Church "St. Alexander Nevski", Sofia (object N 1)
History information: This is the biggest Christian church in Bulgaria and the second biggest on the Balkan Peninsula – after “St. Sava” in Beograd (Serbia).
It was built to commemorate the sacrifice of the Russian soldiers who died for the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman domination and in honour of the Russian Czar Alexander II, called Czar Liberator.
Its construction began very solemnly on 19/02/1882 and was finished in 1912. During the wars the church was locked and it opened doors on 12/09/1924, when its three thrones were consecrated.
The memorial church is an impressive basilica with five naves with domes having crosses at the top and Byzantine ornaments. It is about 51 m high, has an area of 3,170 sq m and seats 5,000 people.
The Russian architects Pomerantsev and Bogomolov designed the church and it was built with donations from the Russian and Bulgarian people. The interior strikes with its splendour - Italian marble, Brazilian onyx, African alabaster, exquisite woodcarving and gilt. The Lord’s Prayer is inscribed with fine golden letters around the circle of the main dome. The decoration – frescoes and icons - was made by 36 outstanding Russian and Bulgarian artists – among them Vasnetsov, Mesoyadov, Murkvichka, Mitiv etc.
There are around 300 exhibits in the basement of the crypt. They date back to the period from the 9th to the 19th century and show the development of the icon-painting in Bulgaria.
The belfry is on the west side of the main entrance and is approximately 53 m high. One can get to the bells climbing up a spiral staircase with 215 steps. There are 12 bells – with total weight of 23 tons. All of them were cast in Finlyandski’s foundry in Moscow in 1911 and were ordered by Czar Ferdinand. They are made of lead, silver and copper. The three biggest bells – weighing 11,758; 6,002 and 2,911 kg respectively, are used as heralds. The way they ring was arranged by some Russian bell-ringers. The present-day bell-ringers try to keep the Russian tradition. It is very interesting that when the weather is good one can hear the ring of the biggest bell at a distance of about 30 km.
The central dome and the dome of the belfry are gold-plated. The gold plate was renovated in 2003, funded by the Ministry of Culture.
The memorial church of Alexander Nevski is a significant monument of the Bulgarian national culture.
Museum - National historical museum, Sofia (object N 2)
History information: NHM is the biggest museum in Bulgaria and among the biggest ones in Europe. It was established on 05/05/1973 with a Governmental decree. The first official display took place in 1984 on the premises of the Law Courts in the centre of Sofia in honour of the 1,300th anniversary of the establishment of the Bulgarian state. NHM moved to “Home 1” of the Governmental Residence of Boyana in 2000 with a Governmental decree dated April 1997 and since then has become the best protected museum in the country. The new display was solemnly opened by the Prime minister on 29/06/2000. There are over 650,000 exhibits – the most valuable Bulgarian cultural monuments from pre-historic times up to the present.
Two bronze bells weighing 70 kg each, one of them being the oldest in Europe, were given to the museum in April 2002 in order to be preserved, studied and included in an exhibition called “Christian Art” – shown in Bulgaria and abroad.
Museum experts together with the local government in the towns of Melnik and Sandanski managed to take the valuable bells from treasure-hunters who had dug the ruins of the old church of St. Nicholas in Melnik. These are the only medieval bells discovered in Bulgaria.
Church "St. Nativity of Virgin Mary" - Cathedral church, Veliko Tarnovo (object N 3)
History information: The church was built in the period 1842-1844 by the master-builder Kolyu Ficheto.
A special thanksgiving service was held in 1877 when the Russian troops entered Veliko Tarnovo. At that time it was already a cathedral church. All Bulgarian bishops officiated there on the occasion of events of local and national importance. The Bulgarian princes Alexander I Batenberg and Ferdinand I took an oath of office there. The church was also visited by the members of the Constituent Assembly and the Grand National Assemblies.
During the disastrous earthquake in 1913 the cathedral was totally destroyed, but the bell survived despite being seriously damaged. In the same year a temporary chapel was built near the ruins for the needs of the parish and a decision was made to pull down the damaged belfry. While the ruins were being cleared out the foundation-stone was found as well as the certificate of its laying, dated 08/09/1888 and signed by the bishop Kliment, the mayor P. Slavkov, some notable people and clergymen.
It was not until 1924 when the rebuilding of “St. Nativity of Virgin Mary” Cathedral Church began. The reconstruction was finished and the building was consecrated in 1934.
A lot of famous masters and artists took part in the decoration of its interior. It was Ms Y. Gancheva who donated the money for the woodcarving and, according to her will it was made by P. Kushlev. The doors were made from oak by Professor Travitski from Sofia. The frescoes were painted by the famous Bulgarian artists D. Gyudjenov, At. Velev, N. Kozuharov and P. Seferov.
The bells are Russian. They are very beautifully made and there are inscriptions on them dating a special event – the Russian liberating army crossing the Danube.
Two prominent public figures and prelates – Kliment and Antim were buried there.
Up to this day “St. Nativity of Virgin Mary” Cathedral Church in Veliko Tarnovo is a centre of faith, history and spiritual life.
Church "St. Nikola", Veliko Tarnovo (object N 4)
History information: “St. Nikola” Church won recognition as a centre of the spiritual life in the town of Tarnovo during the Revival period. It was built on the “Varush” (the old part of the town) between 1834-36 on the basis of a governmental decree and with the benevolence of the then Greek bishop Ilarion of Crete.
It was Master Ivan Davdata who began the construction, but unfortunately he fell ill, so the apprentice Kolyu Fitcheto had to finish it and the degree “master” was conferred on him.
“St. Nikola” Church was consecrated on 06/12/1836 (St. Nicholas’ Day). For the first time in Tarnovo the service was held in Bulgarian in the newly built church. This was very hard to achieve and was mainly due to father Zotic, schoolmaster Stoyko and other local notables. For that reason P.R. Slaveykov noticed that it was the place where patriotism in Tarnovo was born.
In 1872, just two years after the independence of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church had been obtained, a belfry was built in the yard of “St. Nikola” Church and in 1875 a bell was delivered from Russia. It was the second church in Tarnovo, after “St. Constantine and Helen” Church which replaced the clapper with a bell. Two other bells and a clock were delivered for the belfry after the Liberation. During the earthquake in 1913 one of the bells fell down and was broken.
Monastery "St. Transfiguration" - Preobrazhenie Monastery, Veliko Tarnovo (object N 5)
Description: “St. Transfiguration” Monastery is situated in the Dervent gorge of the river Yantra, seven km to the North of the town of Veliko Tarnovo. (more information)
History information: “St. Transfiguration” Monastery is the biggest one among the monasteries located around the medieval capital of the country and the fourth in size in Bulgaria. It was called Sarah’s Monastery after the name of Tsarina Sara – Theodora. It was founded in 1360 and renovated in 1825.
From 1849 till 1851 the main church was decorated by the great Bulgarian icon-painter Zahari Zograf (1810-1853), who painted his self-portrait in fresco. There are icons painted by Stanislav Dospevski (1827-1877). The wood-carving of the iconostasis done by the masters from Tryavna is of high artistic quality. During the National Liberation Period the monastery was a centre of activity of some of the most famous Bulgarian revolutionaries (father Zotik, father Matey Preobrajenski, Vasil Levski, Philip Totyu, priest Hariton, Angel Kanchev etc.).
The belfry with the clock was built in 1861 by master Kolyu Ficheto. There are eight bells and one metal clapper on it. There was another small bell which was moved near the church in order to warn travellers who were late and to herald the dawn. The biggest bell was cast in Dmitriy Samgin’s foundry in Moscow. This is the third biggest bell in Bulgaria – after the first one in Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia and the second one in the Church-monument in the village of Shipka. It is one metre high, with diameter 1.12 metres and weighs about 725 kg. The fourth and the fifth bells were cast by the same master, and the second one was cast in Andrey Samgin’s foundry. Another one was cast in Moscow in 1879 and still another one in Hungary by Thury E. The rest of the bells have no inscriptions.
Monastery "St. Nativity of Virgin Mary" - Kilifarevo Monastery, Kilifarevo (object N 6)
History information: “St. Nativity of Virgin Mary” Monastery is around 17 km away from the town of Veliko Tarnovo. It was founded in 1348 and was originally built on the northeast hill nearby. Its present location dates back to the 18th century. During the 14th century it was a centre of Hesychasm (a medieval mystical religious doctrine according to which one could reach unity with God by keeping unbroken silence and meditation in solitude). Monks-scholars from Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania and Russia worked there. Some great personalities of that period were educated there: the Bulgarian monk Cyprian, bishop of Moscow; the patriarch of the Bulgarian church Evtimius of Tarnivo; Dionisius, bishop of Moldova; Yosaphat of Bdin (nowadays Vidin), etc.
In 1842 master Nikola Fichev built the basilica of St. Demetrius. The thing that makes its iconostases very interesting is the woodcarving and the icons.
The belfry was constructed later. Nowadays there are two bells there. The first one was cast in “Aleksievs’” foundry, the other one dates from 1943. Unfortunately, there is no information when it was cast, nor who ordered the bells.
Monastery "St. Nikola" - Kapinovo Monastery, Kapinovo (object N 7)
Description: The Monastery of Kapinovo is located 18 km away from the town of Veliko Tarnovo and 24 km to the Northwest of the town of Elena near the river Veselina. (more information)
History information: It was founded in 1272 and destroyed by the Ottoman invaders in 1393. It was devastated twice by “kurdjalii” (deserters from the Ottoman army) - in 1630 and in 1793. The monastery was renovated in the 19th century but unfortunately, it was partly destroyed by the earthquake in 1913.
Precious works of Christian art are kept there.
The prospective bishop Sophroni of Vratsa (1739 – 1813) was abbot of the monastery in 1794. It was a famous educational and literary centre in the 1820s.
Monastery "St. St. Apostles Peter and Paul" - Petropavlovski Monastery, Lyaskovets (object N 8)
Description: “St. St. Apostles Peter and Paul” Monastery is located in the eastern part of Arbanassi Plateau – 3 km away from the village of Arbanassi, above the town of Lyaskovets. (more information)
History information: “St. St. Apostles Peter and Paul” Monastery was presumably founded during the period of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom by the brothers Peter and Assen. According to a legend it was founded in the 10th century. It is considered to have been established in 1185. Although it had been destroyed and burnt several times, it always survived.
In 1708 the Russian emperor Peter I (1689-1725) endowed the monastery with a gilt Gospel. The place was an active centre of the National Liberation Movement in the 19th century. In 1872 the first Bulgarian School for education of Orthodox clergymen was established there.
Church-monument "St. Nativity of Jesus Christ", Shipka (object N 9)
History information: The design of the church resembles the style of the 17th century Russian churches. Architect Pomerantsev designed the building in details. The central part has one big dome and four smaller ones, covered with sheet iron and gold-plated. They were made by master Abrosimov from Petersburg. There are ten iron crosses with copper facing and gilding. The tallest one is 4.5 metres high.
The belfry is 53.35 metres high and the church with the big dome and the cross – 46.94 metres respectively. The belfry and the main building are connected with a narthex on the west side and there are three altars on the east.
Twelve of the bells were cast in Finlandski’s Foundry in Moscow. 30,900 fired cartridges were gifted from the Russian Artillery in order to cast the bells. Five small bells were given as a present from the Muscovite N.I. Olovyashnikov.
All of the bells are of high artistic quality and richly decorated. The biggest one weighs 11,346 kg. There are four figures in relief – St. Prince Alexander Nevski, St. Martyr Tsarina Alexandra, St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker and St. Mary Magdalene. The lower part is decorated with a frieze of floral ornaments and there is an inscription in Russian below. The figures of the Emperors Alexander II, Alexander III and the then Russian Emperor Nikolay II are on the second biggest bell.
It was very difficult to move the bells from the town of Stara Zagora to the village of Shipka (the distance is 45 km). Forty bridges were temporarily repaired and reinforced. The biggest bell was transported by a special cart drawn by 10 pairs of buffalos and balanced with a lot of ropes. A large group of Bulgarian clergymen went along, praying to God and giving thanks to Russia, which inspired the local population. It took seven days to move the biggest bell. The bells were attached to the belfry on 19th August 1901with the help of the people from the near villages.
Even today the church “St. Nativity of Jesus Christ”, situated at the foot of the Balkan Range shines with its golden decoration reminiscing about exploit of the heroes.
Church "St. Virgin Mary", Gabrovo (object N 10)
History information: The construction of town clock towers with clockworks made of wrought iron to announce the time preceded the building of church belfries. The clock towers in Gabrovo date back to 1811 and 1835. The bell, and probably the clockwork of the one from 1811 were made by two masters from the town of Gabrovo (Kanyo and Genyo Sahatchiyski). The inscription in German on the bell from the other clock tower was made in 1792 and it reads: “I was cast by Johan Georg Philgrader in Vienna”. According to the inscription on the clock tower, that bell was attached to it on 01/07/1835. There might have been an older tower, destroyed in 1798 when Gabrovo was devastated.
“St. Virgin Mary” Church in Gabrovo was built in 1865, and the belfry – in 1933. The inscription on the big bell reads: “D. M. Alexiev Ship, Sofia”, and the one on the smaller bell – “Stoyan D. Alexiev and sons bell foundry”.
There is an interesting historical information from the historian Peter Tsochev about probably the oldest part of the Church “St. Virgin Mary” The bells from Gabrovo were famous all over the country, but their clappers were made of wood. The people from the town tried to attach a bell but they were not allowed to. The bell was moved to Sokolski Monastery. One day in June 1862, when the new Turkish sultan Azis was inaugurated, two Gabrovians decided to benefit from that event and attach the bell. So they brought it back from the monastery and attached it to the belfry on the third day and the next morning the bell rang. This fact startled the local Turkish authorities while the local people were very pleased. When the Turkish officers in charge came to see what was happening, they were told that by the bell’s ring the people express their great satisfaction and happiness because of the inauguration of the new sultan. So the bell kept on ringing and the news spread quickly all over Bulgaria. G.S. Rakovski even published an article in a newspaper called “Dunavski lebed” (which means “Danubian Swan”).
Church "St. Nikolay", Pleven (object N 11)
History information: It is not known for certain when the church was built and who built it. According to the legend, there was a church there even in the 13th century, built by merchants from Dubrovnik, who used to visit that place.
During the 17th and 18th centuries Tartars and “kurdjalii” (deserters from the Ottoman army) devastated the church many times.
The present church was built in 1834 with donations and voluntary work of pious Christians.
The church is a basilica with a nave and two aisles 32 m long and 19m wide. It is two metres underground. The nave and the two aisles have different width and are covered with cylindrical arches. There are special pots built in the walls in order to make the acoustics better. A potter from Pleven gave them as a present.
The church was consecrated on 14/10/1834 – the day of St. Petka. The iconostasis was finished eleven years later and was made of walnut. It is unique because the embossed figures were replaced by sculptural ones.
There are no frescoes on the walls but the church possesses one of the richest icon collections of Dimitar Hristov Zograf - a brother of Zechariah Zograf – the famous icon-painter. The bishop’s throne and the pulpit are of great value.
A special thanksgiving service was held in the church on 11/12/1877 in honour of the victory gained over Osman pasha’s army and the liberation of Pleven. The Russian emperor Alexander II, called Czar Liberator took part in the service.
The present belfry was built in 1883 not far from the main entrance.
“St. Nikolay” church in Pleven was proclaimed a cultural monument – a place that brings together Christian spirituality, historical memories, iconography and architecture of great value.
Church "St. Sofia", Sofia (object N 12)
History information: This church is one of the symbols of the Bulgarian capital, which is why it is called St. Sofia. This is the second oldest church in Sofia, after “St. George” rotunda.
It was built in the 4th century AD over the ruins of several older churches from the early Christian period. Some paintings of birds, flowers and objects typical for that period were found when the construction of the church began.
During the period of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom it was an Episcopal church. When Bulgaria fell under Ottoman domination the church was converted into a mosque and two minarets were built. One of them was seriously damaged by a violent earthquake in the 19th century. The mosque was not reconstructed and later it was deserted.
After the Liberation the edifice was proclaimed church again and consecrated. Archaeological excavations began in 1911 and in the 1930s the church was carefully restored.
Nowadays the church of St. Sofia is open for services. A very precious Bulgarian relic – a wisp of Vassil Levski’s hair is kept there (he was known as the Apostle of the Bulgarian freedom). The grave of the Patriarch of the Bulgarian literature – Ivan Vazov is behind the church.
There are not any documents about the bells.
Church "St. Petka", Sofia (object N 13)
Church "St. Nedelya", Sofia (object N 14)