Assumption of the Virgin Monastery (Bachkovo, Bulgaria)
The Bachkovo Monastery “Assumption of the Virgin”, also Uspenie Bogorodichno, is the second largest monastery in Bulgaria and one of three Stavropegial monasteries of the Church of Bulgaria. As one of the oldest monasteries in the Balkans, the character of the monastery is unique, reflecting the cultures under which it has existed: Georgian, Byzantine, and Bulgarian.
The origins of the monastery are traced back to its founding in 1083 on land donated by Gregory Bakuriani, who was a Byzantine military commander of Georgian origin, in the valley of the Chepelare river about ten kilometers south of the town of Asenovgrad in present day south central Bulgaria. After it was founded, the monastery developed as a center of Georgian monasticism that continued until the end of the twelfth century as the area in which it was located became of importance in the Second Bulgarian Empire. The empire existed from 1185 to 1396. In 1344, the Bulgarian king Ivan Alexander established hegemony over the Turnovo Kingdom part of the empire, in which the monastery was located. However in 1393, when the Turnovo Kingdom fell to the Ottoman Turks the monastery became the place of exile of the last Bulgarian Patriarch Evtimiy and that had been ransacked by the Ottoman Turks and fallen into decadence. It wasn't until the end of the sixteenth century that restoration of the Bachkovo Monastery began, and which took on the appearance of today.
While Bachkovo Monastery was founded in 1083, only a two-story ossuary remains of the original monastery, located some 400 meters from the present day monastery. During the turn of the twelfth to thirteenth century the Holy Archangels Church was built that provided facilities for divine services during the winter months. The church was attached to the second floor terrace of the west wing of the monks' living quarters.
As the sixteenth century ended, reconstruction of the monastery began, first with the eastern wing and the fortified main entrance. The southern wing was rebuilt in 1601 with its spacious dining hall, and in 1604, the Assumption of the Virgin Cathedral was built, with its three naves, apse, narthex, and a cupola. The wall-paintings of the dining hall, that were finished in 1603 by an unknown painter, are impressive for their artistic value. In 1864, a mural, “The Presentation of the Miraculous Icon”, was painted on the northern wall of the dining hall. Along with the beautiful frescoes in the church, the icon of Virgin Mary Eleusa, that is believed to be wonder-working, has drawn the attention of most visitors. This miraculous icon dates from 1310 and was a gift to the monastery by two Georgian travelers Atanasii and Okrapir. In addition to the main church, the monastery complex also contains two smaller shrines. One from the thirteenth/fourteenth century is dedicated to the Holy Archangels and stands in the northern part of the inner yard, next to the main church. The other, dedicated to St. Nikola, is of more recent vintage, built in 1834-1837. It displays paintings that included some by the Bulgarian artist Zahari Zograf who in 1841 also completed the frescoes on the exterior of the Holy Archangels Church.
The monastery is the burial site of the Exarch of Bulgaria, Metropolitan Stefan I and Patriarch Cyril (Markov).