60 Wooden Churches. The Șirineasa Case.

60 Wooden Churches. The Șirineasa Case.

Included in the 60 Wooden Churches project (next to the church in Urși, 10 km away), the wooden church in the cemetery of Șirineasa village, Vâlcea county (19th century), is dedicated to St. Nicholas. It is a special case (which incorporates two rare techniques in the construction system), reported to the Pro Patrimonio Foundation in 2014 by the heir of the founders’ family, Constantin Poenaru, through the architect Alexandru Baboș. At the time, the church was in a worrying state of decay.

Consequently, the church at Șirineasa becomes a separate case study under the umbrella of the Foundation’s practical research programme. The technique of execution of the vault – a light structure, unusually large (5 x 7 m central dome), made of a braid of hazel twigs attached to the roof trusses, is also valid in contemporary architecture , which is oriented towards renewable materials, simplicity and speed of execution. Recent examples of the use of walnut weaving in architecture are increasingly common, and through the process of the church conservation, the case of Șirineasa allows research into the quality of execution and the achieved constructive performance.

Brief History

The church is mentioned for the first time in a hrisov issued by Constantin Brâncoveanu in 1695, in which he dedicated this “metoh” (small monastery) to the Hurezi monastery. The entire village of Șirineasa appears in documents as property of the Hurezi monastery from 1606 until 1863 when the estate was secularized and passed into state ownership. According to the “pisanie”(engraved inscription), the church was rebuilt from the ground up between 1883 and 1887, with the help of the architect Constantin Istrătoiu, through the mayor Nicolae Poenaru (represented in the interior mural painting with his wife Elisaveta) and many other local contributors, former landlords who were dispossessed by the agrarian reform of 1864.

As was common practice around small wooden churches in the villages of the Subcarpathian area, after the First World War a new, larger, wall church was built. Since 1937, when the new church was completed, the wooden church has remained only a cemetery chapel, and repairs and maintenance have been fewer and farther between, until it reached its present state of advanced decay.

In 2014, the Pro Patrimonio Foundation included the church in the village of Șirineasa in the 60 Wooden Churches program. In 2016, through Europa Nostra’s 7 Most Endangered program, the technical documentation for the church conservation project was carried out by architects Dana Raicu and Adrian Bălteanu.

A first step was taken in 2017 with an emergency intervention to preserve the structure and values of the church until the necessary funds for the entire conservation process were obtained. The team of carpenters and restorers who participated in the first conservation activities were working at that time in the vicinity of the wooden church in Urși. The materials resulting from the protective structure of the wooden church of Urși and others left after the completion of the restoration were used for the emergency intervention in Șirineasa. A storage shed for materials and elements in need of protection was also built.

In 2023 a major deterioration in the structure has become obvious, the temporary protection is already too old (the protective foil is torn, the supports are partly displaced, etc.). As a result, urgent repair work is needed on the roof and vault to stop the deterioration. The estimated budget for these works in 2023 is €30,000.

A Note on Architectural Elements

The value of the church at Șirineasa lies in its construction techniques and architectural form, both exceptional and rare compared to what is preserved in the region today. The combination of traditional and modern building techniques and materials is remarkable. From a technical point of view, the church is built in the traditional system with horizontal wooden beams joined in dovetail joints, but new techniques are also added: foundation and brick buttresses (on the west side), arches made of interlaced beams on a structure of oak ribs connected on the inside by wooden tie rods, oak roof with elements joined together and held together by metal staples, plastered brick cornice. The roof was covered with oak shingles.

Exceptional are the large plan area covered by interlocking arches of interlaced wicker, intersected by pendentives, and the atypical structural solutions, such as the brick cornice set on wood, which balances the entire construction and counterbalances the thrusts of the roof.

A Note on Artistic Elements

Outside, the church is plastered and painted, and there are medallions painted with saints all around it. On the brick tympanum there is a niche in which the icon of St. Nicholas is painted. Both the exterior and interior painting depart from the traditional style found in the wooden churches of Romanian villages. The “pisanie” mentions a local itinerant painter, Ioan P. Leuleanu, probably a disciple of Tătărăscu or of the Buzău school of painters, from whom he adopted the neoclassical style of painting, and who also painted the churches of Prundiș-Dăiești in 1886 and Măgureni in 1888.

The interior mural painting, executed in oil on lime plaster, is part of the typology specific to 19th-century church painting in Wallachia, with autonomous scenes, framed in the form of religious paintings of the Western type, projected on a neutral marble-like background. The iconographic program, namely the selection and distribution of the saints in the registers, however, indicates a somewhat more conservative vision, still linked to the tradition of post-Byzantine painting, directly descended from the local painting practice of the Brâncovenian period.

The iconostasis carved in filigree, whose age is unclear, is probably the most valuable heritage asset; most likely, it belongs to a period prior to the construction of the church (18th century?) and may have been modified to fit into the new construction.

Activities Journal 60 Wooden Churches. The Șirineasa Case.

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