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Stefan's Florilegium


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Rila-Bulgaria-art - 4/14/12


"Medieval Rila, Bulgaria" by Tamara of Thamesreach.


NOTE: See also the files: East-Eur-msg, fd-Romania-msg, fd-East-Eur-msg, Icons-art, icons-msg, pilgrimages-msg, buildings-msg, frescoes-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at:


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at



This article was first published in Tournaments Illuminated.


Medieval Rila, Bulgaria

by Tamara of Thamesreach



If you are fortunate enough to drive high into the Rila Mountains of Bulgaria, you will be able to walk the grounds and buildings of the Rila Monastery. Originally founded in the 10th century as a hermitage by Saint John of Rila (Sveti Ivan Rilski, 876 - c. 946), today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site visited by thousands of pilgrims each year.


 The monastery itself is said to have been built by the saint’s followers to provide shelter for those who came to see him. Its 80 foot high stone façade is fortress-like, but within the great courtyard are the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, several chapels, a bell tower, living quarters for hundreds of monks (although fewer than 50 live there today), a library, and a museum. Hrelyu’s Tower, built in 1334 by the local ruler, is the oldest surviving monastic structure in the complex. It provided protection for the monks throughout the centuries, from local brigands and from invaders.


Within the main church you will see a beautiful gold-covered iconostasis, the carved wall of icons that separates the congregation from the altar. Its icons date from the 14th to the 19th centuries. The tomb of King Boris III is located in the side chapel.  You can also see the relics of Saint John of Rila, which are displayed in the church.  On the exterior of the church are frescos depicting the lives of the saints, the rewards of Heaven, and the torments of Hell.




The museum located in the monastery complex has displays of original church manuscripts; numerous crosses, censers, and other religious items; gold and silver jewelry; and beautifully embroidered ecclesiastic robes. It also holds Rafael’s Cross, an 81 cm finely-worked carving which has 104 religious scenes that hold 650 figures. It was carved over the course of twelve years by a single monk who went blind from the strain.


The monastery library holds around 250 Slavic and Greek records dating from the 11th to mid-19th century. In addition to their literary merit, most of these manuscripts are illuminated and show the Bulgarian tradition in that art.


Copyright 2012 by Lydia J. Krise, Dean of Students. American University in Bulgaria. 1 Georgi Izmerliev Square, Blagoevgrad 2700 Bulgaria. <Lydia at>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


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