July 7, 2016

The Tunnel of 365 Saints at Straja Hermitage

A 54-m long tunnel, on the inside of which 365 saints from the Orthodox Christian calendar are painted, one for each day of the year, is one of the main attractions of the Straja mountain resort in the Jiu Valley.

September 18, 2014

Renowned for the high quality of its ski slopes, the resort of Straja is a place full of surprises for the travelers who choose to climb the Valcan Massif following a county road that starts at Lupeni and reaches an elevation of 1,440 meters.

A metal cross founded by the Lupeni Quarry and built by Christian believer Emil Parau in 1996, watches over the area. Comparable with the Caraiman Cross, the cross of Straja is 18.6 meters high and has a span of 9 metres, situated on a small hill in the close vicinity of a wooden hermitage built in the same year.

The little wooden church is patronised by Holy Apostles Constantine and Helen, having become, along with the cross and a painted calendar, a symbol of the resort, especially because it is very beautiful. This is where church services are held throughout the year, with the most important celebration being held on Good Friday, when the ash tree cross is carried in a 10-km procession on the Road of the Holy Cross, from Lupeni to Straja.

Abundant snow and blizzards powerfully blowing in wintertime would pile up the snow, being a nuisance to those who took care of the small wooden church and people who would like to reach this place of worship at any time. That was how the idea of building a tunnel linking the main road of the resort to the wooden church came about. Construction of the tunnel ended in 2006, and the outcome from the hands of the craftsmen was a special calendar that is unique in Romania.

"There is very much snow at Straja and reaching the hermitage was a hard task. That is why we said let there be this tunnel up to the Straja Hermitage. And in order to endure forever, we had it built of concrete. Then, as I was looking at an Orthodox Christian calendar it dawned on me that we, the Orthodox believers, have saint feasts every day. So, I came up with the idea of having the tunnel painted in the entire Orthodox calendar, to make an Orthodox calendar in pictures," says Emil Parau, the financier of the hermitage and the tunnel.

It took almost two years to do the interior paintings. The Orthodox Calendar painted inside the tunnel begins on September 1, following the custom of the ecclesiastical year . Months are painted on the left side of the tunnel, coming from the interior yard of the church, while the paintings on the ceiling depict scenes from the Old and the New Testament. Painted on the right side are 12 icons of the Great Orthodox feasts and the 10 Commandments.

A permanent oil lamp is lit in the tunnel and moved every day in front of the holy icon that indicates the current date in the calendar.

People appreciate this unique tunnel of saints. They enter the tunnel through a large wooden gate painted white, looking for their day of birth and then see the image of the day's saint, as recorded in the Orthodox calendar. After a few minutes, they remember their families or friends and look up for their birthdays according to their Christian ordination.

"I believe that in addition to the worldly things we do when we come to a resort, we should get closer to God. Here, there are painted icons and biblical scenes. The images complete what we know about religion and an icon is a gateway to God," says Father Valentin, the one that showed us around the tunnel of the 365 saints.

"Tourists appreciate this tunnel very much and the hermitage here at Straja. This is a place where they can find peace of mind. I can tell you that with the advent of the monastery, the number of tourists has surged. The hermitage probably helped, because people can come here to recover themselves, besides skiing or relaxing at Straja during the year. I can tell you that nearly 90 percent of the people coming to Straja also pass through this tunnel and go to the hermitage to say a prayer," adds Parau.

There is also a story related to the tunnel: The Hermitage and the Heroes' Cross of Straja. In 1996, at the Montana Chalet, right on the feast of Saints Constantine and Helen, a tourist turned on the light in a room. The bulb burned, and the flame of the filament seared the shape of a cross inside the bulb. One tourist broke the bulb, but the same happened two weeks later. The light bulb can be seen at the Straja Hermitage, and a monk interpreted the occurrence as having to do with 800 troops that died in the area in WWI.

That is how the Heroes' Cross came into existence to commemorate the Romanian troops, after which the wooden hermitage followed and then the tunnel of the 365 saints. They say that no tourist has died at Straja since October 1996, when the cross was built.