Monastery of miracles

“St. Constantine and St. Helen” near Varna keeps holy relics and chronicles of healings

Photo: Adelina Lozanova Albeit small, the monastery's yard is always bustling with people.

Some nine kilometres northeast of Varna is where the “St. Constantine and St. Helen” Monastery is located in the popular resort of the same name. There are no reliable historical sources indicating as to when the cloister was established. The earliest written records of its history date back to the 19th century and can be found in the book Letters from Bulgaria, by renowned Russian traveller Viktor Teplyakov, published in Moscow in 1832. Legends have it that a monastic brotherhood inhabited the region as early as the 14th century.

The monastery is believed to have been established during the rule of King Ivan Alexander (1331-1371) when churches and monasteries were built at a high rate. This was an era in which the Bulgarian aristocracy made generous donations for the construction of churches as well as entire monastery complexes.

The cloister's inception is connected to the miracle-working icon of the patrons of Christianity - St. Constantine and St. Helen, and to a healing spring which exists to this day and naturally comes to the surface just under the church's altar. According to one story about how the monastery got its name, one of the monks found a castaway washed out on the shore. The survivor was conscious, clutching an icon of the two patron saints to his chest. As a sign of his gratitude, the sailor gifted the icon to the monks and they named the cloister after the saints it depicted. Until the middle of the 20th century, the church kept an old icon with the images of the two saints. The monastery is the only one on the Balkans to preserve the holy relics of the martyred saint Valentin from the city of Terni, Italy. The place is also the home of a book chronicling miracles of healed sick people.

Following the occupation of Bulgaria by the Ottoman Turks, the monastery near Varna gradually fell into decay, going through several destructions and restorations. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829, the cloister was nearly razed to the ground. Several years later, its reconstruction started thanks to the efforts of two hieromonks - the brothers Teodosiy and Agapiy Kantardzhiev from the town of Tarnovo. The locals, who had faith in the miracle-working powers of the icon of St. Constantine and St. Helena, pitched in the process with labour and donations.

Prior to the establishment of the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1870, Varna was the seat of the Greek metropolitan, while the monastery was under the authority of the Greek Patriarchy. In an architectural aspect, the “St. Constantine and St. Helen” Monastery near Varna is a complex comprised of a residential quarters, a church, a belfry and a small yard, all enclosed by a wall of wood and stone. The only building of the original monastery that is standing to this day is the half-sunken stone church. Its wooden dome is especially impressive because of its almost perfect oval shape and rich decorative fretwork on the inside.

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