and iconostasis of the church were thrown into the water of Raut by the communists after the process gradual degradation of cave complexes from Old Orhei had begun. In 1997 the monastic life at Butuceni was resumed.
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