The Country That I Love by Marie Queen of Rumania

CHAPTER 4

RUINS OF COMANA


ALL ruins have for me a strange attraction. When I see them from far I always try to get to them, never mind how bad the road. I know one, not far from Bucarest, which has conserved lines of greatest beauty: the old convent of Comana.

Built between the years 1601-1611 by Radu Serban Vodă, its restored church still guards the bones of that Prince who was a worthy follower of Michael the Brave. Like that great predecessor his battlefield was Transylvania. He knew the sorrow of defeat and died in exile, but his bones were brought back from the cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna to lie in the solitary convent he had built on the edge of a river in a lonely, lonely place.

Now it is a ruin, the noble outline of which rises unexpectedly against the sky; massive and crumbling it lies like a sleeping monster in a region of lakes and swamps. A slow-flowing stream winds past its base, tranquilly the great building mirrors its ancient beauty in the waters that appear to pause a moment in their course, to contemplate the old walls which once were the proud dwelling of a prince.

Almost forgotten is the road which leads there. After the melting snows it is so muddy that ox-carts only dare venture upon itóthis but adds to the melancholy mystery of the place.

I have been there on a glowing summer's evening; the air was so still that it seemed suspended above our heads, so still was also the water, that the convent's reflection was a second building seen upside down. The old walls and the bare bank they stand on were uniform in colour; no tree, no shade for miles around, but to the river beneath, two white-grey oxen with mighty horns had come for their evening drink. Their master was resting beside them gazing in lazy content at the sinking sun; the day's labour was done, peace and oblivion lay over this quiet corner of the world.

I climbed about every part of the ruin, slipping through the crevasses of the walls, scaling steep inclines, risking myself upon rotting staircases so as to reach the open balcony, which, with its slender columns, is a real treasure of ancient art.

Half decayed are the steps that lead up to the tower-like building that forms its base, but from between the columns there is an unobstructed view over the river and the many swamps beyond, which lose themselves in the dreamy distance of the plains.

In springtime these swamps are ablaze with yellow irises; innumerable snipe house amongst the rushes, attracting the sportsman with gun and dog.

The church within the courtyard has been repaired, thereby losing both beauty and charm; but the old walls surrounding it have guarded the admirable proportions of the buildings of those times.

In places the double gallery of columns, one above the other, is still perfectly preserved, but in part the proud walls are but a shapeless heap of brick and stone; weeds, wild-flowers and brambles have taken possession of them, nature mercifully covering with her artless beauty that which man has let fall to dustóthus man's neglect and nature's prodigality together have turned these heaps of ruins into an enchanted spot.

Of unpleasing proportions, grey-painted and pretentious, the once-fine church, alas, mars a harmony otherwise perfect. Within, nothing of interest except the old stone marking the place where Radu Serban Vodă is sleeping his eternal sleep.

Just before Bucarest fell a great battle was fought round about the ruins of Comana. Upon scenes of death, struggle and suffering, must the once-proud convent have looked down, amazed and horrified at the modern inventions of man.

What remains now of the dear old convent? Have the shells of civilization destroyed its last beauty that, like a fading dream, only half belonged to our times! Has the columned balcony, the building's dearest pride, fallen with so much else that has fallen in this most merciless of wars! With anguish I ask myself how many sons of weeping mothers of many countries died alone and unaided beneath the shade of its walls? Did their blood redden the water which so peacefully mirrored the convent's time-scarred face? Those same waters which, on that evening now so long ago, I had seen reddened by the sun's last glow, those waters which seemed but a painter's fantasy as setting to a picture of peace and repose!

From within his tomb did Serban Radu Vodă hear the voice of the cannon, so unlike those used in his time, and was he aghast? Or did he alone, amidst all the turmoil, smile a wise smile at all the useless noise of this world, having found beyond the Great Shadow a verity which here none of us know? Or, oh! most dreadful of visions, did friends' or enemies' shells tear up the bed wherein, after so many wanderings, Serban Vodă had at last thought to find rest?

Questions which remain awhile without answer, for at present Comana belongs to the places that are ours no more

It is the season when the yellow irises must be gliding its many swamps, but no one can tell me what is the silhouette that the slow-flowing stream now mirrors in waters that so lately have absorbed a red other than that of the setting sun!

Not far from Comana is a place which has a name well-known to every Roumanian: the name of Călugăreni, a little village not far from the River Arges. In days long past Michael the Brave won a battle there over the Turks.

The legend will have it that it was the great hero's bravery that won the battle; hatchet in hand he threw himself into the thickest of the strife, therewith spreading terror in the ranks of the foe!

Wallachians, Hungarians, Transylvanians, and even Cossacks were under brave Michael's command, and all the nobles of the land fought at his side. In that memorable battle many a Turk of high degree lost his life, amongst others the Pasha of Caramania; and the Grand Vizir Sinan, commander-in-chief of the Turks, was severely wounded and thrown from his horse.

But another battle, ever so much more deadly, has been fought lately round the village of Călugăreni. We know not its details, nor do we know how many brave soldiers lost their young lives in that place.

An old cross stands there, grey and weather-beaten, giant in size; because of its grim beauty often did I come to contemplate its graven sides. A legend is carved all over it, on the front and on the back and upon its outstretched armsóbut the story has still to be written of the last battle fought at Călugăreni. I know not who will write it, nor in what words, but one thing I know; it is a story that our people have already written with their tears and their blood. . . .