Şcoala Solomonară - Meşterul Manole

Le Maitre Manole / Master Manole / Meşterul Manole

Introduction in the popular ballade of Master Manole -
by Valentin S. Vartan

In the year 98 AD roman emperor Traian had a great goal: the conquest of Dacia, with all its riches. After three years, in the winter of 101-102 AD, he crosses the Istria (Danube) along with an army of 150000 soldiers on a bridge made of boats. He makes this crossing downstream of Cazane, at Dierna, near modern day Orsova.

After a bloody battle at Tapae, where roman technology says its word, the roman army is victorious, but Traian sees that his armies are too tired to be able to be able to siege the dacian capitol, Sarmisegetusa. Thus he agree upon an embarrassing truce for the romans. Furthermore, in spring 102, Decebal, king of the Dacians, along with the sarmatians and the bastarns, cross the Danube and raid Moesia Inferior, forcing Traian to move his legions to the south-east. Still, the forts of Nicopolis and Adamclisi are taken, and set ablaze by Decebal. Traian oncemore asks for a truce, and in 103, using tact and diplomacy, manages to convince Decebal of his good intentions, and in the name of good commercial relations, a sufficiently good motif appears to bring in the famous architect Appollodor of Damascus, who builds a grand bridge over the Danube, in the Drobeta area, modern day Turnu Severin. On this bridge, which was finished in 105 Traian again crosses the Istria, and attacks Decebal on multiple fronts, focusing on his capitol. Without allies, and constrained on defensive, Decebal and Sarmisegetusa fall in 106 AD, and Decebal takes his own life. Thus almost all Dacia is transformed into a Roman Province, called Dacia Traiani. Even though Trainan was victorious, and he brought to Rome more gold then ever before seen, for some unknown reason he decided to personally take charge of the new province until fall 107 AD. He requested Appollodor to build an infrastructure which will work fluently even after his return to Rome. His interest or personal relation with the new province will reflect on later, when the Emperor again asked Appollodor to build, this thime several monuments to commemorate the wars, including the famous column that can be seen today in the Eternal City.

We have taken this historical trip to explain that a ballade about the architectural phenomena (in our case eastern-European) cannot be taken away from its maternal element of the elenistichal-roman culture, that is at the base of the modern European culture. She reflects, beyond the notifications or omissions of the manuscripts, a Historic Truth about the Bizantin Christian Cult, which combined the Sacrality of the former cults in the Roman Empire, thru the expression of the Architectonic Monument.

The ballade, as a specific opera for Medieval Europe, is the concrete formula of what we could appreciate today as being the main form of an uncensored message transmitted toward (and thru !) the mass-media of those times. We are suggesting that in those times as well there was a form of subtle messages that had to avoid a certain censorship installed by the lack of written information in those times. In a such world, only the Word and the Architecture were left as vehicles of communication and information transmission.

As the ballad of Master Manole is concerned, in the end we have to get on the territory of Ungrovlahia, as it is revealed by Italian author Luccari P in 1605: Copioso ristretto de gli annali di Rausa. Thus, the ballad makes reference to the zone which was to become known as Tara Romaneasca, acknowledged by Rome as an independent country only in 1303, when Radu Negru Voda, ( herţeg de Almaş şi Făgăraş) came to throne from T?#351;or. Initially, the state existed under the rule of the Aslanesti and Basarabi Families, but it had to play an intricate political game of alliances in order to guarantee its continuity in a perilous area, which contained the north of the Danube and the Southern Carpathians. This territory rightfully belonged to the Romanian-Bulgarian Empire, which existed here on the ruins of the former Eastern Roman Empire. Without entering the background of the Ungrovlahian history, the crown of the principate actually belonged to the old valachian catholic and Transylvanian noble class. Thus it became a political necessary for Rome to build a monastery on the Arges River.

The researcher that travels the tour of the Romanian fortresses can easly discover that most of them are build on the foundations of the old roman casters or Greco-roman temples. It is time to suggest to our researcher to look at thing from a realistic point of view. Namely, that here in the East, there is not one mention of the name of a Master Architect that would have been the coordinator of all the construction works. Certainly, the information about the chief builder or the craftsman that have worked on these reconstructions will be inexistent. As if the farmers around the fortresses or cathedrals suddenly became overnight masters, even more, there has been an ipothesis that these native and weird masters built all the buildings in Transylvania thru their own skill, then resumed their life as farmers or cattlemen. No one is saying that the farmers didn? play any role in this. They provided the raw materials, as well as working force to build these structures. But if a thing can be executed without a Command of some sort, or without Commanders, then this entire work of mine must be canceled, and we shall revert back to a theory of spontaneity, as some left oriented social classes would like to make us think it happened.

If we are to revisit the pre medieval castles of Cladova, near Arad, or the one at Turnu-Ruieni, or Mehadia, near Herculane- Mehedinti and a lot of others, the guide will direct us to notice the similarities of the architectonic style to the post-roman style similar to what one would find in France, or England of the III-rd or IV-th centuries. Other than that absolutely nothing of scientific value will be pointed out.

The absolute anonymity of those that dealt with the maintenance and reconstruction of the post-roman fortifications, or in our case of the simple reconstruction of a church was sometimes deconspired by the population thru ballads. The legendary ballad of Master Manole describes the events that happened during the construction of the Arges Monastery under the reign of Radu Negru Voda, on the river Arges, near a ruined fortification, included in or near to the wave of Traian. The location exists, and has been consolidated in 329 by the architect Theophilius Patricius, under the reign of Constantine the Great, but it falls once more in ruin during the invasion of the migrating people, especially the Visigoths, cumans, and the slavo-bulgarians. From a gravure dating from the XVII century that depicts in that area those walls, we deduce that the ruins seeked by the king were those of an ancient pre-Christian basilica, either demolished or burnt down.
( Fig. 74 - The curch San-Nicoara of Curtea de Argeş )

The legend situates that place in the Gura Vaii area, a Sacred Area, where the locals still believe today that a treasure is deposited.

The version we are providing belongs to the poet Vasile Alecsandri from the XIX-th Century, and was heard by the poet in that exact area, while he was traveling across the country, in the period before he became a politician, under the rule of Alexandru Ioan Cuza. In addition to the legend of Master Manole there still exist the popular version known today as The Treasure of Negru Voda, re brought into attention by Codin ?monca in a communicate held in the opening of the International Simposion The Presence of Churches in a United Europe, Arad 19-20 may 2005. The author also quotes Mircea Eliade? "Comments on the legend of Master Manole" who says about the place where the monastery is to be built that it? "pretty obscure this search of Negru Voda of the abandoned and unfinished wall."

Both legends tell that Radu Negru Voda was accompanied by Manole and his Craftsmen, and there was an agreement about the choice of the location upon which the monastery would be built, based upon some principles of Architecture that our heroes were much aware of.

Beyond the theories of certain speculators, interested to maintain that there were no architects on the ruins of the former Eastern Roman Empire, to be more precise on the northern border of the Byzantium Empire, the ballade offers a troubling answer.

One that hasn? Romania or hasn? visited the medieval Transylvanian fortifications, prefers to remain in the camp of the speculators. In fact, it is much easier to speculate, on a territory that has been constantly devastated by migrations for over 400 years, then to go in and investigate, which might take a long time spent on field work. However, there is still an answer to find regarding the truth on how the stonecutter? guilds were maintained to this very day, the same alphabet used by both the Duty Companions in France, as well as the Transylvanian ones. There can be only one explanation, namely that all these symbols and techniques were passed on by these guilds, and these symbols could not have been applied to other crafts, but stonecutting.

So, these symbols were of no use to a simple farmer.

Anyone visiting the area of Maramures or the Apuseni Mountains, will notice that churches are still being built today using the same techniques of binding wood and stone as 500 years ago as any other basilica in the West, but on a smaller scale. Examples are to be found at Densus or Strei, or later at Barsana in Maramures. In these three examples of stone or wood building there are visible elements of construction that can be seen in Normandy or Ireland.

Back when I was a child, I learned from a poem that the ancestors of Master Manole, called the Children of Solomon, or Solomonaries, along with the children of Saint Jacques of France built the Krac des Chevaliers in Jerusalem, immediately after the First Crusade, to fortify the Holy Land against the Arabs. This was made at the request of the Abby of Cluny. The poen cannot be translated accurately, without losing the rime or the structure of the verse. We will attempt a free translation of the title here, but bare in mind that this is not the original form of the poem. There are several expression in the Old Romanian language that have no correspondence in modern day English. "We were gone with the Holy Sack, to make the Devil some pants."

This Poem is actually a sarade, a four verse poem kept among the Disciples, in the Solomonary tradition. Here we can find the historic moment of the alliance of the Freedom duty with the Companions, made possible by the First Crusade. The two guilds joined forces and skill to build Something in common, under the banner of the Holy Church, using the same rules of Architecture. As far as the allegory about the Devil, we know that there is a certain link with the Order of the Dragon, that has already been signaled by the presence of Saint George slaying the dragon on the armour of some of the crusaders.

Probably, in those moments, the marks and codes of the guilds have been updated between the two structures that had the same parent: The Roman Empire.

Perhaps the legends and traditions are simple myths that few are willing to take into consideration, but the research that will follow may confirm the oral traditions of the European Culture. It is a known fact today that the masters from the East, as well as those from the West used to belong to a social category that had to pay no taxes. Of course, this thing caused envy among the locals in the area where these guildsmen used to work for the richer members of the community. Perhaps this is why they were forbidden to sign their work, so that nobody would remember them in the future. Still, it seems that sometimes they were allowed, however, to sign their names on the structures they built. An example is the Church at Golesti, where the master signed his name on a stone in a less visible place, writing "Stonemason Stoica" ("Pietrar Stoica"- original quote). Besides that, all the Churches eliminate any trace of the names of the Masters and Builders that worked on them.

Amongst the practicians of the Royal Art there was the tradition that secrets regarding constructions to be passed only inside a certain circle. This type of complex art (both military and civilian) was based on the Golden Section, on the rule of the pitagorian harmonics, rules about location, and last but no least details about how stone and wood must be carved. In one way or another, these Laws of Beauty sporadically turn up in modern day constructions, but they have been largely forgotten. We only find them by chance in the Byzantine Greco Orthodox East, where most of these secrets are still being used to design churches and wall paintings, until almost the beginning of the XX-th century. In the West, however, the passing from the Gothic style to other styles caused the loss of many adepts of these Rules. Between the builders in the east and those in the West a large gap has been created, and each one gained or lost something.

That is why some rulers that crossed from the Ardeal to Moldavia and the Romanian Country brought with them their Traditional Masters of the Royal Houses, a continuation of the Old Roman Empire. Thru this gesture, they wanted to prove a natural continuity of the spiritual element and the royal symbols. They needed the Imperial Guildsman, that were the symbol of Rome, or here in the east, the symbol of Constantinople.

Because these guilds were under the command of Royalty, they could not nominate their passing thru Time with the King. It seems that this loyalty or silent agreement worked very well in Eastern Europe and thus we can easily explain the lack of signatures in stone and wood, even in the documents regarding the building itself. The ballade that we present here becomes an argument to sustain this theory. There are two important issues in the end that have to be remembered :

King Radu Negru Voda from Tarsor, principle of Arges and Fagaras brings with him, in 1290 nine great craftsmen and journeysmen, and with Manole ten, who is greater than all to erect the Arges Monastery.

It is very interesting the fact that the ten men, along with the king are looking for the ruins of a wall that has to be the foundation of the new building. This wall is the key to the ballade, as it shows the transcendent link between Radu Voda and the spiritual and the symbolism of the Old Royalty, symbolized in Europe by the Roman Empire, along side with the Architect. Sometimes beauty and splendor are so close to the Natural Matrix, that the only thing left for us to do is to discover it ourselves and continue to belief in the good power of the Revelation, in other words in Something that is beyond the meaning that man has given it.

Valentin S. Vartan

Bibliography :

* Daicoviciu C, "Rumänien Archaeologia Mundi", München - Geneva - Paris, 1972.
* Fol A., Marazov I., "Thrace and Thracians", New York, 1977.
* Wiesner J., "Die Traker", Stuttgart, 1963.
* Kahrstedt U., "Beiträge zur Geschichte des trakischen Chersones", Baden-Baden, 1954.
* Maurice Vieux, "Lumea constructorilor medievali", Ed. Meridiane, 1981.
* Jean Gimpel, "La revolution industrielle du Moyen Age", Editions du Seuil, 1975.

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