Holy Paintings in the Caves : The Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo

A wild plateau stretches across the North-East of Bulgaria. Craggy gorges cut into the plateau. These steep cliffs were caused by long-term erosion from the Roussenski Lom River, a tributary of River Danube.
Cliffs rising up about 50 meters are home to the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo.

In the 13th century, Christian monks started to dig out natural caves and made churches inside. At one time there were over 300 churches in existence and this place became the most significant holy site in Bulgaria. Visitors have to walk up a steep and narrow stairway on the cliff side to reach the churches. In old times however there were no steps and people had to climb up the cliff with ropes.


This is the Holy Virgin Church and is the best preserved church here.
A monk called Joachim hewed out the first cave church here. Later he became an archbishop of The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, a branch derived from the Greek Orthodox Church. Many followers visited the churches and helped to spread their fame.

Top painters of that time were invited to fresco the walls and ceilings of the churches. Many masterpieces by painters of the Tarnovo School of Painting can still be found here.


The pictures in this church should not only be seen with your eyes but also with your heart. All painters also devoted their heart when they paint them. If you free your mind and see these pictures with your eyes in your heart, you will understand the real meaning of those pictures.
This ceiling fresco depicts the last week of Jesus Christ according to the Bible story. This picture depicts The Last Supper.

When Jesus said, Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with me will betray Me., his disciples were all perplexed and asked, Is it I?
This is when Judas betrays Jesus Christ. Judas prepared a sign in advance. Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead him away safely.

When Jesus was condemned, Judas, in deep remorse, went to the elders to return the silver he had received. However they rejected the money and told him, What is that to us? You see to it! After that, Judas hanged himself.

This depicts when Jesus was led to Golgotha. This is when the body of Jesus was taken down from the cross. Later Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and then ascends to Heaven.


These paintings have witnessed many devoted monks praying here. However after the Ottoman Invasion at the end of 14th century the Rock-Hewn Churches were abandoned. These Holy cave paintings have weathered in the absence of their masters.