For more than 142 years, the life of the legendary voivode Hristo Botev has been shrouded in a mist of unknown and unproven assumptions. Sharp controversies have tried to shed light on the truth of this matter. One of them is the controversy over his battle symbol – his personal saber. If we have to read the facts correctly, the versions of the real saber that the voivode held in his right hand during his final hours are intertwined. Each of them is not without reason and is based on facts, be them confirmed, rejected, or denied. How many swords did Hristo Botev have? From stepping on the Kozloduy coast to the Vola peak and which of them is the last one? In these three desperately decisive days, from May 17 to 20, 1876, Botev held two sabers in his right hand.
The first sword
“Don’t let me wear a cane or a pardesu these days, because I forget a lot,” the poet ordered his family. And the chronicler of the April Uprising Z. Stoyanov will add up to the picture: “The activity of our voivode was amazing when the time to leave drew close. He was out day and night, sometimes to buy rifles and prepare supplies, sometimes to accommodate and guide new recruits. On the captured steamer, the legendary voivode “extremely handsome and glamorous in his general uniform” warns Captain Dagobert Englender: “I have the word now, I am the captain here.” Nikola Kyuchukov gave a clear idea of the voivode‘s sword, explaining that “it was hung on a purl belt and a green satin scarf slung over the shoulder over the sword.”
In 1925, two researchers – Prof. Benyo Tsonev and Danail Katsev-Burski, while searching the truth about Botev’s sword, met with Petko Kruchmarya (The Tavern-keeper), a native of Kalofer, in Bucharest. He assured them that, according to his father, Hristo Botev’s sword was inlaid. On his return, Katsev-Burski met with Nikola Obretenov, who added: “It is true that Botev had two sabers. He received the first one from Dimitar Ikonomov, the detachment’s curator, along with binoculars and a card sling, as well as a hat. The saber, such as Ikonomov’s own, had an inscription just below the handle. The inscription was made of copper and had the name of Botev on the left, and on the other – the date of departure of the detachment for Bulgaria. It was a brand-new Circassian saber… As far as I remember, the inscription was made by a goldsmith in Giurgiu on May 11. His name was Georgi Sarmadjiata from Karlovo. Botev slung this sword over his shoulder when we captured the ship Radetzky, then took it out to give orders to the rebels. He held it in his hand when he spoke to the captain of the steamer. This inscribed saber was carried by Botev during the march from Kozloduy to Milin Kamak, while chased by the Ottomans. “
The same information is confirmed by the voivode‘s own brother – General Kiril Botev: “A rebel arrived with the explicit order to give him my sword for the voivode because he lost his own.” However, the exodus of Botev‘s lost First “ritual” saber is a really strange one! In 1900, on the occasion of Radoslav’s tithe, the dissatisfied Turkish population of Deliorman in Shabla and Durankulak rebelled. So, a regular Bulgarian army was sent to the field with the task to calm them down and seize their weapons. Cap. Yordan Stoyanov (the Comita) – an infantry officer, came across a sword with the initials “Hr. B “. and the date “May 17, 1876.” Realizing the meaning of the precious artifact at the moment, he kept it. The precious family relic was handed over to the Military Museum by his son – Capt. Ivan Stoyanov with the words: “I am not a donator. I‘m only returning a historical relic that belongs to the Bulgarian people.” The authenticity of the ritual sword is beyond any doubt because it is confirmed by the testimony from four sides: of Cap. Stoyanov, Gen. K. Botev, Bai Petko from Bucharest and to N. Obretenov. The sword is a Russian, Caucasian type, manufactured in Germany.
The second saber
“Ivan Stoyanov gave me a Romanian officer’s sword and I gave it to my brother between Kozloduy and Butan” says Gen. Kiril Botev, the voivode‘s brother. He confirms the fact that Hristo Botev carried the weapon given to him by the Giurgiu patriot Ivan Stoyanov – Solarya (the salt producer).
When asked by Burski, Nikola Obretenov answered specifically – this saber, The Ritual one with the inscription, is the one that Botev carries on the march from Kozloduy to Milin Kamak (rock), while chased by Turkish posies. When some of the boys were wounded at Milin Kamak (Gyuro the Furious) Botev went to check them, but his saber was gone. That is when we gave him another saber, one that he was carrying in his luggage from Bucharest, and that was gifted by the rebels to the Cherepish monastery after his death.” There’s information about that second saber from two other sources.
Zahari Stoyanov wrote first: “The Arnautin (a stubborn one) took the saber without getting seen.” Several men from the detachment carried such a nickname, but sources point to a rebel named Anton Tanasov from Prizren. He went above the village of Zverino after the defeat at the Kupen. He was wounded, captured, trailed, and later pardoned, and is almost certainly the rebel, who brought the saber to the Cherepish Monastery. The second source is Stoyan Zaimov, who states that Georgi Apostolov took the sword. Nikola Obretenov confirms this information:
By the advice of Pero the Macedonian, we gathered everything from Botyova, which could show that he was a voivode so that the enemies would not disgrace him. I took the map from his chest under his uniform, the watch, his binoculars, the compass, and a purse with 5 Napoleons. Apostolov took his hat with the lion, the saber, the revolver, and the uniform.
G. Apostolov and his group were slaughtered on the next day, May 21, 1876, in a shepherd’s hut in the area known as Rashov Dol. One of them crawled 150 meters between the rocks and returned three days later to his native village. This is probably the second opportunity to take the “voivode’s saber” to the monastery.
It is plausible that all the data given by Nikola Obretenov is in regards to the saber brought to the Cherepish Monastery “Assumption” by the monastery novice Neno Netsov, who served there at that time. The abbot of the monastery, Archimandrite Hadji Methodius, made serious research for witnesses to these events. The memoirs are duly preserved in Case № 5 of 1910.
According to the main witness, the horse groom Neno Netsov (Kelesha) went to the monastery barn in Krushovitsa, from where he later brought Botev’s saber. He told a monk – grandfather Gerasim, that he left it in a safe place, in the so-called “Rushid’s room under one of the wooden planks.” The rust literally corroded the sheath, and for this reason, in 1892 the then abbot, Hieromonk Epiphanius, commissioned the making of a new one. The technical data of the Cherepish saber coincide with those indicated by A. Katerinski, author of the book “New data on the history of Botev’s detachment” and of the local historian Petrov, who saw Botev’s saber as early as 1910:
The sword is gray in color. In the middle is inlaid the then coat of arms of Romania. It is decorated on both ends with interesting pyrographic ornaments. About 20 cm to the top is sharp and on both sides, there is an iron semicircle on the handle, which has triple arcs to the blade. Together with the handle, it is 1.03 m long. And only the length of the blade is 89 cm. Its width is two and a half centimeters. The sword had a gilded pommel, purl straps and tassels.
As seen from the chronology of events and from the testimonies of the participants in the three days from May 17 to May 20, 1876, Hristo Botev held two swords in his right hand.
Curiosity is aroused by the fact that during the erection of the monument to Hr. Botev in the center of Vratsa in the distant 1890, the Austrian sculptor Prof. Gustav Eberlein used as a prototype the Cherepish Saber, irrefutable proof of the authenticity of the saber of the legendary voivode.
However, the sword, a witness to the last hours and moments of the great Hristo Botev, was carefully kept for a hundred years as “something sacred” in the Cherepish Monastery and was passed down by the monks. Since 1976 it has been kept in the Vratsa Historical Museum, in memory of the feat and immortality of the voivode, a silent symbol of the strength of the Bulgarian spirit and the sacrifice for our Homeland.
The author of the article is Krassimir Grigorov head “Revival” Department in RIM Vratsa.