My Country by Marie Queen of Rumania

There are some wonderful old churches in the country, stately buildings, rich and venerable, full of treasures carefully preserved from out the past.

I have visited all these churches, inquiring into their history, admiring their perfect proportions, closely examining their costly embroideries, their carvings, their • silver lamps, their enamelled crosses, their Bibles bound in gold.

But, in spite of their beauty, none of the greater buildings attract me so strongly as those little village churches I have hunted up in the far-away corners of the land.

None of the greater buildings attract me so strongly as those little village churches.

One part of the country is especially rich in these quaint little buildings: it is a part I dearly love. No railway desecrates its tranquil valleys, no modern improvement has destroyed its simple charm. Here the hand of civilisation has marred no original beauty; no well-meaning painter has touched up the faded frescoes on ancient walls. A corner of the earth that has preserved its personality; being difficult to reach, it has remained unchanged, unspoilt.

The axe has not felled its glorious forests, the enterprising speculator has built no hideous hotels, no places of entertainment; no monstrous advertisements disfigure its green meadows, its fertile inclines.

Therefore, also, have the tiniest little churches been preserved. They lie scattered about in quite unlikely places; perched on steep hill-tops, hidden in wooded valleys, often reflecting their quaint silhouettes in rivers flowing at their base.

Seen from afar, tall fir-trees, planted like sentinels before their porches, are the sign-posts marking the sites where they stand. The churches behind are o diminutive that from a distance the trees alone are to be seen.

These fir-trees seemed to beckon to me, promising that I should find treasures hidden at their feet—they stand out darkly distinct in the landscape, for it is a region where the forests are of beeches, not of pines.

Often I wandered miles to reach them, over stony paths, over muddy ground, through turbulent little streams and endless inclines, and never was I disappointed; the dark sentinels never called me in vain. The most lovely little buildings have I discovered in these far-away places.

Some were all of wood, warm in colour, like newly baked brown bread, their enormous roofs giving them the appearance of giant mushrooms growing in fertile ground.

There is generally a belfry on the top, but with some the belfry stands by itself in front of the church, and is mostly deliciously quaint of shape.

But with some the belfry stands by itself.

Indescribable is the colour the old wood takes on. It is always in harmony with its background, with its surroundings; be it on a green meadow, or against dark pines, be it in spring-time half concealed behind apple-trees in full bloom, be it in autumn when the trees that enclose it are all golden and russet and red.

The wood is dark-brown, with grey lights that are sometimes silver. Green moss often pads the chinks between the beams, giving the whole a soft velvety appearance that satisfies the eye.

Within, these rustic sanctuaries are toy copies of larger models; everything is tiny, but disposed in the same way. In orthodox churches the altar is shut off from the rest of the building by a carved and painted screen that nearly touches the roof, and is generally crowned by an enormous cross. At the lower part of these separations are the pictures of the most venerated saints. There are three small doors in these screens; during part of the service these doors remain closed.

The altar is shut off from the rest of the building by a carved and painted screen.

Women have no right to penetrate within the Holy of Holies behind the screen.

Beautiful icons have I sometimes found in these forsaken little churches, carried there no doubt from greater ones when so-called improvements banished from their renovated walls the old-time treasures forthwith considered too shabby or too defaced.

Well do I remember one evening, after having climbed an endless way, I came at last to the foot of the pine-trees that had beckoned to me from afar, and how I reached the open door of the sanctuary at the very moment when the sun was going down.

The day had been wet, but this last hour before dusk was trying by its beauty to make up for earlier frowns.

The villagers, having guessed my intentions, had sent an old peasant to open the church. As I approached, the sound of a bell reached me, tolling its greeting into the evening air.

The last rays of the sun were lying golden on the building as I reached the door. Like dancing flames they had penetrated inside, spreading their glorious light over the humble interior, surrounding the saints' painted effigies with luminous haloes.

It was a wondrous sight!

On the threshold stood an old peasant, all in white, his hands full of flowering cherry-branches, which he offered me as he bent down to kiss the hem of my gown.

Within, the old man's loving fingers had lit many lights, and the same blossoms had been piously laid around the holiest of the icons, the one that each believer must kiss on entering the church.

The sunlight outshone the little tapers, but they seemed to promise to continue its glory to the best of their ability when the great parent should have gone to rest. . . . Sitting down in a shadowy corner, I let the marvellous peace of the place penetrate my soul, let the charm of this holy house envelop me like a veil of rest.

The sun had disappeared; now the little lights stood out, sharp points of brightness against the invading dusk.

Hard it was indeed to tear myself away; but time, being no respecter of human emotions, moves on!

Outside the door an enormous stone cross stood like a ghost, its head lost amongst the snowy branches of a tree in full bloom. This cross was almost as high as the church. . . .

Varied indeed are the shapes of these peasant churches. When they are not of wood, like those I have just described, they are mostly whitewashed, their principal feature being the stout columns that support the porch in front. There is hardly a Rumanian church without this front porch; it gives character to the whole; it is the principal source of decoration. Sometimes the columns have beautiful carved capitals of rarest design; sometimes they are but solid pillars, whitewashed like the rest of the church.

Varied indeed are the shapes of these peasant churches.

Their principal feature being the stout columns that support the porch in front.

The columns have beautiful carved capitals of rarest design whitewashed like the rest of the church.

Quaint indeed are the buildings that some simple-hearted artist has painted all over with emaciated, brightly robed saints. I have seen the strangest decorations of this sort: whole processions of archaic figures in stiff attitudes illustrating events out of their holy lives. Then the front columns are also painted, often with quite lovely designs, closely resembling Persian patterns in old blues and reds and browns.

Quaint indeed are the buildings that some simple-hearted artist has painted.

The roofs are always of shingle, with broad advancing eaves of most characteristic shape.

The roofs are always of shingle.

A church have I seen in the middle of a maize field. The roof had fallen in, the walls were cracked, in places crumbling away, tall sunflowers peeped in at its paneless windows, and the birds built their nests amongst the beams of its ruined vaults. Pitiable it was, indeed, to contemplate such desolation; yet never had I seen a more magical sight.

The walls were still covered with frescoes, the colours almost unspoilt; the richly carved altar-screen still showed signs of gilding; hardly defaced were its many little pictures of saints. The stalwart pillars separating one part from the other stood strong and untouched except that in parts their plaster coating had crumbled away.