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The Bulgarian monasteries

Rila Mountain, Pirin Mountain, Rhodopes Mountain, Balkan (Stara Planina) Mountain, Vitosha Mountain, rock monasteries


The first monasteries appeared near the capitals and the largest cities in the 9th and 10th century - near Pliska, Great Preslav, Ochrid, and in Mount Athos (the Zograph Monastery). In the 10th century AD the first hermitages monasteries appeared - the Rila Monastery (on the UNESCO world natural and cultural heritage list) and later the Lesnovski Monastery (11th -12th century AD) etc. During the period of Byzantine domination (1018 - 1186 AD), the monasteries preserved the Bulgarian national conscience, language and literature, which later prospered at the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. The first rock churches, monasteries and sketos appeared in the 1 0th century. Rock monasteries lie near Ivanovo in the Rusenski Lorn Valley (on the UNESCO world natural and cultural heritage list), near Alfatar, Krepcha, Karlukovo, and in the Suha Reka Valley. The monasteries Sveta Bogoroditza (Holy Virgin) and Sveta Troitza (St Trinity) in Veliko Tirnovo, and the monasteries in Kilifarevo, Batoshevo, Zemen, and Dragalevtzi date from this period. The first monastic communities emerged - the Tirnovo community with its center at Sveti Chetirideset Muchenitzi (40 Holy Martyrs), the ones near Sliven, Vidin and Assenovgrad. The famous Mala Sveta Gora (Minor Mount Athos) near Sofia was composed of 14 monasteries. Some monasteries even had fortification.

After the fall under Turkish domination (14th - 19th centuries) many monasteries were destroyed or deserted. In the sec­ond half of the 15th century, people began restoring the monasteries and building new ones - including Eleshnishi (15th century), and Bilinski Monastery. During the National Revival period, the monasteries of Rila, Bachkovo, Preobrazhenie, and Troyan were restored and enlarged. The Hilendar and Zograph Monasteries in Mount Athos played an important role in upholding spiritual life. Through the beginning of the 19th century, the monasteries remained the centers of culture. They had libraries; writing and damascenes emerged; and they maintained connections with other monasteries in Russia, Serbia, Moldova, Wallachia, and Mount Athos. Only the monaster­ies preserved a portion of Bulgarian literature - the royal libraries had been plundered and destroyed. Many priceless written documents of Bulgaria's history were given away, sold or destroyed. Invaluable artifacts have been stolen or taken to foreign museums, or have disappeared into private collections.

The Golden Age of Art
The rulers' protection and generous donations to the church and scholars, after the conversion to Christianity and during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, led to the development of architecture and art (wall-painting, icon painting, and woodcarving). Art schools emerged. Icon painting flourished, but only few icons from this period have survived, unfortunately.

The 9th - 11 th century miniatures were made in the Byzantine handwritten book style, and in the 13th century, the manuscripts were still few in numbers. In the 14th century, outstanding examples of iconography and miniatures in the so-called Paleologue style were created. The vestiges of medieval Bulgarian writings Bulgarian literature in Slavonic are kept in museums all over the world today. A few of the many significant works include the ancient Zograph Gospel (10th century - displayed in Saint Petersburg), the beautiful Asemanii's Gospel (10th - 11th century displayed at the Vatican), the Sinai Prayer Book (11th century - displayed in Sinai), Klotz's Collection (11th century, Trento, Innsbruck), the Tetraevangelia of Ivan Alexander (also called the London Gospel, 1355 - 56, British Museum, London; it is the most richly decorated Bulgarian manuscript, the high peak in the development of medieval Bulgarian miniature painting, with 366 color miniatures depicting the royal family), Manasiis Chronicle (1344 - 47; it is one of the most significant works of the medieval translation literature, with five copies kept in Moscow, the Vatican, Romania, the Hilendar Monastery, Saint Petersburg), the uniquely decorated Tomich Psalter (circa 1360, Moscow) and many others. The importance of medieval Bulgarian literature is illustrated by the following story: the famous Rheims Gospel (11th - 14th century, Rheims, France) used during the coronation ceremonies of French kings is an old Russian copy of a Bulgarian gospel.

The Bulgarian Renaissance
During the Bulgarian Renaissance, the depictions of Bulgarian saints and spiritual leaders appeared in wall paintings; Ivan Rilski, Cyril and Methodius, Clement of Ochrid, and George of Sofia are all depicted. In order to comply with Ottoman law, churches had to have a humble outward appearance and had to be lower than neighboring mosques. Because of this, most of them are halfdug into the ground. National pride, however, is expressed through the decorations in the interiors. Artistic schools emerged during this period, including the schools of Triavna, Bansko, Debur and Samokov. Woodcarving reached its zenith. The fame of Kalofer woodcarvers spread. In addition to the unique woodcarved iconostases thrones in churches and monasteries, woodcarving was introduced to private houses as well. There were whole families of builders, painters and woodcarvers (Usta Kolio Ficheto; Dimiter and Zachari Zograph; Zachari, Ivan, Nikola, Stanislav Dospevski; Ivan and Nikola Obrazopisov; Papa Vitan Senior and Junior; Tzoniovi; Zacharievtzi and many others). The iconostases of the Sveta Bogoroditza church in Pazardjik, the metropolitan church in Samokov and the churches in Gabrovo, Plovdiv, Arbanasi, Triavna, Kilifarevo, Preobrazhenie monastery, Batoshevski monastery, Drianovo, Biala Cherkva, Svishtov and Silistra are of high artistic value.

Churches in Commemoration
After the Liberation in 1878, temples were erected to commemorate the victory and the fallen soldiers - St Alexander Nevski in Sofia, the church in the town of Shipka, the cathedral Sveta Bogoroditza in Varna, and Sveti Sedmochisfenitzi in Sofia. Churches that are more recent include Vanga's church in Rupite, the church in the Rhodopes village of Nedelino, and the church and chapel in the Krastova Gora in the Rhodopes. The St George Rotunda in Sofia (4th century cultural building) and the 11 th century church Sveti loan Predtecha in Kurdzhali (St John the Precursor), which is one of the most important Christian complexes on the Balkan Peninsula, a Byzantine bishops residence during the 11 th - 14th century - were recently restored and put back to operation.

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Last update: Tue, 23 January, 2007 13:33

Tue, 8 May, 2007 9:56