Between Rila and Mount Athos

The St Dimitar monastery of Boboshevo used to welcome pilgrims for centuries

Photo: Adelina Lozanova The church is one of the few surviving buildings from the monastery's heyday.

The Boboshevo monastery St Dimitar was established during the First Bulgarian Empire near the modern town of the same name, some 70 kilometres southwest of Sofia. In the late 9th century and the early 10th century, following the adoption of Christianity as the nation's official religion, intensive construction of churches and monasteries across the country commenced. Clergymen and priests were trained there, liturgical books were translated and copied.

In the early 10th century, the Boboshevo monastery became an important stop on the pilgrimage route connecting the Rila Monastery and Mount Athos. For centuries, monks and pilgrims travelled this road in both directions, which made the Boboshevo cloister an important cultural centre.

It maintained this status at the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire but was then damaged and left neglected during the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans at the end of the 14th century. However, the monastery was brought back to life in less than a century, as evidenced by a donor's inscription dated 1488.

What followed was a period of cultural revival, which earned the Boboshevo area a reputation as the Bulgarian Jerusalem during the 15th-17th centuries. The monastery was the true cultural hub of the area at the time, with hundreds of churches popping up around it, some of them standing to this day. Up until the country's liberation in 1878, the cloister housed a religious school which prepared priests and monks and helped uplift the spirit of the Bulgarian people.

Following the liberation, however, the monastery grew poor and desolate. Monks stopped flocking to it and its management was first taken over by the local municipality and then by the local priests. By the 1930s the monastery complex included residential buildings, a kitchen, a bakery and farm buildings - a barn, a cattle-shed and a distillery.

Today, the only survivors are the church, which has been fully restored, part of the watermill and a farm building on the road to the monastery. The church is one of only three late-medieval ones preserved in the Boboshevo area, along with the ruins of St Teodor and the masterpiece St Petka in the nearby village of Vukovo.

It is a small, single-nave church, the building measuring 4.15m (13.6ft) by 2.66m (8.7ft) on the inside and 5.5m in height. It has a semicircular apse. There is a similarly shaped alcove in the east wall, to the left of the apse, and a rectangular one in the north wall. The entrance, standing 1.85m (6ft) tall and 1.25m (4.1ft) wide, is on the west side. The arch is semi-cylindrical. In 1864, a narthex with five arched windows and an entrance to the north was added. The nave's flooring is made of slabs. With the exception of the narthex, the interior is painted in the style traditional for this type of churches - the pictures are lively, the personages look animated, their faces emotive. The colours are dark, rich and harmonising. The scenes featuring multiple characters stand out. Three large medallions can be seen on the arch, with the figure of Jesus surrounded by four angels central to the composition.

To the sides, the prophets Moses, Aaron and Ezekiel and others are depicted in smaller medallion-shaped frames. Two layers of scenes are drawn underneath - the upper one is dedicated to major holidays like the birth, baptism and crucifixion of Jesus, and the lower represents the Passion (or the last days of his suffering). The Assumption is painted as a scene on the west wall and beneath it, on both sides of the door, are the pictures of the canonised rulers St Constantine and St Helena, as well as Archangel Michael.

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