Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery


Location: Kyustendil Province

Rila Monastery Museum

Open: 8am- 5pm

Entrance Fee: 8 lv


Description of Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery of Saint John of Rila also known as Rila Monastery is the largest and most visited monastery in Bulgaria. It is located 117 km south of Sofia deep in the valley of Rilska river at an elevation of 1147 m above sea level. Rila Monastery started by a single hermit Saint John and grew to be one of the most important religious, cultural and historical icons for Bulgarians. In time of Ottoman rule using privileges granted by the authorities monks managed to preserve written records of history and language thus keeping the national identity during foreign yolk. Few monks live in Rila Monastery today, but there is still sense of tranquility and peace. Museums, chapels and different rooms are open to the tourists. Besides you can go hike at your own accord and see the cave with a small chapel where it all started. In order to get there you have to follow the same road that brought you to the monastery further into the mountains. Last few hundred feet is a hiking trail that leads up. It is of moderate steepness, but it is not very long.


History of Rila Monastery

The current monastery is located near the village of Pastra - not far from the place of its original construction. The Rila River flows along it. This is the largest monastery in Bulgaria - 5 floors, 4 of which are visible. This feature of the building is explained by the restrictions imposed by the Ottoman government in 1834, when the current buildings were built. The museum is located on the ground floor.

The monastery "St. John of Rila" was built on the site of an old fasting house in 927 - 941 by St. John of Rila the Wonderworker (according to some authors - by his students) in the Rila Mountains. In the yard of today's monastery in 1335 a defensive tower and a small one-nave church were built by the local feudal ruler Protosevast Hrelio. The tower is the oldest preserved building in the monastery complex. At the top of the tower is the chapel "Holy Transfiguration" with valuable frescoes from the 30s of the 14th century.

Tsar Ivan Shishman (1371 - 1393) issued on September 21, 1378 the Rila charter, signed and sealed with a gold seal, which gave the monastery as feudal estates 20 villages, along with their lands.

As early as 1402, the Ottoman government ordered the Kyustendil kadi to confirm the pre-existing rights of the monastery. The tax register from 1520 - 1521 lists by name 21 monks living there. In 1469, with the help of Mara Brankovic, the relics of St. John of Rila were transferred back from Tarnovo to the Rila Monastery.

Since its founding, the monastery has become a literary and educational center. Neofit Rilski, who founded a cell school here during the Revival, developed a great pedagogical activity in it. The monastery provides shelter to great Bulgarian revolutionaries, including Vasil Levski, Ilio Voivoda, Gotse Delchev, Peyo Yavorov and others.

In 1778 the monastery "St. John of Rila ”fell victim to a wildfire. It was rebuilt in 1784 by Alexi Rilets, who in 1816-1819 designed and built the east, north and west wings. A significant part of the monastery was burned down again in 1833, and its restoration was again carried out by Alexi under the leadership of the then abbot Joseph the Builder. In 1840 a new iconostasis of the church was made by Petar Filipov, Anton Stanishev and Dimitar Stanishev.

According to testimonies of American missionaries who visited the monastery in 1862, there are 350 monks there, and on the eve of Easter there are 400 guests.

Today the ensemble of the monastery covers an area of ​​8800 m², of which 5500 m² built-up area. The monastery wings, built at different times on the 4th and 5th floors, surround on all sides the only courtyard in the shape of an irregular pentagon.

Raids and devastation
During the Ottoman rule the monastery was weakly fortified and was a frequent victim of raids. "... and it has been difficult for centuries to guard such desert monasteries from the main and private sweets, from which they still suffer at the present time, and even more so then."

On August 16, 1778, the monastery was ravaged by robbers. "In the summer of Christ 1778, the month of August, the 16th day, the enlightening Thursday, the third time the holy monastery of the cursed Arnauts was plundered by 30 people, and the whole building was burned to the ground, except the pyre and the church. King Sultan Hamid of Hagar. "
In 1818 the monastery was thoroughly renovated, but in 1819 it was surrounded by 800 regular Ottoman troops and looted.
In 1821, after the uprisings in Greece, the monastery was looted again by the regular army.
On January 12, 1833, the monastery burned down after a fire: "the whole monastery building except the pyre and the church burned down".
In the summer of 1846, a dozen robbers slaughtered five of the monastery farm.

Rila Congress of the IMRO
In addition to providing shelter, the monastery held meetings. In October 1905, the Rila Congress, a general congress of the Secret Macedonian-Edirne Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), lasted a whole month in the monastery. . Distinguished leader Dame Gruev was appointed chairman of the congress, and prominent Bulgarian revolutionaries such as Hristo Chernopeev, Yane Sandanski, Pere Toshev, Gjorche Petrov, Boris Sarafov, Georgi Pophristov, Petar Kushev, Mishe Razvigorov, Kliment Shapkarev, Pavel Pavel took part in the congress. , Dobri Daskalov, Lazar Tomov and others. After the Rila Congress there was a split in the Organization, which became final after the heroic death of Gruev in 1906.

1944 - 1989

On July 22, 1961, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party decided that the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of the Interior should submit a proposal to the Council of Ministers "to use the Rila Monastery as a state museum and to cease all church activities." . By Decree 403 of the Presidium of the National Assembly of October 11, 1961, the Rila Monastery was declared public property and the Ministry of Education and Culture was assigned to turn it into a National Museum. The monastery was declared the National Museum "Rila Monastery" and was inaugurated in 1965. Meanwhile, the Rila monks were moved to the Bachkovo, Troyan and Transfiguration monasteries. In 1968 the monks were allowed to return to the monastery and on October 1, 1968 they returned to the Rila Monastery, but the worries over them did not cease.

In 1976 the monastery became a national historical reserve, and since 1983 it has been a cultural monument under the auspices of UNESCO. By Decree of the Council of Ministers № 75 of April 29, 1991, the monastic status of the Rila Monastery was restored. On May 3, 1991, the Grand National Assembly repealed the 1961 decree by law.

The Rila Monastery, including the Hrelov Tower, the church, the monastery buildings and the Church of St. Luke were declared in 1927 "folk antiquity" (State Gazette, issue 69 of 1927).

In 1968, the Hrelov Tower was declared an architectural monument of culture from the Middle Ages (State Gazette, issue 77 of 1968).

At the 7th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, held from 5 to 9 December 1983 in Florence (Italy), the Rila Monastery was declared a World Heritage Site. Manuscripts, old printed books, documents from the 14th century to the 19th century are kept in the Rila Monastery, and in the museum - many ancient objects, such as church utensils, wands, icons, weapons, coin collection, etc.

In 1992 the Rila Monastery; The tomb of St. John of Rila, including the church "Assumption of St. John of Rila ”and the fasting house St. John of Rila; The hermitage "St. Luke", including the churches "St. Luke" and "Holy Intercession" and the cell school; the Orlitsa convent with the church “St. St. Peter and Paul ”; and the Church of the Assumption of the Mother of God have been declared group architectural, historical and artistic complexes of national importance, and the Pchelino convent - a group architectural and historical complex of local importance (State Gazette, issue 73 of 1992)

Monastery buildings
Monastery complex
During its thousand-year existence, the monastery has changed its place twice, it has been destroyed and renovated several times. In the 14th century it was renovated by the Bulgarian ruler Hrelio Dragovol, and from this period a tower with a chapel "Transfiguration" and archaeological remains of the medieval fortress have been preserved.

Today's buildings of the monastery date back to the early nineteenth century, when after a wildfire they were rebuilt.

The Hreli Tower with the Chapel of the Transfiguration
In the 14th century the monastery was renovated by the Bulgarian ruler Hrelio Dragovol, and from this period a medieval tower with the chapel "Transfiguration" has been preserved, in which valuable frescoes from the 14th century are preserved.

Church of the Nativity
The Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God is the catholicon of the monastery. The construction of the church began in 1835 and was completed in 1837. Its builder was the first master Pavel Ivanovich from the village of Krimin, Sisani diocese, a descendant of an old family of builders. five chapels, two chapels dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myra and St. John of Rila have been added to the north and south.

The frescoes of the cathedral are the work of the most prominent painters of the nineteenth century, including Dimitar Hristov Zograf, Zahari Zograf and other Samokov painters. The iconostasis is the work of Atanas Teladur from Samokov and Petar Garka.

Church "Introduction to the Mother of God"
The Church of the Presentation of the Mother of God is the cemetery church of the Rila Monastery, located south of the monastery.


It is built in three stages. The first construction stage covers the construction of a two-storey church-ossuary. The lower floor is a rectangular room where the bones of the monks are kept, the upper floor is a single-nave church with an apse, slightly protruding outside the east wall, a large altar with five niches in the walls and a rectangular elongated nave. The iconostasis is carved and dates from the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. The walls of the two-story church are massive, stone. The church was built probably before the middle of the 18th century. It was painted in 1795, as the founder was the Metropolitan of Samokov Philotei. During the second stage, a two-storey building was added to the second floor of the church from the west, which has massive walls on the lower floor and rafters on the upper floor. This part of the construction dates from the end of the 18th or the beginning of the 19th century. During the third stage from the west a two-storey gallery was built in front of the monastic cells.

Old Lent with the Church of the Assumption of St. John of Rila
About 5 km east of the monastery is the Old Lent, where the church "Assumption of St. John of Rila" was built. In 1746, where the present church building rises, a church was built above the place considered to be the site of the saint's original tomb. Next to the church is the cave-dwelling of the hermit in the tenth century. In 1820 the church was rebuilt from foundations as a single-nave, one-apse building with a vestibule to the post-cave. The church is massive and vaulted, with blind domes. In 1820 the church was completely painted, but today the frescoes are badly damaged.

New Lent - St. Luke's Hermitage with the churches "St. Luke" and "Protection of the Mother of God
The Church of St. Luke was built in the late eighteenth century on the site of the original chapel, erected in memory of the nephew of St. John of Rila. The building is single-nave, single-apse with a large narthex. It is two-storey, and under the church itself there is a room with a fireplace and a large walled part, the western wall of which is of medieval construction. It is believed that these are the remains of the original chapel of St. Luke.

The construction of the church and the ground floor is stone, massive, and both floors are vaulted. The iconostasis, which is now in the NIM, is wood carved, gilded and richly painted. It dates from the 18th century. The nave and the narthex were painted in 1799 during the time of Abbot Gerasim, as the patron was hieromonk Ignatius (Ivan Kalpakchi from Stara Zagora). The frescoes in the apse are by Toma Vishanov, and in the nave and the narthex by painters from the Samokov school. In 1864, a large vestibule was added on the west side of the church, which connected it with the school built by Neofit Rilski.

In the immediate vicinity north of the church "St. Luke", on a higher terrace, is the church "Protection of the Mother of God", built in 1805 by the masters Michael and Radoitsa from the village of Rila, on the foundations of an older church - " Protection of the Mother of God. ”Her frescoes from 1811 are the work of Toma Vishanov Molera and other masters from the Bansko Art School.

Post office "St. Theodosius of Tarnovo"
Theodosius Lent, dedicated to St. Theodosius of Tarnovo is located 1.5 km from the monastery, on the road to the Old Lent. It consists of a church and a two-storey residential building. It was built with the funds of the Rila monk Theodosius Rilets (December 19, 1914 - August 18, 1985) in 1956. The fast remained unfinished due to the eviction of the monks from the monastery in 1961. The temple was built of cut stone, and in its vestibule were two additional auxiliary rooms. It was painted by the Russian artist Nikolai Shelekhov. The murals were restored in 2016 during the summer internship at the Department of Restoration - National Academy of Arts.

Convent "Eagle" with the church "St. St. Peter and Paul "
The Rila convent "Orlitsa" is located on the right bank of the river Rilska, about 2.5 km east of the town of Rila and 18 km from the Rila Monastery.

It was probably built in the middle of the 15th century. In 1469 the solemn procession with the relics of John of Rila, transferred from Tarnovo to the monastery, spent the night in the Orlitsa convent.

The convent is a complex consisting of a church, residential and farm buildings. The church "St. St. Peter and Paul ”is a small, one-nave cult building, built in 1478, painted in 1478 and completely in 1491. In 1863 it was re-painted by Nikola Obrazopisov - an artist from the Samokov School of Painting. preserved part of the medieval frescoes (above the entrance and in the apse).

Convent of Pchelino with the Church of the Assumption

The Rila convent Pchelino is located about 4 km also southwest of the monastery. The convent is a complex consisting of a church, residential and farm buildings. Its representative part consists of a small residential building located southeast of the one-nave one-apse church "Assumption" built in the 80s of the 18th century. The building is made of stones welded with mud, the ceiling and the iconostasis are wooden.

The patrons of the church are the Bosnian Metropolitan Seraphim and the hieromonk Sebastian Rilski (their donor portraits are on the west wall of the nave, to the left of the door), and the frescoes are the work of the Bansko painter Dimitar Molerov, completed according to a preserved patron inscription in March Of interest is the multi-figure scene of the Last Judgment, located along the entire west wall in the vestibule of the temple.

The royal order of icons, painted in 1789 by Zachary Galatishki - St. John of Rila, the Assumption, Our Lady of Pantanas, St. George, St. John the Baptist and Christ Pantocrator, is stored in the Icon Gallery of the Rila Monastery. The patron of these icons is Archimandrite Ignatius, who must be distinguished from the monk of the same name depicted as a donor in the church at the Lent "St. Luke" (1799).

The Rila Monastery is among the Hundred National Tourist Sites of the Bulgarian Tourist Board. It is open for visits from 8 am to 6 pm every day, the seal is in the museum of the monastery. Taking pictures in the church and the museum of the monastery is forbidden. Photography is allowed in the courtyard of the monastery.