Nature park Rilski manastir: Cultural heritage

The cultural and historical significance of The Nature Park Rila Monastery is extraordinary. The Rila Monastery, located within the park, is the most important and revered symbol of Bulgarian Culture and of The Bulgarian Faith. This spiritual center was founded during the 10th century (927-941) by the hermit Ivan from the village of Ckreeno, later renamed Rila. Between the 10th and 14th centuries the monastery was located about 3 kilometers to the north-east of the present day structure. This early manifestation of Rila Monastery was constructed around a natural cave, in which Ivan Rilski dwelled. But during 1300 the feudal lord Hrelyou Dragovola ordered the construction of a new Rila Monastery on the naturally fortified terrace between the Rila and Drooshuovitsa rivers. The Hrelyouovata Tower (named after this feudal lord), completed in 1340, is the oldest portion of the present-day structure.

Rila Monastery serves as a repository for the collection and preservation of many religiously significant artifacts and relicts, especially the following: handwritten and antique printed books; historical documents detailing Bulgarian Culture throughout the ages; regal charters; highly venerated icons depicting biblical figures; church collection plates; golden threaded vestments worn during special church celebrations; and a multitude of gifts donated to the monastery by the visiting faithful. The monastery’s significance as a spiritual center is recognized throughout the entire Eastern-Orthodox Christian community. The following portions of Rila Monastery are open for visitation: the primary monastic church “Rodjectvo Bogorodichno;” the historical museum, and the agricultural/industrial museum. During 1983, The Rila Monastery was declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Very close to the monastery complex are located two nunneries – Orleetsa and Pcheleeno.

The Orleetsa Nunnery is located about 3 kilometers from the village of Rila, along the motorway leading up to Rila Monastery. This is one of the oldest nunneries associated with Rila Monastery; it is mentioned as far back as 1378 in the Royal Charter of Tsar Ivan Shishman. At this nunnery there is a chapel (constructed 1469) named in honor of Saints Peter and Paul. Its interior is graced with well-preserved frescoes completed about a decade after the chapel’s construction. Although the chapel’s name honors the aforementioned saints, it was constructed to commemorate the return of ecclesiastical power from Veliko Turnovo to Rila during 1469. In the yard of the nunnery is preserved one of the oldest vineyard plantations in all of Bulgaria – first planted in the second decade of the 19th century.

The Pcheleeno Nunnery is the agricultural and economic center for Rila Monastery. At the end of the 13th century the chapel “Oocpenie Bogorodichno” (later described by Dimitar Molerov in 1835) was dedicated. This chapel is home to several of the oldest and most venerated icons from The Bulgarian Renaissance. Included in this collection is one of the most valuable icons depicting Saint Ivan Rilski.

To the north-east of Rila Monastery, high in the mountains, there are yet two more architectural-historical points of interest: The Hermitage of Saint Ivan Rilski, the initial resting place of the saint, and The Hermitage of Saint Looka The Evangelist. At this site is located the first seminary dedicated to religious education in the Bulgarian Orthodox Faith, founded in 1843 by Heofit Rilski. Very close this hermitage is located a small ensemble of monastic buildings, including the graveyard and ossuary of the monastery, several dwellings, and an assortment of agricultural buildings.