Village of faith
Vukovo, near the city of Kyustendil, keeps unique churches dating back to the 16th centuryAdelina Lozanova
Nestled in a hilly area at the foot of Mount Pogled, near the Struma River, the village of Vukovo in the Kyustendil region used to be a thriving, well developed spiritual centre. The name is thought to have been derived from “vakavo” - a church place. Evidence of that are the numerous Christian temples in the area, some of which are rather well conserved.
Some, like the St Petka Church (1598), boast unique frescoes, others have well-preserved exteriors but damaged wall-paintings, badly in need of restoration, like the St Nikola Church (1557). And then there are those which have been reduced to ruins, with only their foundations still standing - like The Assumption and the St John of Rila churches.
The St Petka Epivatska Church is located not far from the modern-day centre of the village. This unassuming building bears all the characteristics of Bulgarian churches of the early- to the middle-Ottoman era - all designed not to stand out amongst regular houses, which explains the lack of a dome or a belfry.
It is a single-nave, single-apse church without a narthex, but with pilasters forming a shallow arch at the westward-facing part of the facade. It is made of crushed stones held together by mortar. As with all other monuments from its era, the St Petka Church's true beauty can be found in its interior - in the rich frescoes featuring hints of Italian influence visible not only in the depictions of Catholic saints such as St Boniface and St Sylvester, but in specific techniques used by the icon-painters. The frescoes date back to 1598, as evidenced by the inscription on the west wall of the naos.
The St Nikola Church is located some two kilometres south of the village, in a deep glen. It, too, is a single-nave, single-apse, three-concha church that lacks a narthex and has a shallow arch on the westward-facing part of its facade. It has a semi-cylindrical vault. Narrow openings have been cut into each concha to serve as windows. The church was built with crushed stone and mortar. The roof is made of thin stone slabs.
The building is half-buried into the ground. Only fragments of the frescoes on the fully-painted interior and the west-wall arch still stand. The preserved layer of painting representing flat, two-dimensional images of figures with wide faces and slender frames dates back to the 16th century, when the church was first built. Unfortunately, the passage of time has damaged the frescoes, which are now in urgent need of restoration.
Located in the village centre, the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Church (1858) was originally built during the Bulgarian National Revival and welcomes Vukovo's believers to this day.