Monastery amidst sanatorium

The cloister near Iskrets lies among dense forests with specific microclimate

According to the inscription at the entrance of its church, the Iskrets monastery was built in the 13th century, during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom.

The Assumption of the Holy Mother Monastery in Iskrets was part of the ring of monasteries around the Bulgarian capital, called Sofia Mala Sveta Gora (Sofia's Small Holy Mountain). It lies just two kilometres east of the village of Iskrets and around 53 kilometres north of Sofia. Nestled in the folds of the Balkan Mountain Range, it is situated at the foot of a peak called Gradishte, where once there was a fortress. A major road passed through this place - from Sofia to Vratsa, which was probably one of the reasons for the monastery to be built here.

According to the inscription at the entrance of its church, the Iskrets cloister was built in the 13th century, during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. At the end of the 14th century, it was destroyed by the Ottoman invaders, along with the fortress nearby. According to a donor's inscription, in 1602 the church was restored, and from 1834 the monastery began functioning again.

Concerning its architecture, the small church is a single-nave, single-apse structure, it has no dome and its solid walls are made of quarried stones. The Holy Mother of God is depicted with wings on the outside above the main entrance. The church's old section is sombre, with a small vaulted window on its southern wall. Inside the church, there is a big round stone with a plate and inscription on it. It is known that treasure hunters have lifted the plate to look underneath for hidden gold.

The church was finished during the Bulgarian National Revival period, when the people living in the area grew wealthier. Inscriptions are preserved, showing that icons were painted inside not once but several times, which testifies to its repeated renewal. One of these inscriptions indicates that in 1843 a wider and lighter narthex was added from the west. From the narthex, one can reach the original old and dark section of the church.

It was renovated and the icons were repainted where the old frescoes had been severely damaged or had fallen. Saints were depicted, most of them with long, dark red mantles. In the first section of the church, the donor inscription mentions ordinary locals - Ilko Doychin, Todor Lozanev, Zlatko Doychin.

The frescoes in the church go back to two periods - the 18th and the 19th centuries. Individual saints have been painted, as well as scenes from major church events and the full Christian festive cycle. As is customary, on both sides of the door stand Archangels Michael and Gabriel, guardians of the house of God. The fresco of the Last Supper shows Jesus Christ holding an akakia (purple silk purse) filled with dirt - the Christian symbol of the transience of all mortal life.

The three hypostases of God are depicted in the nave, and the altar apse includes the images of the Holy Mother of God of the Heaven and Pentecost. The second layer of frescoes in the narthex presents scenes from the Apocalypse and the Revelation of St John the Evangelist.

On the south side of the church there is a fascinating and atypical for the Bulgarian monasteries octagonal baptistery, dating back to the 18th century. Its inside walls are also richly painted in unison with the church. However, the baptistery is closed today and needs restoration.

The climate around Iskrets has specifics that make the place very suitable for treatment of people with lung diseases. Due to these specifics, in 1908 with decree and donation by Tsar Ferdinand, a sanatorium for lung patients was founded in Iskrets. These lands were once monastery's property, but today the cloister is located within the plot of the sanatorium.

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