Kilifarevo Monastery

The Kilifarevo Monastery dedicated to the Nativity of the Holy Virgin has gone down in the annals of Bulgarian history as the “Second University of Medieval Bulgaria”, following that of Clement of Ohrid’s large School in Ohrid. The Kilifarevo Monastery was founded between 1348 and 1350 upon the order of the Bulgarian Tzar Ivan Alexander. The premises were built 12 km south of Veliko Turnovo, the state’s capital at the time, for the purpose of providing shelter for the Hesychast and hermit – Holy Theodossius of Turnovo, a disciple of Gregory of Sinai, a man of letters and an enlightened roaming the Bulgarian lands at the time.

The Kilifarevo Monastery soon turned into one of the most important centers of the Bulgarian education and literature of the Middle Ages and attracted writers, philologists, translators and calligraphers alongside with clergymen, theologians and philosophers. A Kilifarevo School of Literature was established for a short period of time and in 1360s was already teaching 460 students, the most famous of whom was the future Bulgarian Patriarch, Evtimii of Turnovo. Liturgical books and Byzantine chronicles were translated, volumes were copied of the lives of Bulgarian, Serbian and Greek saints, and sermons were written against the numerous heresies.

The Kilifarevo Monastery was surrounded by thick fortified walls, while the monks’ residential part was placed in their inward-looking side. A few-storey tower was rising in the center of the inner yard, offering a good sight over the road to the Haimboaz Pass. Its existence, however, did not save the Kilifarevo fortress from being ruined to the ground and the large-scale cultural centre – from being completely destroyed shortly after the invasion of the Ottoman troops in Bulgaria. Centuries afterwards, in 1718, the new Kilifarevo Monastery was built, on the banks of the Belitza River, just above the old shrine, and it kept its appearance til the present day. At the end of the 18th century the Kilifarevo Monastery was several times raided and destroyed by the so-called Kurdzhalii Turks, yet only to be rebuilt again and again.

Following years-long appeals to the Turkish authorities for funding, the famous Bulgarian Renaissance master, Kolyo Fitcheto, started the construction of the present-day one-dome basilica of St Dimitar in 1840. The master decided to preserve the old altar wall and the two chapels, dedicated to St Teodosii and St Ivan of Rila. The church dedicated to the Nativity of the Holy Virgin was completed in 1842, while the interior decoration was finished a year later. The Kilifarevo Monastery iconostasis represents a golden masterpiece, done by two woodcarvers, Tsonyo and Simeon Vassilevi – a father and a son from the town of Tryavna who were talented and imaginative performing at the same time a perfect measure and harmony for beauties. Besides the Kilifarevo Monastery iconostasis, the visitor is also impressed by the icons of the Tryavna icon painters Dosyu Koev, Simeon Simeonov, Yonko Popvitanov. The most remarkable work of art here is again to be found in the chapel. Repeatedly restored and reconstructed, Kilifarevo Monastery has a complete, harmonious appearance which ranks it among the finest architectural ensembles of the Bulgarian National Revival period. In addition to the church, currently the Kilifarevo Monastery complex also includes two beautiful residential buildings in authentic Renaissance style, the older of which dates back to 1849. The Kilifarevo Monastery is declared a monument of culture of Bulgaria.