Holy Transfiguration Monastery
The Holy Transfiguration Monastery resembles a bird nest picturesquely laid out at the foot of vertical rocks. It is 10 km away from Veliko Tarnovo on the left side of the River Yantra, on the way to the City of Rousse. Right opposite, on the rocky hills over against it, stands the Holy Trinity Patriarchal Monastery.
Founded in 14 c., the Holy Transfiguration Monastery is still functional today. The present-day buildings as well the Holy Transfiguration Cathedral date back from 19 c. The construction of the church started under the guidance of Dimitar of Sofia, who was later seized and hanged by the Ottoman authorities as participant in the Velcho’s Conspiracy. So, the church was completed by Master Kolyo Ficheto. The great Bulgarian architect and engineer created a unique structure without an analogue among other Bulgarian monasteries. Kolyo Ficheto also designed and built the monastic dormitory with its splendid loggias.
The Transfiguration Monastery has another indisputable merit – the decoration of the church interiors – the work of another great Bulgarian artist, Zakhari Zograf. In the course of three years (1849-1851) the outstanding icon-painter created veritable masterpieces of Bulgarian Revival art. The alter icons as well as the exterior mural of the Wheel of Life are priceless creations. We can add to them another sophisticated piece – the Royal Gates wood-carved composition.
The Nativity of the Holy Virgin Monastery, Kilifarevo
The Kilifarevo Monastery is 2 km away from the town of the same name, to the south of Veliko Tarnovo. It is a spiritual center that has left a worthy vestige in the Bulgarian history and culture.
The monastery dates back to the reign of Tsar Ivan Alexander but is mostly associated with St. Theodosius of Veliko Tarnovo. Adherent of St. Gregory of Sinai and of Hesychasm, Theodosius found here the perfect place for prayer and service. The monastery was built in 1348-1350. The holy place soon attracted men of the cloth and emerged as a busy literary center of the Tarnovo Kingdom, known in history as the Tarnovo Literary School. Liturgical books were written in the Kilifarevo Monastery; passionals of Bulgarian, Greek and Serbian saints were translated here; chronicles and miscellanies were compiled. The glory of the Tarnovo Literary School and of St. Theodosius of Tarnovo went beyond the Bulgarian borders to reach Russia, Serbia and other countries in Europe.
In 1360 the monks serving in the monastery were in excess of 460. One of them was the future Bulgarian Patriarch Euthimius, a follower of St. Theodosius of Tarnovo.
When the Turks conquered Tarnovo, the monastery was put to fire and reduced to rubble. More than three centuries later it was rebuilt however, at the foot of the old structure. It was then that the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church was erected and decorated. In 1840 master Kolyo Ficheto designed and built the present-day spacious one-knave and one-dome church of St. Demetrius.
The old Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church was styled like a chapel dedicated to St. Theodosius of Tarnovo, The 1843 wood-carved iconostasis made by Tryavna masters, has been preserved. A second chapel was built later to commemorate St. Ivan of Rila.
Sts. Peter and Paul Monastery (Lyaskovets)
Sts. Peter and Paul Monastery, also known as the Monastery of Lyaskovets stands on the Arbanassi Plateau. It originated during the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (12-14 c.). Owing to that the plateau was high and difficult to access, the monastery has survived. It is 6 km away from Veliko Tarnovo. The beauty of its summer flower garden is complemented by the splendid vista to the Danube Plain and the Balkan Range. The 31-m bell tower in the monastery courtyard is particularly impressive.
Sts. Peter and Paul Monastery was closely involved in the national-liberation struggles. Vasil Levski, Matey Preobrazhenski, Bacho Kiro, Hristo Ivanov and other revolutionary leaders visited the place on a few occasions. The monastery accommodated the first Bulgarian ecclesiastical seminary. In 1874 Bishop Ilarion Makariopolski inaugurated a Bulgarian ecclesiastical school. The monastery’s history is linked to the names of renowned Revival leaders including Vasil Drumev, Sophronius of Vratsa, Georgi Sava Rakovski and others.
In the aftermath of the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War of Liberation there were many Bulgarians – children and adults – who had suffered from the Turkish atrocities, so the Slavonic Charity Committee founded an orphanage at the monastery. Writer Dobry Voynikov was appointed as its manager.
The monastery was famous beyond the bounds of the vast Ottoman Empire. This was probably the reason why it received a precious donation: a gilded gospel and an ark from Russian Emperor Peter the Great.
The monastic cells have witnessed another patriotic act. The local monks made a manuscript copy of the Slav-Bulgarian History by Paissius of Hilendar.
Asphalted roads from Lyaskovets, Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi take visitors to the Sts. Peter and Paul Monastery.
The Holy Trinity Patriarchal Monastery
Opposite the Holy Transfiguration Monastery on the right bank of the River Yantra, on the road Veliko Tarnovo-Russe, stands the Holy Trinity Monastery, also known as Patriarchal, Assen’s or Shishman’s. It is assumed to have originated in 1070. The ruins of the original structure lie one km away from the present-day cloister.
Upon returning from Mount Athos, monk Euthimius lived here. In 1375 the distinguished cleric was elected Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
For the reputation of Patriarch Euthimius and for its brisk literary and schooling activities the Holy Trinity Monastery emerged as a major spiritual center. A literary school was launched here known with the name the Tarnovo School.
The present-day church was built in 1847 over the foundations of an earlier church. It was the work of master Kolyo Ficheto as suggested by an inscription: “…renewed in the year 1847, April 9, by master Nikola Iovanovich from the village of Dryanovo.” The icons of the iconostasis and the frescos are the work of Zakhari Zograf.
The powerful earthquake of 1913 reduced the monastery to rubble. Only few icons were saved in the tragedy, including the Holy Trinity one dated to 1708. The church was restored in 1927.
The monastery has rendered great services to Bulgarian history. Resulting from the fruitful work of Patriarch Euthimius and his disciples from all Slavonic countries, an important spelling reform was carried out here establishing a uniform orthography. This project, as well as the literary activities of the Holy Trinity and the rest of Veliko Tarnovo monasteries contributed significantly into the survival of the great work of the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius – the creation and dissemination of the Slav-Bulgarian alphabet.
Despite that most of the manuscript copies, liturgical books and miscellanies were destroyed during the Ottoman Yoke, bits from the literary heritage were transferred and preserved in Russia and in other Slavonic countries. This way manuscripts, passionals and other precious writings have survived to the present day.
An asphalt road via Samovodyane or from Veliko Tarnovo takes visitors to the Holy Trinity Monastery.
St. Nicholas of Myra Wonderworker Monastery, Kapinovo
The Kapinovo Monastery is huddled in the folds of the Elena section of the Balkan Range. It is 18 km from the city of Veliko Tarnovo and 24 km from the town of Elena. Its natural scenery brings the fascination of the Balkan Range. Nearby flows the River Veselina.
An inscription has been preserved in the monastery church with the year 1272 on it – the time of the reign of Tsar Constantine Tih (1257-1277). It is assumed that the monastery was founded by his predecessor Tsar Ivan Assen II (1218-1241).
During the times of the Ottoman Yoke this monastery shared the fate of other Christian centers – it was burnt down.
At the end of 17 c. peasants from nearby villages lobbied before the authorities for the restoration of the monastery.
For a brief interval Bulgarian spiritual leader and writer Sophronius of Vratsa was the monastery’s Father Superior. He brought a manuscript of the Slav-Bulgarian History by Paissius of Hilendar used by the monks to make a new copy of the milestone book. A literary school emerged in the monastery.
The present-day monastery church St. Nicholas is one-knave, without a dome, with a spacious naos and narthex. It was built by two self-taught masters from Dryanovo. Its fresco Doomsday dated to 1845 is of particular artistic merit.
Two-storey dormitories encircle the monastery.