Dormition Monastery (Troyan, Bulgaria)
The Monastery of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God, Bulgarian: Троянски манастир „Успение Богородично“, also, more commonly the Troyan Monastery, is the third largest monastery in Bulgaria and one of three Stavropegial monasteries of the Church of Bulgaria. The monastery is located on the left bank of the Cherni Osam River about eight miles from the town of Troyan, Bulgaria.
When Troyan Monastery was founded is unknown. The monastery’s chronicles, that were kept by anonymous monks, noted that a hermit came to the area of Troyan and built himself a humble dwelling some years after the fall of the second Bulgarian Empire, which was 1396. The monk, having won the respect of the local population that began visiting him for prayer and advice, built a church consecrated to the Holy Virgin. Early in the seventeenth century, the chronicles also note the establishment of the monastery with the arrival of several hermits who brought with them the much venerated miracle-working icon of “Holy Virgin Troerouchitsa” (three-handed Holy Mother of God).
The years following the establishment of the monastery were difficult. The monastery was often raided and ransacked during the Balkans wars with the loss of many of its monks. It was during the latter part of this period, in 1794, that the noted carved wooden iconostasis was installed in the chapel of St. Nikola. The iconostasis was created by the Monk Kiprian in the style of the Trayvna School of Art. All though it lies outside the present-day monastery complex, the chapel of St. Nikola the Miracle-Worker is the oldest, yet best preserved, religious building in the area. It is located about half an hour walk south of the monastery.
Since the monastery was under the jurisdiction of the bishops of the Greek eparchy of Lovech, the monastery's lands and forests were used for the bishop's own enrichment, which created problems for the monastery. A solution to this problem came in 1830, when a delegation of monks visited the Patriarchate in Constantinople with a letter of support from Metropolitan Ilarion of Troyan requesting religious, administrative, and economic independence for the Troyan monastery. A charter dated December 4, 1830 was signed by Ecumenical Patriarch Constantius that gave the monastery its desired autonomy by establishing it as “stauropegial”, that is directly under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. With the new charter, the monastery began expanding and developed into the notable cultural and religious center of today. These new monastery facilities were built in the Bulgarian Renaissance style.
Although the various parts of the monastery were built by a number of masters at different times, the monastery is remarkable for its harmony. In 1835, Constantine, a master from the village of Peshtera, built the main church of the monastery, which was dedicated to the “Dormition of Virgin Mary”. The church was built of porous limestone and large bricks in alternating layers. The church soon brought admiration by foreign visitors. The carved wooden iconostasis was added to the church in 1839. The frescoes of the monastery and the church were painted between 1847 and 1849 by the Bulgarian artist, Zahari Zograf from the Samokov school of art and iconography. The icons for the church were done by other iconographers of the Samokov school, including Zahari’s brother, Dimitar Zograf. As Zahari and his companions painted frescoes in many monasteries that still exist, the iconography at Troyan Monastery is similar to that in many other places, including Rila Monastery. The 5-story tall church tower was built by the master Ivan in 1865. The buildings of monastery have three and four stories, with long open verandas that face an inner yard. The columns and parapets are of an old Bulgarian style.
In addition to its religious role, the monastery became the focus for a number of Bulgarian writers, teachers and translators, including historians such as the monk Spirodon, author of a Bulgarian history. Also, the monastery was linked to the Bulgarians’ struggle against the Ottoman rule when during the late nineteenth century Troyan Monastery became an asylum for rebels and a famous literary and revolutionary center striving for Bulgarian recognition and freedom. In 1872, the Bulgarian patriot Vassil Levski, a monk, established in the monastery a secret revolutionary committee of monks that was led by the Abbot Macarius. In April 1876, the monastery became a citadel for the April Uprising. During the Russian-Turkish war of 1877/1878, the Abbot Macarius transformed the monastery complex into a field hospital for Russian soldiers.