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.
testimonies of American missionaries who visited the monastery in
1862, there are 350 monks there, and on the eve of Easter there are
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
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."
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".
summer of 1846, a dozen robbers slaughtered five of the monastery
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
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)
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.
buildings of the monastery date back to the early nineteenth
century, when after a wildfire they were rebuilt.
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
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
Church "Introduction to the Mother of God"
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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.