Tag Archives: Bulgaria

Monastery in the Mountains

The day concluded with a visit to a replica of a Thracian tomb discovered accidentally in 1944 near Kazanlak. You can no longer gain access to the original tomb however they have created a model so it can be appreciated.

This mural represents a Thracian couple at a ritual funeral feast.

Notice the beauty of the horses.

The tomb waa a vaulted beehive structure from 4th century BC and it gives an insight into the opulence of the culture and its high degree of technological advancement in architecture.

Koprivshtitza Village

Koprivshtitza is a village of authentic Bulgarian architecture of the national revival of the 19th century.

On this bridge the first shot was fired that initiated the April uprising of 1876 against the domination of the Ottoman Empire.

An outstanding example of domestic architecture.

Troyan Monastery

Troyan monastery was an ascent into the incredibly beautiful mountains.

The monastery courtyard.

The Troyan monastery is dedicated to the Holy Mother Assumption.

It was built at the beginning of the 17th century by hermits from Mount Athos.

The hermits brought the miracle-working icon of the Holy Virgin Troerouchitsa, the three handed Holy Mother from Mount Athos.

Gazing heavenward.

The frescoes are an eminent work of Zahary Zograph.

The iconostasis is a supreme masterpiece of woodcarving.

The monastery was also a hospital during the Russian-Turkish war.

The monastery was a literary and revolutionary center. They gave asylum for rebels resisting Ottoman tyranny.

Dryanovo: The Cradle of Freedom from Tyranny

Dryanovo monastery

Today it is so peaceful that it is hard to comprehend it was the scene of such brutality and violence inflicted on a people who only wanted freedom from 500 years of the Turkish yoke of oppression.

Entrance to Dryanovo monastery.

Bulgaria-020511This is in memory of and houses the remains of those who fought for freedom to be liberated from 500 years of the yoke of Turkish oppression.

This was a fortified monastery that played a role in the 19th century rebellion against the Islamic oppression under the Ottoman Empire. The fortification and monastery was leveled by the Ottomans.

There were 200 inside the monastery and 6000 outside but they held out for 9 days. The guide said the ongoing brutality of the Turks and this dramatic slaughter instigated a European outrage so Russia entered into a war with Turkey that freed the Bulgarians. He said the Russians were ready to take Istanbul and restore Hagia Sophia and take down the minarets and restore the cross and  Christian worship but the British said if they did such a thing they would enter into war with Russians.

Tryavna Village

The church has to be a structure with no height because this would demonstrate the superiority of Islam. And it could not look like a church but a barn or a shed construction.

Although the village of Tryavna has been inhabited since Thracian times, the village today is noted for its well-preserved neo-revival architecture. During the Ottoman occupation the locals defended the pass and so were given privileges such as no Muslims would live in the village and they could build a church under certain conditions.

The church is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel.

The icon screen is a masterpiece in a town dedicated to carving.

To give interior height they excavated so you have to step down into the church.  The exterior in no way relates to the interior.

And today [May 24] is a special and a national holiday in Bulgaria called Alphabet Day when they commemorate Saints Cyril and Methodius who created an alphabet known today as the Cyrillic alphabet.

The entrance

The city is also known because the first secular school in Bulgaria was established there.

The school courtyard.

The clock tower.

Tryavna: a model of neo-revival architecture

Where the rebellion against the Turks was proclaimed.


The Bridge.

The cloister.

The church at Sokolski was founded in 1833 and today is an active convent.

The church is dedicated to the Assumption. As we were leaving the guide pointed out a large meadow and remarked each year on the feast or saint to which a church is dedicated people come and grill and enjoy each others’ company.

The church played a role in the April uprising against 500 years of Islamic domination. The monastery housed resisters and in fact in the Russian-Turkish war in 1877-8 it was a hospital.

Today I have come to a deeper appreciation of the Bulgarian people who have held on to their identity through 500 years living under the yoke of Islamic domination then for a brief period of freedom before 70 years of Soviet tyranny.

This is a monument to a decisive but bloody victory of the bulgarians over the Turks.  If they had won the battle today Bulgaria would be part of Turkey.

The Shipka Memorial church was dedicated in 1903 to the 14000 Russian soldiers who died in the Russo-Turkish war for Bulgarian freedom.

Gazing heavenward.

The icon screen.

The apse.

Angels and Archangels

This is the Church of Saints Archangels Michael and Gabriel, in Bulgaria.


A young Pantocrator.

A young Pantocrator.

In contrast to the all-powerful Father.

The Holy Mother.

The Holy Mother.

Gazing heavenward.

The Nativity.

The Annunciation.

The Annunciation.


The Apse.

The Apse.


The Baptism of Jesus.

The Baptism of Jesus.

The frescoes are wonderful.

The frescoes are splendid.

Once again this church of the 17th century built over an earlier church from the exterior does not look like a church but a barn.

However it is the church of the archangels.

The church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul

The church of saints Peter and Saint Paul is a medieval church. After the fall of Tamovo to the Muslims it became the patriarchate.

The columns are from The ancient Nicopolis ad Istrum.
The frescoes are influenced by the Italo-Cretan school from the time of the Council of Florence.

Saints Peter and Paul.

The pieta.

The pieta.


The Archangel Gabriel

The Archangel Gabriel

Detail. Notice the brushstrokes.

Detail. Notice the brushstrokes.

St Michael with sword.

On the exterior wall are the remains of a pictorial calendar.

The church is also the scene of a massacre. After the fall of the kingdom to the Ottomans, the new Muslim overlords invited the boyars, that is, the aristocracy, for negotiations. Once inside all 120 some were slain by the Muslims.

The ancient citadel.

The king’s tower with a tombstone recycled from Nikopolis ad Istrum.

Transfiguration Monastery


The Transfiguration monastery near Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, was founded in the 11th century as a cloister of the Vatopedia monastery at Mount Athos.

The wheel of life is one of the exterior paintings of the 19th century.

The exterior icon of the Transfiguration.

20150523_021201.jpg  The icon screen.

Assumption of the Virgin which is on the west wall.

Gazing heavenward.

The Resurrection.

At the time of the Ottoman conquest, the Muslims burned the church to the ground in the 15th century. In 1832 by a firman of the sultan allowed construction but the exterior must be low to show the superiority of the Islamic religion.

Scenes from our Lord’s life.

The last judgement. The soul is being weighed. The bad deeds out weigh the good. There is only one act of mercy and for that the the angels are tipping the scales: mercy outweighs justice. (You can see the devils trying to grab the weight pans). The soul has only one act of mercy and the angels are determined to win the tug of war with the demons.

Preparing for another baptism.

In the chapel of the Holy Spirit people place their petitions in the wall.

Beautiful sight that shows confidence in prayer.

Hidden Frescoes

We arrived in Varna to visit the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God. The cathedral was consecrated on August 30, 1886.

The icon screen is heavily carved with icons that are very 19th century.

Rusenski-040447The devotion of people always touches me profoundly. When I saw this young man in prayer I thought of the young Muslim women in prayer. The human soul yearns for the incomprehensible mystery of God that we know has become incarnate in Jesus. This image of a young man at the foot of the cross inspires me to prayer.

The guide pointed out that during 500 years of Islamic domination under the Ottoman empire new churches could not be built and had to be low when repaired so the mosques would dominate. So a little over 100 years ago when they overthrew the yoke of Islamic domination the construction of churches was a priority and a sign of their freedom.

From Varna we drove into the fertile valley and into the region where the Danube flows into the Black Sea.

We arrived in Rusenski Lom which is a gorge which became a place where monks lived in caves. This was an opportunity to visit the rock hewn churches of Ivanovo. There were over 300 monolithic chapels and churches however most of them are not preserved.

The rock formations are very conducive to silence so no wonder it appealed to the hesychists monks who lived in total silence in a life dedicated to prayer.

When I began the climb up I was thinking about all the rock hewn churches I had seen in Ethiopia.

When you look at the entrance to the church you realize how much beauty is hidden to our eyes. The monastic movement flourished in the 13th century however after the Islamic conquest in the 14th century the settlement decayed. Today this is a treasure trove of 13th century frescoes of the Palaeologan period.

The Transfiguration.

Last supper.

These frescoes predate Giotto about 70 years. The molding of the figures show a humanism that is breaking away from iconic hieratic style.

The Annunciation.

The Anastasis. The Harrowing of Hell.

The natural light gives a golden hue to the frescoes.

Bachkovo Monastery

Plovdiv-043757The Bachkovo monastery of the Mother of God is one of the oldest and largest Orthodox monasteries in Europe from 1083.

The monastery church.


The refectory of 1601 has great artistic value.

Plovdiv-044706This depicts the Council of Nicaea that triumphed over Arius whom you see on the floor.

The Jesse tree.

The Last Judgement.


The Visitation.

The Visitation.

Saints Helena and Constantine.

Inside the church is the wonder working icon of Virgin Mary Eleusa of 1310 brought from Georgia. This is one of the three miraculous icons in Bulgaria.

Plovdiv-045736Gazing heavenward.


The current church was built in the 19th century over the prior church destroyed by the Muslims of the Ottoman empire.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

This morning [May, 2015] I began to wander the streets of old town Plovdiv which is one of the world”s oldest cities.

The city has many beautiful homes that point to a wealth 100 years ago when it was an important cultural crossroads.

This is a reconstruction of a Roman gate.

And Roman road.

The Roman milestone. Prior to the Romans Plovdiv was named Philippopolis after King Philip the father of Alexander the Great.

Today was the feast of Saints Helena and Constantine. People were bringing flowers to church and choirs were rehearsing for the Mass. One gets caught up in the chant which is mystical.

The city also has a Roman substructure that is being excavated. The Roman theatre is a masterpiece.

Plovdiv-022332 Plovdiv-022816 Plovdiv-023323 Plovdiv-023038    Plovdiv-022912    

Then on to the Russian church. The city was also home to some heretics called the Paulicians who were dualists, that is a Gnostic movement that gave way to the Bugomil heresy.

Bell tower of Saint Nicholas.

Then on to the mosque with this solar clock.

In recent years excavations have uncovered portions of the stadium.


This is the model of the Roman stadium.


Wonderful morning markets.

Stunning Frescoes of Boyana

The mountains where the monastery is located.


The Boyana church, on the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria, is a medieval church from the late 10th to early 11th century. The frescoes are stunning however photography is not allowed inside. They are an exceptional achievement that overcomes the stylisation of icons with individuality and vitality. When I looked at these I thought of Giotto and the Scrovengi chapel in Padua and marveled that these predate Giotto by 70 years. There are incredible nuanced shades of color and a perspective not seen in icons and frescoes.

When I started to identify themes my driver turned to me and said: “I went to school during Soviet times when we were deprived of religious education in school and have to make up for that with self study. The Soviets,” he said, “were masterful in that they deprived you of your legacy by trying  to erase it.” The art professor, Pierre Graber from Paris stated that these are the most precious contributions of Bulgaria to the world.

Saint John Rilski Monastery

Painted doorway

The entrance to the monastery.

Saint John Rilski was the first hermit monk in the desert; that is he lived in a cave in the forest. The library is the richest in Bulgaria.


The original church burnt so a new one was built in the 19th century.

Gazing Heavenward. You are not allowed to take pictures inside the church. The exterior photos give you some idea of the beauty of the interior that has an awesome 19th century golden icon screen.

Boyana-055315 Boyana-055344 Boyana-054948

The 14th century tower.

The tomb of Neofit Rilshi who is the 19th century monk who is the father of pedagogy in that he established a school at the monastery where he wrote grammar and lexicons and textbooks.


This is an active monastery among the 60 active monasteries in Bulgaria. The museum guide said there are baptisms everyday.