Constantin Brâncoveanu
Martyr of Christendom, voivode (1654-1714)

     In Wallachia, that - unique, in his own way -Constantin Brâncoveanu, the prince of gold, lord of the Christianidea, it is true, but so inclined to tenebrous back stage games, an unsurpassed master of diplomacy, who did not step back from cruelty in life, became a saint through death and promoted a culture in which the Renaissance and Byzantinism, the Baroque and Orientalism were admixed, creating an exquisite and refined blend - as Lucian Blaga wrote.

      Constantin Brâncoveanu (1654 - 15 August 1714), the nephew of Prince Serban Cantacuzino, was brought to the throne by the great boyars and ruled Wallachia between 1688 and 1714. From his marriage to Maria, the daughter of Voivode Anton, Constantin Brâncoveanu had four sons: Constantin, Stefan, Radu and Matei - and seven daughters - Stanca, Maria, Safta, Ancuta, Elenca, Bălaşa and Smaranda. His wife, Lady Maria, was the true administrator of the entire wealth of the Brâncoveanu family, which was said, at that time,to be fabulous. She knew the ins and outs of every estate, of every mansion and all the sums of money deposited in banks from Western Europe. He raised churches and monasteries, founded schools, printed books in many languages. He founded the Royal Academy, the future St. Sava College, with Greek as the language of instruction. A Christian under Turkish suzerainty, he skilfully steered his way among the powers of the time, hoping that he would be able to break away from the Turks. But the “Christian” kings did not deserve better than the Turks! In 1689, the Habsburgs, who craved after the riches of Wallachia, brought their armies against Brâncoveanu, claiming money and supplies. In January 1690, heading a Wallachian army with bodies of rebellious Hungarians and Turks, Brâncoveanu crushed the Austrians near Zărnesti. In 1711, during the Battle of Stănileşti between Peter I’s Russia, along with Dimitrie Cantemir’s Moldova,and the Turks, Brâncoveanu refused to support the mas his overlords; moreover, his commander Toma Cantacuzino conquered Brăila, which had been occupied by the Turks. This was too much - no money and no diplomacy could save him any longer, especially given that Constantin Cantacuzino, his relative, betrayed him out of petty interests. The Turks decided to punish him, in exemplary manner, and they did so.
      On 15 August, on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, just as he was turning 60, the ruler and his ilk were taken bare foot, dressed only in their undershirts, to the place of execution. The sultan and the entire diplomatic corps were present at the scene. Before the prince’s very eyes was beheaded his trusted counsellor, Ienăchiţă Văcărescu, the ruler’s son-in-law. He was the first to lose his life. His elder sons followed next. The prince’s sons were decapitated one after another, in the order of their age. Frightened, the youngest, Matei, was on the verge of relinquishing Christianity : “Allow me to live my youth. I would rather be a Mohammedan than die without blame.” Constantin Brâncoveanu did not accept his request and the executioner severed the child’s head. The last one to kneel in front of the executioner was Constantin Brâncoveanu himself. The heads of the six men were impaled on spears and paraded through the streets and their bodies were thrown into the sea.
      It is said that the sultan asked Prince Brancoveanu to convert to Islam if he wanted to keep his life. At that time, history had recorded several hundred years of Christian-Muslim “collaborationism”: the Venetians, the Genoese, the French, the Hungarians and the Poles had, at some point or another, of course,for reasons of state, played along with the Turks, to the detriment of the Romanians and the other peoples in the Balkans. For over a millennium, many saints, starting from Paul, the “universal” or, as Petre Tuţea inspiredly called him, “the Mediterranean itself,” and Peter, had paid for their unbargained faith with their lives, but none of those included in the Christian calendar endured the unfathomable price Prince Constantine had to pay.

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