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The Osenovlag Monastery “Holy Virgin” (Seven Thrones)

The Osenovlag, one of the most interesting monasteries nationwide, also known as the Seven Thrones, is located in the Iskar Gorge, 5 kilometres south of Eliseyna Station, in the Gabrovnitsa River Valley.

The monastery emerged as a spiritual centre in the 10th-11th century. According to one of the legends regarding the monastery's creation, it was related to Tsar Peter II Delyan's brother, Prince Georgi, who took the vows and the monastic name Gavril. After the Pecheneg invasion, Gavril fled to his other brother Damian in Vratsa and the two became the first monastery donors. According to another legend, the monastery was founded in 11th century by seven boyars who came from Bessarabia and settled in the mountain with their families, establishing seven villages near the monastery: Osenovlag, Ogoya, Ogradishte, Bukovets, Leskov Dol, Zhelen and Lakatnik.

The monastery's name is also associated with its church, which is unique for the whole of Europe, consisting of seven altars /thrones/ corresponding to seven chapels dedicated to Bulgarian saints. It was partially destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt in 1815. The four main altars form a cross and are separated from the main hall by internal walls. The large wooden chandelier under the church dome is made of 15 splendidly carved pieces and is known as 'the ring dance'.

The most valuable relic in the monastery is the icon of St. Virgin Mary of the 11th century: It is said to have been brought from the Monastery of Athos by Abbot Gavrail. The traces of fire are still visible on it since the time the monastery was set on fire by Turkish invaders. Only this miraculous icon survived from the ashes and destruction.

Ensconced in the bosom of the Old Mountain, the monastery was a cultural centre for local communities during the years of Ottoman rule. With its solid walls and iron gates, it often provided shelter to local rebels and chieftains, e.g. Chavdar Voyvoda, Vulchan Voyvoda etc.

In 1737, Sultan Mahmud the Godless ordered the destruction of many monasteries and churches, including the Osenovlag one: all thirteen monks were brutally slain and a memorial plaque for their sacrifice can be seen today in the monastery courtyard. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1770 and the peace agreement signed, Sultan Abdul Majid issued a decree authorizing his subject Christians to build churches and monasteries.

In the early 19th century, during the turbulent times of the kirdzhali (large gangs of mounted brigands in the 19th-century), the Osenovlag Monastery was depopulated and its buildings were demolished. The monastery's restoration began in 1824, with the help of the Vratsa local, Dimitraki Hadzhitoshev. In 1848, Father Christopher established here a monastery school and served as one of the teachers. In the era of national liberation struggles, the Osenovlag Monastery repeatedly provided refuge to revolutionaries, including the Apostle Vasil Levski.

Legend has it that the monastery's clapper was forged in 1799 with iron taken from the gates of the Kaleto medieval fortress nearby. This was the idea of Sophronius Vrachanski while he was hiding here from Circassians. After Liberation, the clapper's ring inspired Ivan Vazov for his ballad "The Clapper is Tolling" from the cycle Vagrant Songs:

 

"Over so many years in the depth of the wild

from beating his clapper the old monk never tired,

but there came a time when ravenous infidels filed

and captured the land and sank it in fire. "


Useful information:

Osenovlag Monastery is located 86 kilometres north-east of Sofia on the road to Mezdra through the Iskar Gorge, 50 kilometres from Vratsa and five kilometres south of Eliseyna Station. Coming from Sofia, take the road to the right just after the level crossing. The road to the monastery is in a moderate state of repair, but is too narrow and calls for cautious driving. there is an inauspicious restaurant right in front of the monastery, as well as a few souvenir stalls.

On the eve of the monastery feast, on September 8, locals from the surrounding villages come after sunset with torches for worship and prayers.

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