Sunday, 28 May 2017
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Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo Print E-mail

 They are situated 20 km south of Ruse, on the high rocky banks of the Rusenski Lom, near the village of Ivanovo. Some of them are up to 36 m above the river. They form a monastery complex comprising about 20 medieval churches, chapels and cells with uncovered traces of more than 300 rooms. The churches are small, 20- 30 square metres in size. They were inhabited during the 11- 14 centuries by monks, many of whom bookmans and grammarians. Rich cultural and spiritual life is believed to have flourished there during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. Many believers came on pilgrimage there. Kings and noblemen sent hewers to carve new churches in the rocks, and painters to draw holy images. The Bulgarian patriarch Ioakim retired there from the capital city of Turnovgrad. Tsar Georgi Terter is believed to have spent the final years of his life there.

A large part of the rock temples have been destroyed under the influence of earthquakes, rain, ice, and sun. The names of the surviving Ivanovo Rock Churches have been forgotten over the centuries and the local population has given them new ones according to its own custom: “Gospodev dol” (God’s glen) where the image of Christ can be seen through a rock opening in one of the churches; the area “Pismata” (“The writings”) - for the signs and inscriptions preserved there. One church was called “Zatrupanata” (“The Buried One”), and another one, simply- “The Church” (“Zarkvata”).

The church walls are covered with murals from various ages. In the Buried Church there is a portrait of Tsar Ivan Assen II, the church-donor, holding a miniature model of the church. “The church”, whose donor was Tsar Ivan- Alexander (1331- 1371), has the most interesting murals. It comprises a narthex and a naos, with unique Turnovo and Tzarigrad 14th century style murals. They are characterized by a great expressiveness and a dramatic rendition of the sufferings of Christ. All the participants in the mass scenes are moving, gesturing and representing the atmosphere of tragedy and doom.
The Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo was included in the World Cultural and Natural Heritage List at the World Cultural and Natural Heritage Committee session of 1979 in Luxor, Egypt.