Hidden among cliffs and rocks

The Razboishte Monastery is one of the few boasting a church entirely built in the rocks

Photo: Adelina Lozanova The Razboishte Monastery is nestled in a picturesque area some 70 kilometres northwest of the capital Sofia, not far from the Serbian border.

The “Vavedenie Bogorodichno” (Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary) Monastery is located in the gorge of the Nishava river not far from the village of Razboishte and some 70 kilometres northwest of the capital Sofia. The area abounds in unapproachable crags, caves and rock niches, which attracted monks in the Middle Ages and lent itself to the building of many churches and monasteries in the rocks.

The most famous of them all is the Razboishte Monastery, established in the 13-14th century, during the Second Bulgarian Empire. The oldest layers of wall-painting in the monastery church go back to that period. Following the Ottoman occupation of the late 14th century, the monastery was razed to the ground. It was alternatively restored and abandoned in the centuries that followed, only to be revived in the 18-19th century, with the life of seclusion becoming popular again.

According to a local legend, during the Ottoman rule the monastery was destroyed by the governor of the nearby town of Dragoman as retribution on the now-extinct village of Kurzhilovci, whose residents frequently attacked his convoys. There was only one monk at the cloister at that time. He hid in the cave behind the monastery, destroyed the wooden ladder that led to it, and that is how he survived.

In one of the numerous restorations of the monastery, the residential buildings were built on the right bank of the river, on a flat, sunny patch of land. And so, the “Vavedenie Bogorodichno” church, which was built in the rocks, remained outside of the set of buildings. Made of rough-hewn rock blocks stuck together with mortar, it is a one-nave church with a half-cylinder apse and a small altar. A bridge over the beautiful Nishava river and a narrow staircase cut into the rocks lead to the church.

There is a narrow passage between the outer walls of the church and the cave, through which, if tradition has it right, only the righteous can pass. Preserved old frescoes on the western front of the church depict scenes from Judgement Day, clearly the work of masters of mural painting gifted with an unusual sense of colour. The remaining icons and church plate date back to the second half of the 19th century. The old 19th-century iconostasis is kept safe in the monastery, while the new one goes back to 1950.

Among the residential buildings, of particular interest is a small room with a secret passage through which rebels chased by the Ottoman authorities used to escape to the outer walls of the monastery and from there to the caves. The wooden doors of the cloister are lower than the average man's height, equipped with three locks and still bear the inscriptions etched by the local rebels.

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