fbpx

Vratsa region and the strongholds of faith

Andrey Nikolov The sculptor who found Bulgaria too small
23 March 2020

Vratsa region and the strongholds of faith

Pilgrimage and humility have gone hand in hand throughout the history of the Bulgarian people. Pilgrimage is a spiritual journey to oneself although people travel all the way to holy places in some way connected with religion. For Bulgaria, these are primarily our Orthodox monasteries.

Christianity has been deeply rooted in the Balkans since 313 AD. Nish-born Roman Emperor Constantine the Great proclaimed it equal to other religions in the Roman Empire. Over the next thousand years, Christianity was the major religion in the Balkans. The invasion of Ottoman Turks during the Late Middle Ages saw Islam also settling in the region. There are many valuable sites of worship in the Bulgarian lands today. The monasteries were built in naturally protected and remote areas, away from the main roads. Vratsa region abounds in spots particularly suited for that purpose.

the Cherepish Monastery is nested in the Iskar Gorge. It was founded in the 12th century but has also been mentioned in association with the later Tsar Ivan Shishman. Destroyed multiple times during the years of Ottoman rule, the monastery was rebuilt by St. Pimen Zografski in the seventeenth century. It offered refuge from persecution to Sophronius Vrachanski and inspired prominent national writers like Ivan Vazov and Aleko Konstantinov for some of their works. It is located 25 km south of Vratsa and 10 km northwest of Mezdra, near the village of Lyutibrod.

The Seven Thrones Osenovlak Monastery sits above Eliseina in the Gabrovitsa River gorge, about 80 kilometres east of Sofia on the road to Mezdra through the Iskar Gorge, and 50 km away from Vratsa. A legend has it that the monastery was built in the 11th century, when seven Bessarabian boyars settled in the mountain and founded the villages of Lakatnik, Leskov dol, Zhelen, Osenovlak, Ogoya, Ogradishte and Bukovets. The monastery church dates from the 11th century. The building is unique with its seven altars and has no equivalent in Bulgaria. Four main altars form a cross and are separated from the main hall by internal walls. The other two are near the door and the last, seventh altar is located opposite the church entrance. Each "throne" forms a chapel with separate murals and an iconostasis dedicated to a Bulgarian saint.

St. Ivan Pusti is located within the boundaries of the Vratsa Mountain Nature Park, five kilometres from town. A special fasting facility (Postnitsa) stands above the building, where, according to legend, lived Ivan Rilski, whose name was later given to the monastery. The place also had a goldsmith's workshop, where Chiprovo goldsmiths Nikola and Pala used to work. In 1822, the first icon-printing shop in Bulgaria was founded here. Between 1894 and 1928, the monastery was abandoned by its monks and has since been called the 'empty one' (the translation of Pusti).

Gradeshnitsa monastery St. John the Baptist is located in the immediate vicinity of Gradeshnitsa, 36 km from Montana and 38 km from Vratsa. Its compound comprises an inner courtyard surrounded by stone walls. The two-storey residential buildings were erected in 1865 and are connected in the corner of the second floor with the small St. Ivan Rilski chapel. In 1998-2000 the church was restored and re-consecrated with the help of Kozloduy NPP.

 

The medieval secret of Tsarevets

Tsarevets is a village ensconced among the hills near Vratsa, preserving one of the oldest churches in Bulgaria in an almost original form. There are speculations that the temple is the oldest conserved one in the Balkans, much older than the village itself. According to one legend, the settlers found a very old church in the woods and built the present village nearby. According to historical dating, the St. Nicholas church was built in the 13th-14th centuries or even earlier. a stone carved with the year 1747 stands at its entrance, purportedly marking a refurbishment of the building. The iconostasis made of the local limestone is the only surviving one of its kind in Vratsa region.

The wooden iconostases that we associate with all Orthodox churches today emerged after the Bulgaria's fall under Ottoman rule. for some reason, Tzarevets locals have preserved the stone one. The old church is located in the village centre, in the yard of the new temple, which is "only" 134 years old. The old church is locked most of the time, with the key being kept across the street, in the town hall. The new St. Dimitar church is a sight for sore eyes in its own right - it is a large building made after the Liberation. Instead of having murals, its walls were left white, with stars painted on them. There are sacred sites, caves and rock paintings in the Tsarevets area, but most of them are difficult to access and require special equipment. The village is located east of Mezdra, with a nice road leading to it.