Stronghold of faith for centuries

The Chiprovtsi monastery took active part in the National Liberation movement

Photo: Adelina Lozanova From afar the Chiprovtsi monastery resembles to a small fortress.

The cloister of Chiprovtsi, dedicated to St. John of Rila, is a significant centre of Bulgarian spiritual life and national enlightenment. The monastery was founded in the 10th century at the foot of the Western Balkan range, close to the town of Chiprovtsi - famous for its beautiful carpets and skilful goldsmiths. During its long history, the monastery has been razed and reconstructed multiple times.

The first reliable written records about the cloister date back to the 15th century and depict the uprising of Konstantin and Fruzhin, the earliest revolt against the Ottoman rule.

After the uprising was supressed, the Chiprovtsi monastery was razed to the ground but was rebuilt in short order. It was ruined again in 1688 - after the Chiprovtsi uprising organised by the local Catholics was crushed - and its rich monastery library was destroyed, including valuable books, icons and liturgical implements collected during the active spiritual life in the monastery during the 17th century. After their defeat, the local Catholic population was forced to move out and the monastery was deserted. The mortal remains of the rebels are still kept in an ossuary located in the monastery's bell tower.

The monastery was reconstructed in the 18th century, this time by Orthodox monks, to be burnt down twice at the beginning of the 19th century. It was then rebuilt again in 1829, when the present-day monastery church was built. It is a one-apse building with low cupola and three conchae. The interior is divided into three parts by arches supported by semi-columns. The niche in its western part is decorated with figures of Archangels Michael and Gabriel.

The iconostasis is embellished with rich gilded woodcarving and features valuable icons, with seven of them painted by a famous icon painter from the Koprivshtitsa school of the 19th century.

During the anti-Ottoman uprisings in the 19th century, the Chiprovtsi monastery gave shelter to hundreds of rebels. The monks also took part in several rebellions against the Ottomans.

Apart from the church and two chapels, the present-day monastery complex includes a three-storey belfry with an ossuary, lodgings and agricultural buildings. The monastery yard is rectangular, its western and southern parts are occupied by buildings and the eastern and northern parts are fenced off by stone walls.

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