August 2, 2012

0296 BULGARIA (Kyustendil) - Rila Monastery (UNESCO WHS)

Founded during the reign of Tsar Peter I (927-968), therefore to less than a century after Christianity became the official religion of the First Bulgarian Empire, in the mountains to the east of the Struma river valley in western Bulgaria, by the disciples of the hermit Ivan of Rila (876-946), who lived in a cave nearby, Rila Monastery has been supported and respected by the Bulgarian rulers even since its creation. Benefiting from substantial donations from almost every tsar of the Second Bulgarian Empire (despite the fact that in his testament the hermit has advised his community not to seek favors from "earthly kings and princes"), the monastery became a cultural and spiritual center of Bulgarian national consciousness, reaching his peak between centuries XII and XIV.

The monastery was rebuilt in its present position in the 14th century, the oldest buildings in the complex dating from this period - the tower of Hrelyu (1334-1335) and a small church next to it (1343). The Ottoman conquest, in the end of 14th century, was followed by numerous raids and destruction of the monastery in the middle of the 15th century, despite the successive firmans issued by many sultans, which confirmed the monastery in the possession of its properties. Rebuilt once again after few decades,  in 1469 it received between its walls the Ivan of Rila's relics.

In the following centuries, the monastery has not only managed to survive, but served as a kind of center of Bulgarian culture. After being attacked by robbers in 1766 and 1779, a complete reconstruction was begun in 1816, but a fire in 1833 destroyed all the buildings, except for Hreljo’s tower and his fourteenthcentury stone church. In 1834 the church was torn down to make room for a larger structure, erected by the architect Pavel Ioanov and completed in 1837.

Considered "a characteristic example of the Bulgarian Renaissance (18th-19th centuries)", and a symbol of "the awareness of a Slavic cultural identity following centuries of occupation", Rila Monastery complex became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Besides the famous gold-plated iconostasis, and the frescoes made by masters from Bansko, Samokov and Razlog, the church is home to many valuable icons, dating from the 14th to the 19th century. Its museum housing also Rafail's Cross, a wooden cross on which are carved no less than 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures. Work on this piece of art lasted 12 years, and after its completion the monk who carved it lost his sight.

About the stamps
The first stamp, which shows Head-shaped jug (1.00 BGN), belongs to the set Gold Artefacts from Panagyurishte, about which I wrote here. The second is part of the New Christian Church in Bulgaria definitive set, about which  I also wrote here.

Rila Monastery - Wikipedia
Rila Monastery - UNESCO official site
Testament of St. John of Rila -

sender: Desislava Eneva (direct swap)
sent from Sofia (Bulgaria), on 29.06.2012
photo: Boyko Kalev, design: Vlado Prangov

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