Travels with Stephen Part 2


Against fearsome odds King Stephen had defeated the massive armies of the Ottoman Turks but he knew they were likely to return.

In the aftermath of his extraordinary triumph, a campaign of building monasteries emblazoned with richly coloured paintings from the Bible commenced.

At the same time, Stephen demanded that the monasteries also be able to resist invading armies. Orthodox Christianity had no choice but to become a warrior faith and it certainly couldn’t rely on the Catholic Christians to come to its aid.

And so the odd combination of beautiful biblical scenes painted in bright colours on churches and buildings surrounded by high solid walls, the only point of access a narrow portal with enormous, heavy doors.

In this, the painted monastery at Tagu Neamt was no exception.

From the monastery we planned to walk back to the town following a trail marked on our map of Moldovia. Arriving there early in the morning, the place was deserted (the pilgrims were due to arrive later in the day) – except for one other person: an elderly monk.

 We communicated in German. He was a bit of a character. When we asked him about the trail from the monastery to the town, which was marked on our map, he told us that it was no longer used.

‘It goes through the mountains. You will have trouble finding it. Many years ago we monks used it because this was the quickest way to reach the town, but with the roads now, no one needs to do that anymore….’  

 He was right about the trail. 

After tracking up a mountain side and looking around we gave up and instead followed an unsealed road which hedged along a river.

It was a remarkable journey and I found myself on a kind of pilgrimage….

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Travels with Steven Part 1



I kept on running into him, never knowing who he was.  

I crossed borders, changed countries, and there he was again: bloody Stephen.

Statues of Stephen. Stephen with a sword. Stephen with a holy cross.

Parks, schools, streets named after him.

His image on bank notes.

Stephen (or they called him, ‘Stefan’): hero of the southern Slavic peoples.

 Defender of the Faith. 

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