The word 'Tismana' is of Thraco-Dacian origin and means 'Place fortified with walls'. St. Nicodim (1310-1406) is the one who founded this monastery; he decided where it will be built, the architecture it will have, as well as the specific decorations that will later individualize this monastery. Originating from the south of Danube, St. Nicodim's desire was to do something for God, something that will last and be remembered. The wish of dedicating his life to God, leads him to leave his home, in Prilep, Macedonia at the age of 16. Helped by some generous monks, he makes his way to Hilander Monastery on Mount Athos. Here, he learns Greek, Slavic, and becomes initiated into architecture, calligraphy, painting, making of silverware, masonry, and barrel making. He came to Walachia as his mission was to build a monastery here.
Founding the Monastery
After a temporary Hungarian occupation of Severin, St. Nicodim, and a group of monks from Vodiţa Monastery came to Tismana. Here, on the ruins of a former church destroyed by invaders, St. Nicodim built what we can see today as the Monastery of Tismana. It wasn't from his material possessions that he managed to make and finish the new construction, but Voievode Radu (1377-1383) offered the required material support.
On 15 August 1378, the monastery was officially dedicated. Initially, the church had a monochrome painting of simple, geometric or floral drawings that can still be seen. After the monastery was built, St. Nicodim initiated a 'cultural stage'. As the initiator of this project, he had also been a brilliant mind, that knew how to make use of his resources. He is also the founder of a calligraphy school where ecclesiastical books were copied in different languages, bringing a great blessing for the people interested in them at that time. Besides the organizing and spiritual activity, he was in correspondence with many people. His correspondence is not preserved except the letters received from the Patriarchate of Tarnovo.
St. Nicodim's Ousting and Return
A conflict arose between Metropolitan Athanasie of Severin and Nicodim. St. Nicodim had to leave the monastery he had founded; this is the reason he headed towards Prislop, which is a Romanian center in Hateg country. There, on the foundation of an old church, he built a new church, the only monument in Transylvania with a three cone design. Metropolitan Athanasie of Severin died in 1404, thus, St. Nicodim came back to Tismana in the year 1406. However, his stay was not meant to be long as he soon passed away, on December 26th the same year.
Destruction and Restoration
Persecution did not go around monastery either. So, after numerous destructions caused by the Turks, the monastery knew more periods of restoration and change achieved with the help of Basarab rulers. Several important personalities participated to the restoration of the monastery. Neagoe Basarab (1520) was the one who sponsored the covering of the church with lead, Radu Paisie (1541) completed the frames and the doors of the monastery, Matei Basarab built a small size church for the hospital in the year of 1650. He also made the steeple of Tismana monastery and offered a big church bell. Cornea Brailoiu helped with rebuilding and Mrs.Stanca Glogoveanu had the painting restored twice ― once in 1733 and the second time in 1766. Constantin Brancoveanu who ruled between 1688 and 1714 also contributed financially to the restoration of this monastery. This is the place where Tudor Vladimirescu conceived the Proclamation from Padeş (22 January 1821) of 'Justice law'.
The Thesaurus and Museum
A great part of Tismana Monastery Thesaurus has been lost; which consisted the complex art involved in the decoration of the church. As you may have seen, the orthodox traditional churches are adorned with beautiful fine art, also the painting of icons plays an important role in the orthodox Christianity beliefs. The cult objects, some made of silver and gold are also a significant part of the art inheritance. Some of these objects preserved from Tismana Monastery can still be seen in The National Art Museum. In the Monastery Museum, there is a great collection of murals, old wooden icons, worship objects, old books, vestments, and the former doors of the church which date back to 1782.
The famous Romanian poet George Cosbuc, provided two colored glass windows for the Chapel of the monastery which was built by Matei Basarabov. George Cosbuc was also involved in the translation of Dante's opera 'The Divine Comedy' and it was here at this monastery where he finished the laborious work of translation stimulated by the splendor of this region's natural environment.
In 1949, the monastery became a cohabitation community for nuns having a communal life that combines work and prayer. The services are held according to the traditional ritual which includes the daily Holy Liturgy, in the evening the Vesper, at midnight Matius, and Midnight service.