Squeezing through for fertility

A megalithic complex near the village of Lilyach has been a ritual centre since ancient times

Photo: BGNES The megalithic sanctuary and the nearby church of St. George the Victorious make an impressive complex.

Some 80km to the southwest of Sofia, at the southern foot of Konyavska Mountain close to the village of Lilyach, there is a unique rock sanctuary which the locals call 'Proviralkyata' (translated roughly as 'squeeze-through tunnel'). A cult place where fertility rituals were performed as early as the Stone and Bronze Ages, it was later inherited as a sacred territory by local Thracian tribes.

The site is a large megalithic complex comprising several naturally formed rock arches which have been additionally carved since olden times. The sanctuary consists of several huge rock blocks at the base of which a narrow tunnel has formed of about 30cm in height and 1.5m in length. According to beliefs, if a childless woman manages to fit through this cleft, she will find herself pregnant soon after.

The local people believe that if one takes a good look at the rock, he will see that it resembles the back of a female body sitting on the stones. They also believe that the ground beneath it is polished by those who managed to squeeze through the hole. In the immediate vicinity, there are two rock altars with clearly visible grooves carved in stone. A necropolis and a rock platform were also found in the region. Close to the sanctuary there is also a sacred and healing karst spring which is believed to never dry out.

The locals relate an old legend according to which Theodora, spouse of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I conceived a child thanks to a ritual performed under the rock. Another legend tells about a Roman military commander by the name of Aurelius who lived nearby. He and his wife were childless and grieved deeply about it. The local Thracians told him about the magic rock structure and its healing properties and advised them to visit the place. They followed the advice and after his wife performed the ritual the two of them became parents.

Near to the cleft, in a rock niche, there is a small chapel, and above the sanctuary the church of St. George the Victorious was built. At this place the locals every year make Kurban (a votive offering for health, usually lamb soup). Annually, mothers and their children gather for the traditional fest at the rocks as a token of gratitude for the miracle that has happened to them.

Experts think that the complex is connected with ritualistic and sacral practices dedicated to the rising Sun, with the sun rays going through the arc and falling on the platform where a worshiper stands during the ritual. Actually, many of the sacred sites on the Balkans are rock temples dedicated to the Sun, which was identified with the male deity worshiped in ancient Trace and with which the Orphic Thracian king merges in the end, as a culmination of his self-perfection.

The fact that sun rays reach the cave-like tunnels of the magical hole near the village of Lilyach may be interpreted as a symbol of the womb of the Mother Goddess - identified with the rock and the mountain, representing a form of a sacred marriage. In most rock sanctuaries with arches, this 'sacred marriage' coincided with rituals marking the coming of a new year, when nature wakes up for new life thanks to a new conception, ensuring fertility and abundance during the year.

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