Colţea Church of Bucharest is a historic and architectural masterpiece, located in the historic area of the capital, across Km. 0 near University Square, being ascribed to the District 3 Deanery of Bucharest. The church is the only building that still reminds us today of the monastic hospital founded early back in the eighteenth century by Mihail Cantacuzino, a monastery dedicated to the “Three Holy Hierarchs” ( “Trisfetite”).
The building, together with Colţea Hospital, form an architectural ensemble , guarded by a statue of the founder – Mihail Cantacuzino, made in Carrara marble by Karl Stork (unveiled in 1730). This ensemble is considered to be a significant part of the cityscape in the very center of the Capital. Its position near a major road- Avenue IC Bratianu, is a reminder of the old slum of the city, first documented on June, 18, 1669.
In spite of being regarded as the most important construction of Mihail Cantacuzino’s, the church will be named after Colţea Doicescu, a noblemanfrom Doiceşti – Ialomiţa, a responsible and meat supplier at the royal court. He would take care of the little church founded by his brother (servant Udrea Doicescu killed in 1655, in a mutiny of “şeimeni”- pedestrian mercenaries), a church dedicated to “Saint Martyr Paraskeva” of Rome, a patron that is celebrated every year on 26 July. More recent archaeological research brought to light the ancient foundations, visible today in the churchyard corner by the south wall of the church.
The church was built during the second half of the seventeenth century (probably between 1641-1642) by Colţea Doicescu, at the end of his life. Entirely of wood on a stone and brick foundation, the church is first documented on 10 February, 1658, and consecrated to the Metropoly of Hungro- Wallachia. The city slum took the name of Colţea (Doicescu), who had properties here. The name, preserved until today, is to be found in the many of the local place names: “Colţea Street”, „Colţea Church”, “Colţea Hospital “,” St. Elijah Church – Colţea Inn”.
Toward the end of the seventeenth century, Mihail Cantacuzino (1640-1716), son of the great Chamberlain Constantin Cantacuzino, purchased the church and its premises, with the consent of Colţea’s descendants and of Metropolitan Theodosius’, to erect the most significant building: The Monastery dedicated to the Three Holy Hierarchs and Holy Venerable Mother Paraskeva. On the premises of the monastery, the first health care institution in Wallachia was built.
The Monastic Ensemble, built between 1698-1714 included: the big church in the center, (the only building that has survived until today), three symmetrically chapels positioned on the East, North and South sides of the church, the hospital, a home for the bishop, an apothecary, a house for the surgeon, another for a foreign bishop, hermitages and other chambers for various purposes. Quite remarkably, the hospital, inaugurated on December, 14, 1704, and completed in 1706, was an extremely modern Western model, with a capacity of 24 beds and two pavilions- one for men and one for women.
The buildings of the monastery formed a quadrangular enclosure around the central church, the same pattern that can be noticed at the Antim Monastery. The entry is made through the impressive archway belfry, known as the “Colţea Tower”, a grandiose edifice, 40 meters tall, a construction which completed the monastery ensemble. It is Mihail Cantacuzino who endowed the monastery with estates and obtained various contributions and tax exemptions from authorities. After the tragic end of its founder, who was executed by the Turks in 1716, (which explains why the church inscription was scraped off), the monastery came into the care of the rulers of those times, especially because of its social and cultural importance. Quite remarkably, in the eighteenth century, the monastery housed a Romanian school and a printing press.
Probably built in the late seventeenth century and first documented on 18 October 1702 in a patriarchal book, Colţea Church was assigned as saint patrons the Three Holy Hierarchs- Basil, Gregory and John and Saint Venerable Mother Paraskeva. The interior and exterior painting of the sanctuary were allegedly made in fresco by Parvu Mutu. The current appearance of the place, both the outside and the inside, is the result of the passage of time and of successive repairs, consolidation and restoration, carried out over more than 300 years.
On 27 February 1739, the entire assembly took fire, including the church, whose roof and interior were entirely rebuilt in the same year. In 1770,Necula Măinescu, a chancellor, added a small porch, in front of the original, a structure very much similar to the one at the Hurezi Monastery, Valcea County. The earthquakes of 1802, 1829 and 1838 damaged the church, which was renovated in 1841 by the entrepreneur Conrad Schwink, after the architect Faiser’s plans. The interior was repainted in 1871 by George Tattarescu. During this restoration, the two towers of the church would not be again rebuilt.
New repair works, which enhanced the simple charm of this church, were supervised by architect George Mandrea and started in 1895, when the front porch added in 1770 was removed, and stone fleurons, from the tower demolished in 1888, were placed between the columns of the church. Between 1938 and 1941, under the care of the Association (Euforia) of Civil Hospital and of Professor Architect Horia Teodoru, the tower – belfry on the narthex was rebuilt.
A few years later, after the 1944 bombing, the church underwent some more repairs as some parts of the building(particularly the north side), were affected. Although there was a restoration project soon after the earthquake of March, 4, 1977, Colţea Church was abandoned by the communist authorities that closed it in 1986. In 1998, in post-revolutionary era, work was resumed in order to strengthen the holy building.
Once the protective clothing was removed along with the debris, the drum tower over the nave, with the original fresco painting made by Parvu Mutu, came to light. Fortunately, during the period 2001-2005, Colţea Church was given extensive consolidation, volumetric remodeling and restoration, in a project conducted by architect Constanța Carp and a resistance project drawn by the engineer Lawrence -Tudor Spoială, an expert in historical buildings.
The interior painting was restored by Nicolae Gheorghe- Jack. Moreover, two archeological campaigns were carried out on the site: in 2006 and 2008. It came as no surprise when the excavations in the churchyard did not only reveal the old church’s foundations, but also 127 medieval tombs, numerous artifacts and jewelry which are of paramount importance to the history of Bucharest.
1. Manucu – Adameşteanu, Gheorghe, “Archaeological Research Report, Three Holy Hierarchs Colţea Church” in the Chronicle of Archaeological Research in Romania, campaign 2006, Bucharest, CIMEC – Institute of Cultural Memory, Bucharest, 2007;
2. STOICA, Lucia Ionescu – GHINEA, Neculai, ” The Encyclopedia of Worshipping Places of Bucharest “, Volume I, Universalia Publishing, Bucharest, 2005;
3. STOICESCU, Nicolae, “The Bibliographical Repertoire of Medieval Monuments in Bucharest”, RPR Academy Press, Bucharest, 1960.