Churches and monasteries in Arbanassi

The Nativity Church

The oldest church in the Arbanassi Architecture Reserve is the Nativity. It was erected in the late 16 c. and the early 17 c. and represents a stone building sized 28.8 m per 10.4 m. It stands in the western corner of the village close to St. Nicholas Monastery. The churchyard bordered on a house that was used as a convent of Mount Athos monasteries. For some time it was the home of Neophyte of Rila. The Nativity Church is the most richly painted church in Arbanassi. The murals in the naos (men’s section) date back to 1597. The superb compositions Doomsday and The Nativity of Christ are also dated to that period. The magnificent murals in the narthex (the women’s section) offer rich plots and lovely figural images. The decoration of the narthex was completed in 1638. The iconostasis in the St. John the Baptist chapel at the church is one of the earliest masterpieces of wood-carving in the Bulgarian lands.

For its breathtaking interiors completely covered with frescos the church is unparalleled in Bulgaria. The broad thematic range of mural compositions reveals an aesthetic taste brought to perfection, coupled with encyclopaedic quality of knowledge.

The church and its artistic value have on many occasions been the subject of research and publications by prominent Bulgarian historians, theologians and art critics. It is a monument of culture of world importance.

Sts. Archangels Michael and Gabriel Church in Arbanassi

The biggest church in Arbanassi is Sts. Archangels Michael and Gabriel. It was built in 17 c. and its frescoes were painted in 1761 by two artists – Mikhail from Thessaloniki and Georgi from Bucharest.

It is located in the southeastern part of the village. The present-day cult building stands over the foundations of an ancient medieval church. Similar to other Arbanassi churches, Sts. Archangels Michael and Gabriel is opulently painted, a proof of the robust finances of Arbanassi residents and of their refined aesthetic taste. The church mirrors the masonry traditions of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom.

St. Demetrius Church in Arbanassi

In the aftermath of Bulgaria’s liberation and until the major earthquake in 1913 St. Demetrius was the central parochial church in Arbanassi. Amid a pretty yard in the center of the village the church welcomes visitors with an olden bell.

The church interiors were painted with frescos from 1612 to 1794. A particularly precious image is the mural of Isaiah’s Tree of Life, a composition that is rather rare in church painting. A must-see is the iconostasis with its gilded wood-carving.

St. Demetrius Church had many well-off donors who supported its maintenance and communal activities. One of them was the eminent Arbanassi merchant, the master of the Hadjihristov House, Stefan Chamourov.

St. Atanassius Church in Arbanassi

St. AtanassiusChurch is one of the most remarkable monuments of Bulgarian art and culture in 14-18 c. It is the smallest among Arbanassi’s five churches, but of no lesser value in terms of aesthetic quality and fresco work. The St. Haralampios Chapel was built to the church with murals painted by teacher Tsoyu and Nedyu in 1726. The frescoes in the narthex and the naos of St. Atanassius are even earlier. The compositions that stand out include a rare Old Testament Trinity and Doomsday. The church stands in the northeastern end of the village.

St. George Church in Arbanassi

St. George Church has a precise dating based on an inscription found in the altar and above one of its northern windows pointing to the year 1661. The fact that it was built in the second half of 17 c. makes it similar to other churches of the time in terms of interior and exterior design.

Its iconostasis however, is of special interest, because some of its parts are earlier – dated to 16 c. The names of teacher Hristo and Stoyo who painted the naos and the altar, are also known.

The Assumption (Virgin Mary) Monastery in Arbanassi

The Assumption Monastery in Arbanassi boasts an eventful history, both glorious and martyred. Founded during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, it shared the destiny of many churches and monasteries in the wake of the Ottoman conquest of Bulgaria. Originally it was well-off, but was later repeatedly plundered by Karcali brigands and was deserted.

At the end of 17 c. the locals built a new church surviving to date. Despite its humble exterior, its interiors are complete with murals painted by teachers Krastyo, Tsonyo and Georgi.

There is a fascinating legend linked to the icon of the Holy Virgin with Three Hands put in a special place inside the church. When the monastery was ravaged the nuns buried the icon of the Holy Virgin before leaving the place. Many years passed. One day while herding his sheep, a shepherd boy heard somebody weeping under the earth. He told his landlord about the incident. Then villagers came by and dug out the icon believed to be wonder-working. The Holy Virgin with Three Hands icon has a relief surface and a silver cover. Part of the cover, notably the third hand, was added some time later thanks to a local merchant who made a donation as a token of gratitude for his cured child.

Apart from the Holy Virgin with Three Hands the monastery keeps a few icons created by the Tryavna masters of icon-painting Zakharii Stefanov and his son Tsonyu.

The Assumption Monastery for young girls is in Arbanassi, 5 km from Veliko Tarnovo in the direction of the town of Gorna Oryahovitsa.

St. Nicholas Monastery in Arbanassi

In his book The Village of Arbanassi – Memoirs and Collected Data published in 1935, Dr. Dimitar Papazov wrote the following about St. Nicholas Monastery: ”This church was tumbled down most probably during Karcali raids that pillaged the village in 1798, and by an earthquake that followed. It was fully deserted and desolate.

Elderly locals told me that sheep entered it in the summer to cool down during the hottest days. From them I heard the following story about the restoration of the church. Once upon a time an elderly Arbanassi woman dreamt how St. Nicholas visited her and urged her to start raising charities immediately… She rolled up her sleeves and worked hard, so she raised a lot of charities in both cash and other donations. Very soon the church was renovated. Later, according to similar stories, the church was transformed into a monastery by a man called Zotika who had taken monastic vows, and by a woman called Teodora from the City of Tarnovo who had also entered religion.”

Like other Veliko Tarnovo monasteries St. Nicholas Monastery was founded during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. The monastery complex includes a church, a residential section and a chapel. The church is one-knave with a central dome. St. Elijah Chapel is built on its northern side.

Surviving today are several ancient icons, the wood-carved iconostasis and a bronze chandelier from 1746. The church has been declared monument of culture.

St. Nicholas Monastery is in the southwestern part of the village of Arbanassi.

Konstantsaliev House in Arbanassi

The typical Arbanassi house is quite unique in terms of its architecture and construction principles. It has been defined as a Bulgarian boyar (aristocratic) house.

An outstanding example in this respect is the Konstantsaliev House. It is in the center of the village, near to Kokonska Cheshma (Dames’ Fountain). Given that the house has been built along the extension of the street, it stands out impressively with its two-storey stone façade without any bay-windows or other elements. Both the exterior and interior designs of the structure suggest the affluence of its inhabitants and their infallible flair for beautiful and noble things. The house was built in 17 c. and has undergone several reconstructions. Originally it was owned by the Tafrili family, and was later bought by the wealthy merchant Atanas Konstantsaliata.

The diverse museum exhibition of the Konstantsaliev House takes visitors on a fascinating trip exploring the lifestyles, habits and ways of the Arbanassi residents during 19 c.