Bulgarian Jerusalem

Thousands throng to Krastova Gora in mid-September in the hope for healing

The main church of Krastova Gora is like an ascent to Calvary.

In the Central Rhodope Mountains near the road from Asenovgrad to Smolyan, at an altitude of 1,545 metres above sea level amidst the scenic locality of Krastova Gora, is situated a monastery dedicated to Holy Trinity. The place is believed to be miracle-working, and on the night before 14 September - Holy Cross Day according to the Bulgarian Orthodox liturgical calendar - thousands of believers from all over Bulgaria and the neighbouring countries come in crowds in the hope for miraculous healing.

The locality is called Krastova Gora because it is a cross-shaped meadow surrounded by dense beech forests. Local legend runs that the Holy Cross of Christ's crucifixion was buried here and a monastery was built at this place as early as in Middle Ages. In the 18th century, the monastery, along with many other retreats and churches in the Central Rhodopes, was destroyed by the Ottomans and the monks were killed. Nevertheless, the Holy Cross was saved as three monks hid it in one of the nearby caves.

The cult of the Cross was preserved among the local Muslims, who are actually Islamised Christians. They kept using it for blessing of the water, bread and milk, as well as for healing practices.

In 1933, a pious local dweller had a vision, he saw a cross up in the sky which showed to him that once there was a big monastery at Krastova Gora, which had to be restored. Several years later, with the help of King Boris III, a huge metal cross was erected at this place and the believers built a chapel of Holy Trinity upon the remnants of the preserved foundation of the monastery. They used hewn stones remaining from the destroyed old church and other monastery buildings.

During the totalitarian regime, the region of Krastova Gora was turned into a reserve and banned for visitors, but even at that time the believers would sneak to the sacred place via goat-herding paths. After 1989, the region was again opened for visitors and pilgrims came back in crowds. In 1995, the newly built church of Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God was consecrated and on both sides of the path leading to the Cross were built chapels dedicated to the 12 Apostles.

In the monastery, inhabited by three monks and two novices, liturgy is served every day but the most solemn Divine Liturgy is on the night of 14 September. Then, many pilgrims stay overnight on the meadows surrounding the monastery in the hope for miraculous healing. Among the local rituals is passing through the branches of a huge “Tree of Sin”, which brings absolution, as well as tying handkerchiefs on the branches of another tree in the locality - it is believed that after doing this, all ailments remain back in the mountains. If a person places a hand in one of the numerous tree hollows, all ailments will be cured too.

Many pilgrims who have spent a night at Krastova Gora tell that a huge luminescent cross above the church can be seen at night time. Geologists think that the explanation to this unusual phenomenon are strong emissions from the uranium deposits in the Rhodopes.

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