Rila Monastery is a Bulgarian monastery, one of the most important cultural monuments in Bulgaria, a symbol of the country included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is located in Southwest Bulgaria, Kyustendil region, Rila municipality. It was founded in the 10th century by St. Ivan Rilski, in the upper reaches of Rila River.
History of the Rila Monastery
The current monastery is located near the village of Pastra – not far from the site of its original construction. Rilski river flows along it. It is the largest monastery in Bulgaria – 5 floors, with 4 of them visible. This feature of the building is explained by the restrictions imposed by the Ottoman rule in 1834 when the current buildings were built. The museum is located on the ground floor.
The monastery “St. Ivan Rilski” was built on the site of an old sanctuary in 927 – 941 by Ivan Rilski (according to some authors – by his students) in Rila Mountain. In the courtyard of today’s monastery, in 1335, a defensive tower and a small one-nave church were erected by the local feudal ruler Protsevast Hrelyo. The tower is the oldest preserved building in the monastery complex and in style belongs to the architecture of Tarnovo art school. At the top of the tower is the chapel “Holy Transfiguration” with valuable frescoes from the 30s of the 14th century.
Tsar Ivan Shishman (1371 – 1393) issued the 21st of September 1378 the Rila Chronicle, signed and sealed with a gold seal, which gives the monastery feudal possessions, 20 villages together with their lands.
As early as 1402, the Ottoman government ordered the Kyustendil army to confirm its former abode rights. A tax register from 1520 to 1521 mentions 21 monks living there. In 1469, with the help of Mara Brankovich, the relics of St. Ivan Rilski were carried back from Tarnovo to the Rila Monastery.
Since its founding, the monastery became a literary and educational center. A great pedagogical activity is being developed by Neophyte Rilski, who founded a cell school here during the revival. The monastery shelters great Bulgarian revolutionaries, among them Vasil Levski, Ilyo Voivoda, Gotse Delchev, Peyo Yavorov and others.
In 1778 the monastery “St. Ivan Rilski “became the victim of a fire. It was restored in 1784 by Alexi Rilets, who in 1816 – 1819 designed and built the eastern, northern and western wings. A significant part of the monastery was rebuilt again in 1833, and its restoration was again carried out by Aleksi under the leadership of the then abbot Joseph the Builder. In 1840 a new iconostasis of the church was made by Petar Filipov, Anton Stanishev and Dimitar Stanishev.
According to testimonies of the monastery in 1862 American missionaries, there are 350 monks, and on the eve of Easter there are also 400 guests.
Today, the ensemble of the monastery covers an area of 8800 m², including 5500 m² of built-up area. The monastery wings, built at different times on 4 and 5 storeys, surround the only yard in the form of an irregular pentagon on all sides.
Хрельовата кула с параклис „Преображение Господне“
Hrelyo’s Tower is a defensive fortification medieval facility built by the Hrelyo prototype in 1334-1335 and designed for hiding. It is situated at 1147 meters above sea level in the eastern part of the Rila Monastery courtyard.
The construction of the tower is related to moving the monastery to its present location. The Hrelyo Tower serves to protect the monastic fraternity, while at the same time stashing monastic values in danger. During the Ottoman rule, it has been repeatedly used in turbulent times to prevent burglary raids and assaults. The tower is also used as a prison and isolator for the mentally ill.
Hrelyo’s tower has an almost square base of 7.75 x 8.25 m and has a height of 23 m. In its thick 1.8 m walls are built steep stone steps. The elliptic grounded ground is slightly dug into the terrain. The only entrance of the tower was the I floor with a movable wooden connection to the terrain. The rooms from the 1st to the 4th floor are designed for temporary living – they have wooden floors and scarce lighting in the bunkers (buns). At the base of the tower there is a well with drinking water. There are openings, where boiling oil and tar can be poured on the attackers. The service rooms are a sink (II floor) and exit areas (III and IV floor) in the form of bay windows.
On the fifth floor in the tower is the chapel “Transfiguration Christ” with unusual iconography. In the eastern part of the chapel is preserved the oldest image of Ivan Rilski. To the north, south and west, the chapel is covered with a narrow gallery, covered with small blind domes between cross arches, and in the east is the altar niche. There are three powerful counterparts on each wall, connected to brick arches, which reinforce the resistance of the tower and carry the bay-shaped chapel.
In 1844 on the west side of the tower was built a two-story bell tower.
Church “Nativity of the Virgin”
The Church of the Nativity is the conclave, the central temple (catholic) of the Rila Monastery.
The medieval church, built by Hrelyo Dragovol and named Hrell’s Church, existed until 1834, when the monastery’s brotherhood had been demolished and, in place, and probably on part of its foundations, built today’s congregational church.
The construction of the temple began in 1835 and was completed in 1837. Its builder was first-master Pavel Ivanovich from the village of Krimin, the Sissian diocese, south of Kostursko, a descendant of old builders.
The Rila Monastery Church is a church of so-called. “Atomic type”. It is a dome basilica with five cross-shaped domes. From the north and south are added two chapels dedicated to St. Nicholas of Mirliki and St Ivan Rilski. The church has no narthex. Outside of the west, north and south one-arcade gallery performs the role of a narthex.
The mural painting of the congregation is the work of the most prominent 19th century painters, among them Dimitar Hristov Zograf, Zahari Zograf and other Samokov painters. The iconostasis is the work of Atanas Teledur of Samokov and Peter Garka.