On St Anastasia one meets with legends and mysteries at a stone's throw from civilisationAdelina Lozanova
Bulgaria's largest island in the Black Sea is called St Anastasia and stands just 6.5 kilometres off Burgas, in the gulf enclosed by the cape of the same name and Athia Cape. This volcanic islet is about one-hour drive away onboard a fishing boat and barely 15 minutes on a scooter from the port of Burgas. Until 1944 and after 1990, the island's name was St Anastasia, and in-between it was called Bolshevik.
Mysteries and legends surround the islet. It is believed to have been a haven for sea pirates, while at the same time there was a monastery on it, which was raided now and then by the sea-rovers. A story goes that during one such foray the monks started fervently praying to God for help. And then a miracle occurred. The patron saint of the island petrified the pirate ship to rescue her sacred place. The cliff is still there, in the eastern part of the islet. Another legend has it that in an old well that has run dry a treasure lies buried, guarded by the ghost of a sea-rover killed in the 19th century.
In the medieval period, pilgrimages used to be made to the island. Hundreds of worshippers from the coastal places and the villages of the Strandja Mountain flocked on 15 August to venerate St Anastasia. The feast day of the saint is on 22 December, but because of the high seas in winter, her feast day on the island is the same as that of the Most Holy Mother of God.
The name of the monastery occurs for the first time in a 16th-century charter, mentioning that it had metochions across the Bulgarian lands. Following the establishing of the Bulgarian Exarchate in the late 19th century, the monastery was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and was transferred to that of the Bulgarian Patriarchate as late as 1905. In 1924, the island of St Anastasia became a jail, mostly for political prisoners. After 1944, the building was transformed into a museum.
The icons and the carved in 1802 iconostasis of the monastery's Church of the Most Holy Mother of God are now kept at the City Art Gallery of Burgas and at the church of the same name in the coastal city. The monastery building has been turned into a modest hotel.
The old lighthouse was built by a French company in 1889. Mounted on the top of a 49-metre-high iron post, its light reached as far as 10 miles out at sea. In 1912, the construction of a new one commenced and the facility is still functioning. Its bright flashes of light are visible from the Burgas Marine Garden.
The island of St Anastasia has been featured in two movies - the anti-fascist film On the Small Island (1958) and the existential picture The Island (2010) starring Laetitia Casta.