Proof by
Proof for
Travel Date
Dec, 4 2011
One thing not miss here
Tomb of Saint Rila
Stayed at
Blagoevgrad
The Rila Monastery, besides being a remarkable holder of a long and large religious tradition, it is also an artistic complex: designed like a fortress yet diverse in pillars, arches, galleries, staircases and kiosks, wooden verandas, colourful walls, a courtyard in cobblestone and interiors covered in precious mural paintings, the frescos. The frescos are wonderfully preserved, they look like have been painted a few days ago; the colours are so strong, thick and bright, it’s dazzling. Orthodox religion is heavily present and Byzantine Art is its means.
Ivan Rila is the saint and the protector of Bulgaria, after whom the monastery was built. Born c. 876, the hermit was a wonderworker, healing people from their deseases and providing spiritual comfort and admonition. People started to tell stories about him, and his fame rapidly spread far and away, and more people were coming to him. Gradually, a Christian community gathered nearby the Saint’s cave, where he lived deprived from all material goods. The monastery was constructed c. 930-931, near the cave, in memory and honour of the Saint and his evocation, where the cult and worship were to be continued.
The medieval fortress has been under lots of changes throughout the centuries until the 20th. Its history has been troubled at some points, but it has always been able to maintain its identity and specificities through tough times, never losing itself. It has kept itself safe from everything or any contamination that would change or destroy its original purpose for the sake of worship and tradition. People’s faith was, and still is, stronger than anything else at all times.
The spirit of the Monastery has to be felt in place. What I found so remarkable about that place was the fact that monks still live there and take their normal lives even though visitors are all around. That is why, in this place, you feel their presence and their lifestyle as in nowhere else, you walk among the monks as they have been for centuries. It makes one feel that the place is not solely touristic, or with some religious events taking place, but the ‘original’ or ‘real’ people that belong to the place are still there, they live and mark the place and the spirit. Those people are part of the monument.
Some parts of the monastery cannot be visited as they are the monks’ private spaces. There is a museum worth visiting for a deeper insight into the place, its history, art forms and living. The bookshop offers a wide scope of information on the monastery and the orthodox saints, including the writings by Saint Rila.
These monks are very protective about the place, they watch and preserve their own place with a very grave face. So, follow the rules and have a wonderful journey through timeless religion, history and art.
The cave where Saint Ivan Rila lived his last years can be visited. It is extremely narrow (the width of a person), beware of that before you go. My advice: keep the spirit in there, you’ll enjoy it better. Something curious: in Bulgaria people write their wishes on a piece of paper and leave it near a saint or a religious monument, so everywhere you go is full of papers tuck in icon frames or in between the stones.
Climbing the mountain is not easy, wear good mountain boots. Enjoy the lanscape on the top.
My feelings there were that all that was so true and genuine, dense in art and history, so full of life and belief that I thought it simply had to be world heritage. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and as I got home I went immediately to check it on the UNESCO’s website. It was a relief to see Rila was listed. It is highly deserving. It fully embodies the idea of living tradition, not to mention the artistic qualities.
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The Rila Monastery, besides being a remarkable holder of a long and large religious tradition, it is also an artistic complex: designed like a fortress yet diverse in pillars, arches, galleries, staircases and kiosks, wooden verandas, colourful walls, a courtyard in cobblestone and interiors covered in precious mural paintings, the...