One of the most significant rulers of Moldavia during the seventeenth century, Vasile Lupu (1634-1653) was a court official who attained the throne of as a result of a revolt by native boyars against Greek officials who had gained significant influence in the Romanian principality during the period of Ottoman domination. Ironically, Vasile Lupu himself was of Albanian descent and had received a traditional Greek education. He was an ambitious ruler who imagined himself a successor of the Byzantine emperors.
To consolidate his power, Vasile Lupu allied himself closely with the Ottomans at the beginning of his reign and imposed a policy of high taxation in the principality to finance his grandiose endeavors. He hoped to reconstitute the union of the three Romanian principalities of Moldavia, Wallachia, and Transylvania which his predecessor, Michael the Brave, had briefly realized in 1600. To achieve this, Vasile Lupu tried to convince the Porte to remove his rival Matthew Basarab from the throne of Wallachia. To this end, he undertook two unsuccessful military campaigns, in 1637 and 1639, hoping to seize the throne of the neighboring principality.
Education, art, and culture flourished in Moldavia during the reign of Vasile Lupu. He was a true patron of the arts. He established a college in his capital city of Iași called the Academia Vasiliana, which remained as a royal school in the principality until 1821. Working closely with Varlaam, the Metropolitan of the Moldavian Orthodox Church (now venerated as a saint), he set up a printing press that published important religious books in the Romanian language. In an effort to cement his role as the leader of the Orthodox world, the successor of the emperors of Byzantium, Vasile Lupu convoked a synod of all Orthodox believers in Iași in 1642 presided over by the Patriarch of Constantinople. This was the first synod of all Orthodox believers since the Great Schism and its purpose was to debate and ultimately approve the profession of faith written by Peter Movilă, the metropolitan of Kiev in 1638. This served as a foundational document for the Orthodox Church to help combat the challenges posed by Calvinism.
The monastery of the Three Hierarchs, built in 1639, stands as the greatest artisitc and architectural achievement of Vasile Lupu’s reign. The church preserves the forms of traditional Moldavian architecture, but stands apart with its exquisite stonework. The church is covered from top to bottom with rows of sculpted stone ornamental geometric motif, no two rows or symbols being alike. Legend holds that the church was gilded in gold, making it radiate magnificantly in the sunlight, but that during an invasion by the Ottomans the gold was melted down for plunder.
Whatever the truth, its unique stonework makes the Three Hierarchs Church a true treasure of world artistic and religious heritage. It is a monument to Vasile Lupu’s cultural achievements. As part of his policy to improve education in the principality, he also opened a school at the monastery. To enhance the prestige of his new religious construction, in 1641, the prince arranged with the Patriarch to bring the remains of St. Parascheva to the Three Hierarchs Church in Iași. They remained there until 1889 when they were removed to the new Metropolitan cathedral in Iași. She became the patron saint of Moldavia and her feast day on October 13 remains a major holiday.
In 1645, Vasile Lupu changed the direction of his foreign policy by allying with Poland. Between 1646 and 1650, Tartar and Cossack raids devastated Moldavia. To try to achieve peace, Vasile Lupu used marriage alliances to strengthen his political position and to consolidate his rule. In 1645, to consolidate his new alliance with the Poles, he arranged the marriage of his eldest daughter Maria married Polish nobleman John Radziwill. An elaborate wedding ceremony marked the union.
Next, in 1650 Cossack leader Bogdan Hmelnițki demanded that Vasile Lupu’s youngest daughter, Ruxandra, marry his son Timuș. After much hesitation, the wedding finally took place on September 1, 1652. Renowned for her beauty, Ruxandra became a legendary tragic figure in Romanian history and folklore. She died beheaded by Cossack invaders in 1685. The story of her life being dramatized in famous novels by Nicolae Gane (Domnița Ruxandra, 1873) and Mihail Sadoveanu (Nunta domniței Ruxandra, 1932), and immortalized in C. Gane’s famous work Trecute vieti de doamne și domnițe, first published in 1932, recounting the lives of famous princesses of the Romanian lands.
The peace that Vasile Lupu tried to achieve was short-lived. Burdened by high taxation and tired of grand ambitions of their prince, Moldavian boyars, led by Logofat Gheorghe Ștefan, and supported by Wallachian and Transylvanian troops, revolted and occupied the capital city of Iași. Vasile Lupu then fled to Poland where he awaited help from his son-in-law, Timuș. With Cossack support, Vasile Lupu defeated the rebels and regained his throne. He continued on the offensive, invading Wallachia and reaching as far as Târgoviște. A great battle ensued near the Ialomița River at the village of Finta on May 27, 1653. During nearly seven hours of fierce fighting in a swampy and wooded terrain, the Wallachian lines held firm against the attacks of the Moldavian and Cossack forces. Finally, the Wallachians broke the Moldavian lines and forced invaders to flee in disarray. Although wounded in the leg, Matthew Basarab had inflicted a decisive defeat on his arch-rival Vasile Lupu. Supported by Matthew Basarab, Gheorghe Ștefan then retook the Moldavian throne, forcing Vasile Lupu again into exile. His son-in-law Timuș, husband of Princess Ruxandra, died defending the royal fortress at Suceava.
Following his defeat, Vasile Lupu went to Istanbul, hoping to regain the favor of the Porte and to win Ottoman support to recover his throne. Because of his earlier betrayal of Ottoman interests, however, he was imprisoned for several years. When he was finally released, he helped his son Stephen gain the throne of Moldavia in 1659. He died in Istanbul in 1661. Although he did not realize his grand political ambitions, Vasile Lupu will forever be remembered for his remarkable contributions to Moldavian culture. His story also illustrates the oft-overlooked close connections between the Romanian and Albanian peoples. Visitors from around the world today still admire the magnificence of his Three Hierarchs Church in Iași.
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