“Completed at the will of the Father, with the help of the Son, and trough the worl of the Holy Spirit. I, Voivode Peter, the son of Voivode Stephen the Elder and the servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of God ruler of Moldavia, in the foruth year of my imperial reign, ordered the construction of this place of worship dedicated to Bishop Nicholas the miracle worker and having Grigorie as its Superior, in the year 7037 (1530), Oct[ober]16.”
Carved in stone, the text of this inscription can be read near the south entrance to the church dedicated to St. Nicholas and belonging to Probota Monastery. It came to consecrate the erection on a new location of a new place of worship, within one of the oldest Moldavian monasteries, mentioned in documents as early as 1391. the exact location of the first estabilishment is not precisely knoen today, but its name, St. Nicholas of the Glade, suggests that it was in the middle of a forest. A few decades later, the monastery moved to a new location, and the wooden church was replaced by a stone one. This second church was also short-lived.
It seems that a natural disaster destroyed the church,which was rebuilt on the same location by the Stephen the Great. His concern with Probota had to do with the fact that his mother, Oltea Maria, had been buried in the previous church which, according to some researchers, had also been built by him. At an unspecified date, another landslide destroyed the church erected by Stephen. In 1530, Peter Rares decided to have the church rebuilt, but on safer ground: on a plateau situated approximately 300 meters west of the previous location.
Still hidden in the woods, isolated from any other settlement, Probota monastery was also used by its founder, Peter Rares, the natural son of the Stephen the Great, as a burial place for the new ruling family. The ruler made his decision at the behest of his cousin Grigorie Rosca, the superior of the monastery – which had most likely remained in activity during all
this time –, despite the protests of the monks from Putna, who found themselves deprived of a number of privileges. Upon his death, occured in September of 1546, Peter Rares was buried here . The same monastery would host the tombs of his son Stephen, who ruled Moldavia between 1551 and 1552, and of Lady Elena, Rares's second wife, a Serbian princess of the Brankovic family who shared her husband's interest in art.
In 1550, Lady Elena and three of her children – Ilias, her elder son and ruler of the country at that time, Stephen, and Constantine – ordered the erection of a strong wall around the church, with defensive towers in the southeastern and the northeastern corners and with a gate tower located on the same eastern side. Above the entrance, an elegant inscpription carved in stone tells us that “This monastery was built by Voivode Peter in the year 7038  and was surrounded with a wall after his death by Lady Elena and her sons, Voivode Ilias, Stephen, and Constantine, in the year 7058  September 4”. Apart from the church, the curtain wall also enclosed a treasury house – located in the northwestern corner and long considered to be a princely residence, although the presence of the belfry indicated a different purpose – and the actual Princely Residence, plus the customary buildings found in a monastery: a refectory, cells, a pantry, all grouped in the southern half of the vast courtyard. The spatial arrangement was meant to completely separate between the strictly religious activities and those pertaining to everyday life in a Moldavian princely monastery: the temporary residence of the ruler and the buildings needed by the local monks.
After the death of its founder's family, the monastery became a burial place for various boyar families, and the richly decorated tombstones of many high officials and of their families, their crypts or simpler tombs can all bee seen in the narthex or in the closed porch of the church. The most important of them belonged to the Stroici family. Archeologists retrieved precious artifacts from those tombs that had managed to survive intact or had been desecrated by hasty robbers: clothes (a man's cap, a dress, an embroidered vest and a woman's shoes, all made of exepensive materials and decorated with stands or embroideries of gilded silver thread), golden jewelry decorated with precious or semi-precious stones (the signet ring of Simion Stroici, filigree pigeons used as veil pins, a woman's brooch, rings, earrings).
Towards the middle of the 17th century, the monastery enjoyed the attention of ruler Vasile Lupu, who partially rebuilt the curtain wall and the towers and erected a second Princely Residence, on the southern side and running parallel to the church.
The monastery must have been a major spiritual centre, the starting point in the carrier of no less than three metropolitan bishops of Moldavia, without counting Gregory Rosca, who also held that position:
Gheroghe Movila, in the second half of the 16th century and in the early years of the following century, his successor, Teodosie Barbovschi, and the great Dosoftei, in the second half of the 17th century. The latter donated the monastery and all of its assets to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
In 1863, the monastery was closed down during the secularization process initiated by ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza and by Mihail Kogalniceanu. The church became a regular one and the buildings of the monastery experienced a rapid decay. Probably partly ruined since the previous century, they were quickly destroyed, and much of their stone was used by the inhabitans of the nearby village, who enjoyed the new liberties granted by the reforms of that time.
In 1934-1937, the Historical Monuments Commission began restoring the church and the treasury houe, putting architect Horia Teodoru in charge of the site. On that occasion, the roof of the church was restored in keeping with the original model and the windows of the narthex and of the porch were reopened. The Gothic mouldings of the latter were restored along the model provided by the windows in the narthex, which had themselves been buried in the masonry meant to reduce the apertures towards the outside. The plinth was also remade, and the exterior painting was partially cleaned of the outer layer of whitewash.
In 1986, the Metropolitan See of Moldavia and Suceava approved the plans for the consolidation of the upper part of the church, which also involved the replacement of the single roof whit a metal sheet one, designed in keeping with the model of the traditional roofs with several bays used in Moldavia and illustrated by the Votive Paintings.
The monastery was officialy reopened in 1993 as a nunnery.
In 1993, the church belonging to Probota monastery was included on the World Heritage List, alongside other Moldavian churches with painted exterior walls. As a consequence of this, and also due to the interest in this monument shown by some Japanese researchers, a UNESCO project co-financed by the Japan Trust Fund for World Heritage and the Romanian Ministry of Culture investigated, restored, and publicized the monastery, between 1996 and 2001.
The Probota restoration project was a unique experience, given its magnitude, its interdisciplinary approach to research and conservation, its nature as an “international pilot-school” for restorers of wall painting coming from Romania, Austria, Italy, Germany, France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Columbia, its financing, the quality of archaeological and art history research conducted here, its interest in the quality of the documentation – the first case in Romania when the data of a restoration project was all in digital format –, and the publication of a Project Book in the form of a monograph edited under the auspices of UNESCO.
The observations revealed by the recent restoration works open a new page in the history of the interior and exterior mural paintings from the
time of Petru Rares, and Probota - the first assembly rediscovered and entirely preserved in excellent condition - is a key part not only in learning new facts and data, which lend themselves to interpretation, but also in bringing to light new values and beauties.