Cultural Identity of Bulgaria: Rila Monastery

1000 metre-high mountains stretch across southwestern Bulgaria. Deep in the woods of these mountains is the Rila Monastery. It looks like a fortress. The monastery was built in the 10th century and became the focal point of Bulgarian national identity during the Byzantine Empire. The complex, however, was damaged by an earthquake at the beginning of the 14th century. It was subsequently rebuilt to withstand natural disasters and the threat of foreign invasion. The monument that still survives from this period is the Tower of Hrelu.

The Monastery became a key centre of religion and culture in Bulgaria. Frescoes decorate the corridor walls. A single path runs down from Christ from the world above. It is a path followed by those who are faithful to Christs teachings. It is clear where that path eventually lead to – The painting on the wall below depicts hell. The paintings convey Christian teaching to people who could neither read nor write.

The Monastery at one point was totally destroyed by fire. With the rise of Slavic identity and desire for independence from the Ottomans, reconstruction of the building began immediately. Craftsmen from around the country gathered and a symbol of the people, the Rila Monastery, was restored. The churchs centrepiece is the altar. Drawn here … is the Eye of God. The Eye silently watches the churchgoers, solemnly observing their true faith in God.

Over 300 monks once lived in the Monastery. Today, there are just 9, leading a quiet … meditative existence. The monastery has survived several disasters, and has come back to life each time like a Phoenix rising out of the ashes.

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