Masterpiece of medieval mural painting

Seslavtsi Monastery's church has numerous frescoes depicting the life of Jesus Christ

The church, which was built at the beginning of the 17th century, is the only building preserved from the once big monastery.

Only 21 kilometres away from the centre of Sofia, at the southern foothills of Western Stara Planina (Balkan Mountains) stands the Seslavtsi Monastery of St Nicholas Mirlikiiski, famous for its frescoes from the 17th century which are a true art treasure. The legend has it that the monastery was founded during the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom by a local boyar named Seslav. The remnants of his fortress may still be seen near the monastery.

Presently the Seslavtsi Monastery is not functioning and its church is the only building preserved. It was built at the beginning of the 17th century when the Ottoman authorities granted certain freedoms to the local Christian population and the construction of churches and monasteries was on the rise. The church is a one-nave, one-apsis building with a narthex and spacious interior richly decorated with frescoes.

The well preserved original murals are the church's greatest wealth. Three paint layers were discovered on its walls and the one from 1618 proved to be preserved best. These are the works of Pimen Zografski, an eminent Bulgarian man of letters and artist who was later canonised. The frescoes feature biblical, evangelical and mythical scenes as well as some morally charged events.

The Mother of God with two archangels and scenes of the Divine Liturgy decorate the altar apsis. On the southern and northern walls are shown the Christological cycles - Nativity of Christ, Resurrection, and Descent to Hell. The entire western wall is devoted to a large composition featuring rarely depicted scenes such as the Miracles of Jesus Christ, Genealogy of Jesus, Meeting at the Tiberias Sea, etc.

Like many other monasteries in Bulgaria, the Seslavtsi Monastery was also ravaged by brigands (the so-called kardjalii) but in 1832 Father Superior Khariton restored it. In the 20th century the monastery was deserted as it was located near a functioning uranium mine and access to it was restricted. It was opened anew in the 1990s when the mine was closed.

Owing to years of neglect, the residential buildings went derelict and collapsed. In their place an open porch was built with tables and benches. Under the remnants of the old residential buildings there is a well-preserved hideout with thick stone walls. It has two rooms which are believed to have been connected in the past by an underground passage with the nearby fortress.

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