Sunday, February 7, 2010

Drum Bun!

Anyone who tries to plan a pilgrimage is completely missing the point. Unplanned events make for excitement and experience.

While in the coastal city of Constanta, known as Tomas in the days when Virgil and Ovid visited the place, I was tipped off by chance to a young monastery recently built to capitalize on a site known as St Andrew's Cave. A 3-day march inland rising along the rolling hills, it was a diversion from my understanding that Andrew the Fisher of Men stuck to the coast. What's 120 kilometers? (well, it's three days' walking...) With each elevating meter, the snowcover became thicker, but the sun shone for a few days, dazzling across the vast, treeless hills. The icy surface of the blown snow covered the minor roads and the multitude of horses struggled to pull their carts. Few cars venture on these packed earth roads. It's ironic how modern the Romanian villages and towns look compared to the Ukrainian equivalents, yet the utilitarian horsecarts are absent in the Ukraine I passed through. Several times, the drivers of the horsecarts offered me a short lift of a kilometer or two, and I accepted reasoning that the same type of offer could have been made during St Andrew's time. I was especially pleased to accept a short ride in a one-horse open sleigh, complete with sleighbells around the horse's neck, and hummed the song during the swift glide... I don't think the driver got the reference as he babbled on proudly about his five children ('copies' in Romanian). The Romanians, Gypsies, and Turks equally were friendly to me in the villages and in between, offering me short rests and eager to share their lunches or gritty coffee, and each equal in their warnings that it's not safe to be out and about alone because of the notorious reputation of another of the ethnic groups. Villages are clannish within these groups but otherwise similar in structure. The distraction of a visitor to a village seems univerally liked.

Finally at the monastery of St Andrew, I saw quickly the capitalistic opportunity being beneficially exploited. The legend has been written down that the good Saint in his wanderings near the Roman outpost of Civitas Tropaensium, now Adamclisi and pretty cool ruins, came to the homes of nearby weathy landlords - their names chronicaled in the Roman ledgers - but was cautious to preach in a hidden cave three kilometers away for fear of being persecuted by the authorities. The cave was discovered in 1924 by a local lawyer/theologian who tracked the legend. There's an associated spring claimed to be the spot where Andy punched a staff into the ground. During the dark days of communism, these legends were suppressed and the small hermitage built there destroyed. In the 1990s, a larger monastery was built and outbuildings to accommodate pilgrims and other visitors. The cave is nicely decorated, to be sure. The gift shop large, though lacking in English literature. The monks employ laymen to work the land around the monastery, thus having tasty cheese and bread and honey from the land. One monk spoke some Italian with me and shared some of this history; another spoke some English and bubbled with excitement to let the story be known. Pilgrims on bicycle come from Germany and Holland they told me. They would like more pilgrims to know of this holy place so it will become the Santiago de Compostelle of Romania. Are giant yellow arrows the future of southeastern Romania?

Not too far away, I by chance was tipped off to another monastery, also built around a devine source said to have sprung up when Andrew stuck his staff into the ground. They have nice bottles with special labels available for take-away. There is also a rock protruding from the ground that vaguely resembles a stout cross. They've recently built a chapel around it. Some time ago, a shepherd, dumb and deaf, slumbered against this rock and his faculties were restored. People with disabilities can come today and sleep on a mat next to the stone in hopes of a cure. A monk who spoke German explained this to me, adding that married couples who are having difficulties in conceiving can also come for a cure, but the details of this were not clear; it's a very small mat. In addition to the miracle stone and spring, the monastery has a great deal of land and a large lake. Plenty of laymen manage all of this, as made clear in the refectory - fish soup, barbequed fish, whole-grain bread, dense fruit bread, yogurt, cheese, wine, honey, and jars of pickled peppers of more varieties than I've ever seen spread on the table. There are rooms for at least 100 pilgrims and visitors. I shared the supper table with a group of university students studying the theology of Romania. The young monks sing their biblical chants many times during the day in beautiful harmonies that sound more eastern than western. Their singing from the church is piped around the monastery with an impressive sound system. It's clear that the abbots want to put these monasteries on a map for religous tourism in the region.

The part of Romania visited by St Andrew has passed beneath my feet. With the guidance of many border patrol officers, I've legally entered Bulgaria - note to others, there's no open border between these two new members of the EU. I walked a long distance in Ukraine and experienced a lot of history in Romania... what does Bulgaria hold for a wandering pilgrim?

'Drum bun' is an expression I heard many times every day in Romania. Amusing to my ear, it means something like 'happy trails' or 'bonne route'.


Compostelle 2008 said...


You are absolutely right, experience out of the ordinary are always unplanned. Thank you for the descriptions and Drum Bun!

Michèle (Ottawa, ON) Canada

Sylvia said...


Thinking of your cheerful attitude and open heart always ready for a new adventure. This must be what Jesus meant when he said, "Unless you become like a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.

I think you found the kingdom!


The Solitary Walker said...

"Drum bun" to you always, Winter Pilgrim. And may your bells ever jingle. Great post!

Anonymous said...

Ahh! What delight to read your blog!
Sounds like you enjoyed a royal more borscht! Drum bun peaceful winter pilgrim! Nadja
PS - Got your postcard today! Thanks!!!Diakuju!

Anonymous said...

Will you visit Dupnisa cave in Sarpdere village, 58 kms away. This was opened in 2003 for tourists. Formed about 180 million years ago and is 2720 meters long! Best from Denver!