Volumetric Peculiarities of the Dealu Monastery Katholikon, in the Context of Contemporary Ecclesial Architecture
- Mihaela Palade
Traditionally, the volumetry of an Orthodox church is crowned by the steeple placed above the nave, as a living image of the bond between the spiritual and the material realms, a ladder climbing from earth to heaven, as a firm response to the descent of heaven on earth. For both theological and aesthetic reasons, a number of different ecclesial architectural types have appeared, displaying not one but several vertical accents. We have selected for anaysis the type epitomized by Dealu Monastery, with three steeples placed in a peculiar volumetric structure.
Naturally, the Orthodox Church as an institution has a hierarchical structure, including both the clergy (bishops, priests, deacons), and the worshippers (lay people), with Christ as the head of this hierarchical organization. Therefore, along the times, the churches’ architectural layout has acquired a specific configuration, symbolizing the Church as mystical Body of Christ, hierarchical organized and run by Him; this is why the pyramidal type is prevalent, as its structure represents the transition from the many lower ones to the One above.
For his foundation at Dealu (1501), prince Radu the Great (1485-1508) abandoned both the type already present in Romanian architecture, with one steeple surmounting the nave, and the Serbian type with two vertical elements, a steeple on top of the nave and a belfry on top of the narthex – in favor of a novelty, namely a three-steeple church. This resulted in a peculiar volumetry of the entire building, much more balanced than those having only one steeple, as the value of the two secondary steeples „has great importance in the composition, ensuring the balance of accents and the harmony of the outline."
The architectural type of Dealu Monastery influenced the churches built subsequently, in two major ways: one of them concerned the architectural structure, the other the system of exterior decorations. At the same time, however, under the influence of Occidental ecclesial architecture, where churches have two steeples at the entrance, the structure of three-steeple churches (two secondary ones and one main steeple) underwent a change: the two secondary steeples were placed farther from the main one onto the nave, and came to be set at the very entrance, like guard towers.
In contemporary ecclesial architecture, the two secondary vertical elements resemble an immense gateway at the entrance of the sacred universe; however, due to their position and sometimes size, they have become detached from the central vertical element, which should have remained the dominant one coordinating the entire volumetry. These two smaller steeples, set farther from the great steeple and often oversized, constitute a separate group, placed at the western side of the church, which results in a fragmentation and even rupture in the compositional unity of the ecclesial ensemble. Thus is ignored and abolished a vital principle of the symbolism of ecclesial volumetric structure, according to which the great steeple of the church as a place of worship is the icon of Jesus Christ, the head of the Church as a divine-human institution. Therefore, in keeping with the principle of ecclesial hierarchy and in order to achieve the pyramidal volumetry, it is absolutely necessary that the other elements should be subordinated to the dominant one and enter a dialogue with it, so that they render the architectural image of church hierarchy, epitomized by the volumetric structure of Dealu Monastery katholikon.