From Horezu follow 67 for 4.2 km, turn left on 646 6.5 km to Bistrița Monastery. Turn right at the monastary door, then keep left towards the Cheile Bistritei-Valcea.
|Cave Church Gorge
|candles, bring torch
|L=250 m, VR=44 m, A=750 m asl, T=14 °C.
|Peștera Sfântului Grigorie Decapolitul. Bistrița Monastery, DJ646, Bistrița 247116, Tel: +40-250-863-327.
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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|the abbot of Dealu Monastery sought refuge in the cave due to war.
|first description by the Archdeacon Paul of Aleppo.
|picture the cave made by Dionysius the Ecclesiarch.
|researcher Alexandru Odobescu deciphers the inscription of the Church of the Holy Archangels.
|speleological exploration of the cave by Emil Racoviţă and his collaborators.
|description of the cave by Virgil Drăghicescu.
|protosinghel Ilarion Cristea submits a report to the Bishopric of Râmnicu in which he stresses the need to ensure the protection of the cave.
|Committee for the Restoration of the Cave Churches was formed, consisting of five hieromonks: Teofil Niculescu, Exarch of the Monasteries of Oltenia, Ilarion Cristea, abbot of Bistrita, Nicandru Neacşu, abbot of Arnota, Varnava Lasconi and Inochentie Hatii.
|Father Dumitru Bălaşa summarizes all the results of research on the cave until then.
|Bistrița monastery was closed and cave passed into the administration of the Vâlcea County Museum, cave was electrified.
|Cave returns to the care of the Bistriţa Monastery by the Decision of the Vâlcea County Council.
Peștera Sfântului Grigorie Decapolitul (St. Gregory the Decapolis Cave) is sometimes also called Peștera Liliecilor (Bat Cave). It is a natural cave located near the Mănăstirea Bistrița Vâlcea (Bistrița Monastery) and also called Peștera Bistrița (Bistrița Cave). With so man names there is the danger of mixing it up, especially as one name is Bat Cave, which is probably the most common name for a cave. We thus use the unique name Peștera Sfântului Grigorie Decapolitul which is derived from the cave church which was built into the cave entrance and which is dedicated to St. Gregory the Decapolis.
Nearby Bistrița Monastery is a popular pilgrimage destination and also quite popular with tourists. Most of them do not even know about the existence of the cave, which is only 300 m to the north, at the entrance to the Cheile Bistritei-Valcea (Gorges of Bistrita). The cave is actually described on the official website of the monastery, nevertheless, you will be more or less alone if you go there. The churches are, like most churches, open during daylight hours and free. The narrow gorge has numerous caves, after the next bend is the Peștera Ursilor (Bear Cave), another cave with a quite common name. Its also worth the effort to walk the short gorge along the road, it is not huge but there are several impressive limestone cliffs. There is a small parking lot at the road, at the entrance of the gorge, from here its only 5 minutes walk to the cave.
The St. Gregory the Decapolis Cave is a through-cave with a length of 250 m, both entrances open eastwards toward the gorge. One entrance is 1.5 m high and 80 cm wide, but after the narrow section of about 10 m the passage opens and forms a chamber. This is the Main Gallery which is a river passage, that's the reason why the cave has very little speleothems. Two galleries branch off, the Upper Gallery and the Spring Corridor which ends at a cave lake. The second entrance is called Cave Window and is 12 m high and 10.5 m wide. There are actually two churches in the cave, the Ovidenia at the end of the Main Gallery, and a staircase leads down to the Cave Window where the Church of the Holy Archangels is located. The cave it is rich cave fauna, numerous bats and small insects living on the bat guano deposits: beetles, diplopoda, spiders, and others.
According to tradition, recorded by Archimandrite Chiriac Râmniceanul, the Cave of Saint Gregory was discovered and used before the construction of the Bistrita Monastery. The cave was first mentioned in the 17th century, in a documentary by Metropolitan Matei al Mirelor. According to this tale, due to the invasion of Wallachia by Prince Gabriel Bathory, at the end of 1610, the abbot of Dealu Monastery sought refuge in the cave. In 1657 the Archdeacon Paul of Aleppo wrote the first description of the cave and the churches, and he mentioned a cell which was permanently inhabited by a monk. Benjamin Micle wrote in his book Peştera Sfântului Grigorie de la Mănăstirea Bistriţa (The Cave of Saint Gregory from the Bistrita Monastery) that a number of 24 monks lived here between the 17th and 20th centuries. The last hermit lived here 1830-1840. After the secularization in 1863, the monastic life experienced a great decline. But there was a modern time hermit in the 20th century, the hieromonk Varnava Lasconi who was quite popular, and is still refered by older people. After 1940 he retired to the cave, leading a very simple life, officiating various services and prayers at the cave churches until he finally passed in 1950. In 1959 when thousands of monks and nuns were forced by the communist authorities to leave the monasteries, the hieromonk Varlaam, a monk from the Arnota monastery, took refuge in the cave. But the authorities forced him to leave.
The Ovidenia (Church of Ovid) is the older church from he end of the 15th century. It was founded by hieromonk Macarie (*1494-✝1594), abbot of Bistriţa Monastery and later metropolitan of Wallachia. It is located in a rather hard to reach part of the cave. The side walls of the gallery were closed with brick masonry, the vault was made of limestone rock. The small space facing west is divided by the brick-built iconostasis, forming the nave and the altar. The walls are covered by murals, which were probably made by monks from Bistrita, who also made murals at the monastery. The paintings show in the center the Holy Ascension of the Lord. On the right is the bringing to the Temple of the Mother of God at the age of three. On the left is the Holy Prophet John the Baptist, the model of Orthodox ascetics. The paintings were restored several times, in 1649, 1769 and 1828.
The Sfinţii Arhangheli (Church of the Holy Archangels) is located at the large opening of the cave. It was founded in 1633 by Metropolitan Theophilus, the former abbot of the Bistrita Monastery, in gratitude to God and St. Gregory the Decapolis. It was restored between 1781 and 1782 by Archimandrite Stephen and again in 1829 after cave robbers had caused fires. The church was built of stone and brick without tower. The church is adorned by a jagged brick belt at the top, the frame of the entrance door with geometric-floral motifs. On the inside are frescoes with the faces of its patrons, the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.