Rich history and ethnic diversity have created many temples in Sofia
Issue 47-48, August-September 2010
by Gergana Manolova; photography by Anthony Georgieff
Religion is part of everyday life in the capital city of Bulgaria – and part of the city landscape. Sometimes it stands apart in the impressive bodies of cathedrals or tall minarets. Other times it blends in with the surroundings in an inconspicuous gray building, with small notices inviting passers-by to come in and listen to an Evangelist sermon or get some White Brotherhood literature. Diversity is just below the surface in a complex mix of cultural and ethnic influences. To get to know Sofia's temples is to dip into the millennia-old history of Bulgarian lands. The turbulence of the 20th Century political twists left obvious scars. Confiscated church property, bans on religious practice and eroding faith contributed to the casual, secular attitude of Bulgarian citizens to mainstream religions. But the temples survive and carry on – you need only take a closer look see the life in them.
St Yoan Rilski Sofia Seminary
Around the beginning of the 20th Century, the Bulgarian Synod decided to move the Theology School from Samokov to the capital. The Sofia City Council had donated a plot of 12 acres for the building of the Sofia Seminary on a bald hill south of the town. Friedrich Grünanger, who designed more than 15 public and private buildings in Bulgaria, undertook the project and incorporated elements of Byzantine style and Bulgarian Revival church architecture.
Contributions for the construction flowed quickly. The seminary was completed in just one year and opened for classes in 1903. After another donation from the city council, the plot grew to 24 acres and was populated with rare trees and plants, given to the seminary by Knyaz Ferdinand.
The school's peaceful atmosphere was disturbed by the Balkan wars and the First World War – the army recruited students, the building was turned into a military hospital. Times of political unrest followed and the seminary moved back and forth several times. In 1950 the move was made more permanent – Prime Minister Valko Chervenkov wanted the seminary building turned into a Communist Boy Scouts' Palace. The Sofia Seminary was united with the one in Plovdiv and moved close to the Cherepishki Monastery in the Stara planina mountain. It returned to its premises as late as 1990 and currently teaches about 300 students. The buildings have been renovated, the beautiful park with century-old trees spruced up. It is open to the public every day, along with the seminary church St Yoan Rilski.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers