Religions in Bulgaria

st chistopher zlatolist

THE MYSTIC POWER OF ZLATOLIST

Born in 1883 near Serres, which was then in the Ottoman Empire and today is in Greece, Stoyna Dimitrova was seven years old when she experienced something extraordinary. While she was ill with smallpox, a strange storm engulfed her home and tried to push the door open. Her parents attempted to keep out the elements, but Stoyna told them not to – the storm was actually St George, who wanted to enter the house. Her parents complied and a strange light filled the room. When it all ended, Stoyna had become blind.

Sat, 05/28/2022 - 18:49
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Tombul Mosque in Shumen is arguably the most beautiful in Bulgaria

BULGARIA'S TOP MOSQUES

Sunni Islam is Bulgaria's second largest religion after Eastern Orthodoxy. In the centuries that have passed since its arrival with the Ottoman Turks in the second half of the 14th century its adherents have created some stunning and impressive mosques – though many have been lost to time, dereliction or active destruction, particularly after Bulgaria was liberated from the Ottomans in 1878.

Sat, 05/28/2022 - 17:11
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An Orthodox Satan is about to devour a unrighteous man in the village of Teshovo, western Bulgaria

THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS

Guidebooks boast about the beauty and artistic importance of the murals in Bulgaria's churches that date from the later centuries of Ottoman domination. Created by a society that was still deeply rooted in medieval tradition, but which was beginning to look towards and absorb Western European influences, this style of decoration sometimes charms but is sometimes hard to stomach. To the enthusiastic art lover, it embodies the search for new artistic means that defined the work of Bulgarian painters in the late 18th and 19th century.

Wed, 04/27/2022 - 11:55
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rila monatery from the air

WINTER IN RILA MONASTERY

As the largest and most famous monastery in Bulgaria, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rila Monastery can appear a little overwhelming if you visit in high season or during major Christian festivals. The crowds that gather in the picturesque yard, with its toy-like painted church and the striped arches of the galleries, can obliterate any feeling of holiness, or the tranquility that is usually associated with a monastic institution of such fame.

Fri, 02/25/2022 - 12:06
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st george day bulgaria

DAY OF ST GEORGE BULGARIAN STYLE

Bulgarians celebrate St George's Day, or Gergyovden, with enormous enthusiasm, both officially and in private. A bank holiday dedicated to valour, the Bulgarian аrmy and shepherds, 6 May is when some priests bless military banners while others in churches and monasteries consecrate lambs to be slaughtered and eaten communally. The army stages a parade in central Sofia and Bulgarian families gather to feast on lamb and celebrate the name-day of the ubiquitous Georgis and Gerganas among their ranks, all named after St George.

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 17:52
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In Bulgaria, no Easter is for real without coloured eggs and aromatic kozunak

BULGARIAN EASTER EATING

In 1956, Chudomir, one of Bulgaria's finest satirists, wrote in his diary: "Sunday, 6 May. Both Easter and St George's Day, but there are neither roast lamb nor red eggs at home. Traditions are fading away, the nice old feasts are being forgotten, disappearing with our generation." Just a few days before this entry, a young and seemingly harmless politician, Todor Zhivkov, had replaced Stalinist dictator Valko Chervenkov as the head of the Communist Party. The years of Stalinism, with its disregard for traditions and religion, were over, but people had yet to feel the change.

Thu, 04/01/2021 - 11:01
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WITNESS OF TIME

The largest Sephardic temple in Europe is situated in a central Sofia street, in an area where a mosque and several churches of various denominations "rub shoulders" with each other.

The story of how Sofia Central Synagogue appeared is a fascinating one, as it encapsulates the history of Bulgaria in the past century.

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 18:35
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Elena's traditional old town

POSTCARD FROM ELENA

"First we waited for the British tourists, then we waited for the Russians and now we are waiting for the Romanians." This was how, a decade ago, a guesthouse owner summed up the hopes and disappointments of small-time entrepreneurs in Elena, a town in the Stara Planina mountain range, about 40 kms from Veliko Tarnovo. Back in those days, EU-funded development of "green" initiatives and rural tourism was all the rage in Bulgaria, especially in economically struggling areas.

Fri, 10/30/2020 - 11:10
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BULGARIA'S FIREWALKERS

Police checkpoints, scores of cars parked along the roadside and throngs of people crowding between stalls selling candyfloss, kepabcheta and cheap Made-in-China toys: on 3 June, the village of Balgari looks much like any Bulgarian village during a country fair.

Balgari's fair, however, is unlike any other. When darkness falls over the village square, barefoot men and women will dance on live coals.

Tue, 06/02/2020 - 17:02
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EASTER IN RILA MONASTERY

The chatter of the small group of people at the gate of Rila Monastery in the cold spring evening is of the sort you can hear anywhere and anytime: hellos, how-do-you-dos, smalltalk, but neither the place, nor the people nor the occasion are ordinary. Monks in habits, practicing Eastern Orthodox Christians and a couple of clueless foreign tourists are gathered at the gate of Bulgaria's most revered monastery and most visited UNESCO-site long after business hours to wait for a car to arrive.

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 10:25
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RHODOPE'S 'SACRED TRIANGLE'

Triangles fascinate the imagination. Throughout history, the geometric shape defined by Euclides as three points that do not lie on the same line has been laden with religious and spiritual symbolism. It has also been connected to topography, such as the Egyptians pyramids, the so-called ley lines, and the Bermuda triangle, supposedly marking energy vortices.

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 10:22
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ONE TEMPLE, THREE RELIGIONS

Religion has been with humans since the dawn of Homo Sapiens, an evolutionary trait that appeared with the emergence of developed brains and language, tool use, morality and group living. Gods and deities changed, of course, through the millennia, constantly appearing and disappearing, transforming, adapting and beating the competition.

The constant change of gods and deities does not mean that sacred places changed with the same pace. A single place can be sacred to different faiths.

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 10:27
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CATHOLIC BULGARIA

In 1199, Pope Innocent III wrote a letter to Bulgarian King Kaloyan to offer an union. Bulgaria had just freed itself from two centuries of Byzantine domination and actively sought international recognition of its political and religious independence. Even by the standards of medieval communications Kaloyan was slow to respond. He wrote back to the pope three years later, when it emerged that the Byzantine emperor would not recognise him as king.

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 08:59
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glozhene.jpg

MONASTERY IN THE SKY

Seen from afar, St George's Monastery near Glozhene, by the Hemus highway, appears to challenge the laws of both physics and common sense. The compact monastic complex of wooden residential buildings with drooping eaves stands on the top of a narrow rock pillar.

Reaching the monastery is also a challenge. Signage in Yablanitsa, the nearest town, is non-existent and the GPS will send you to a dead-end. The road itself is a narrow band of crumbling asphalt clinging on to the steep slopes. Pray that you do not meet an oncoming car. In snow, it is impassable.

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 14:05
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FORGOTTEN GLORY OF RED CHURCH

They do exist, however: forgotten remnants of the time when the Eastern Roman Empire was trying to hold back the invasions of the Barbarians in the Balkans. Most are nothing more than low crumbling walls, almost invisible in the undergrowth and interesting only to archaeologists. Others, however, are still striking, despite time, neglect and the depredations of those seeking second-hand building materials.

One of them is near Perushtitsa, a town at the northern foot of the Rhodope, more famous as the scene of intense fighting and a massacre during the 1876 April Uprising.

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 15:40
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PREOBRAZHENSKI MONASTERY

The Wheel of Life scene, on the southern wall of the main church, is self-explanatory. Here unfolds the human cycle, the eternal flux mirroring the passing of the seasons. The naivety of the child in spring blends into the confidence of the adult in summer, before settling into the wisdom of the ageing man in his autumn, until it reaches the despair and demise of the old man in his winter; a never-ending cycle put into motion by Death itself.

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 15:01
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christ in rocket.jpg

CHRIST IN SPACE?

Christ was an alien. Or if He wasn't, then four centuries ago there were UFOs hovering over what is now southwestern Bulgaria.

If you believe the hype, evidence that aliens visited us in the past, probably inspiring Christianity, exists hidden in plain sight. In a church. In Bulgaria.

A fresco in a 17th century church in Dobarsko village, near Bansko, is said to represent Christ in a space rocket, in the Transfiguration scene.

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 12:55
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russian church sofia.jpg

BULGARIA'S RUSSIAN CHURCHES

The impact of the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish war in what is now Bulgaria is hard to exaggerate. The nation regained its independence after five centuries of Ottoman domination, and established strong, but often troubled, relations with first imperial and then Soviet Russia, mingling the inevitable gratitude for those who died in the war with the need to have independent foreign, economic and social policy.

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 15:45
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