Christianity was not the main religion in Bulgaria until the 860s CE, so throughout the country, there are numerous places dedicated to previous beliefs and deities. Initially, after the nation's Christianisation, those places were preserved because they were an essential part of the people`s culture and national history. The new priests adapted the old traditions, adding new, Christian elements to them. In this way, the process was gradual and more likely to be successful in the long run. Today, we can learn about all that just by visiting any church in Bulgaria that has been there for more than five centuries. Exploring the Boyana Church near Sofia is a way to do that!
The church appeared at the end of the 10th century CE, which makes it one of the oldest ones in the area. It functioned for about 1000 years, but today it is a museum, open to visitors. Among the different frescos on the walls, you could see images from a few different periods. There are ones that date back to the 10th and 11th century CE. In that period, the Boyana Church was small and had a cross-like dome. Two hundred years later, a small chapel appeared next to the old building. The last changes to the church were made in the 19th century CE when a two-story anteroom was added. A sign in Bulgarian from the 13th century tells us the exact period when the church`s frescos were finished, who was the church`s founder, and in what way he was related to the Bulgarian and Serbian royal courts of the time.
As the Boyana Church`s official name is “St Nicolas and St Panteleimon,” a big part of the walls` images include scenes from the life of those two saints. There also are frescos of Christ, Mary, and scenes from their lives.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Boyana Church is that the wall-paintings from the 13th century (1239 CE) are in the same style as the Renaissance ones throughout Europe. However, the Renaissance in western European countries starts a century later.
The artist behind those amazing images is unknown, but what matters is the proof of his genius that has persisted in time. Those wall paintings show that Bulgaria was years ahead of the rest of the European countries at that time. However, the 500 years under Ottoman rule practically put a pause on the economic, cultural, and intellectual development of the Bulgarian nation. And today, the country is not what it could have been, but we are working on changing that.
The church is located in the city of Sofia, near the Vitosha mountain range. It is open from 9.30 a.m. until 5.30 p.m. in winter and from 9.30 until 6 p.m. in summer. The entry costs 10 BGN for adults, and 2 BGN for children under 18 and students. Moreover, there are combined tickets for the Boyana Church and the National History Museum in Sofia, which cost 12 BGN and are valid for a month.
There are organised lectures/talks on the history of the church and of the frescos. These cost 10 BGN.
If you come in a group of 10 or more people, the entry would be 7 BGN for adult groups and 1 BGN for children and students. The admission is free for people with special needs and their companions, as well as for children under 7. Also, you can visit the Boyana Church free of charge every last Monday of the month, after 3 p.m.
The Boyana Church is unique in its mural painting, but also in the stories it tells. Its exploration gives every visitor a way to put the separate pieces of history together and get a bigger picture of what life was like in the last 1000 years. Christianity has been the main religion in Bulgaria for a bit more than 1000 years, so the Boyana Church has all the answers when it comes to understanding this period!
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