Replica of Crown of Medieval Bulgarian Empresses Unveiled by National Museum of History
Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia has unveiled a full-fledged replica of the gold crown worn by Tsaritsa’s (Empresses) of the medieval Bulgarian Empire in the High and Late Middle Ages.
The replica restores the crown worn by the wives of the Tsars from the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD).
The replica of the medieval crown of the Bulgarian Empresses has been unveiled several months after in December 2015 the Museum unveiled a replica of the crown of the Tsars of the Second Bulgarian Empire, whose original is known to have been made in the Vatican and presented to Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) by Papal emissaries on behalf of Pope Innocent III (r. 1198-1216 AD) in 1204 AD.
The production of the replica of the two Bulgarian imperial crowns, each of which is made of about 1.5 kg of gold as well as precious stones – emeralds, sapphires, and rubies – was commissioned by the National Museum of History in Sofia in October 2015.
Both crowns have been produced for free by Bulgarian jeweler Stoycho Vezenkov who donated his labor and craftsmanship. The 1.5 kg of gold needed for recreating the original crown have been donated to the National Museum of History in Sofia by the Bulgarian copper mining company Asarel Medet Jsc, and the emeralds, sapphires, and rubies were a donation by Elena Vasileva.
What the crowns of the Tsars and Tsaritsas of the Second Bulgarian Empire looked like is known from several frescoes such as the 1259 AD murals of the Boyana Church in Sofia and the bone vault of Bachkovo Monastery near Asenovgrad in Southern Bulgaria, and a miniature in the 1355 Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371), also known as the London Gospels because its original is kept at the British Library.
One of the murals in the Boyana Church known internationally as a monument of Early Renaissance art or Pre-Renaissance art shows the then Bulgarian Tsar Konstantin Asen Tih (r. 1257-1277 AD) and his wife, Tsaritsa (Empress) Irina, in their imperial attires, and wearing their imperial crowns.
Learn more about the Boyana Church in the Background Infonotes below.
The replica of the crown of the medieval Bulgarian Empresses has been exhibited in the Sun Hall of the National Museum of History together with the crown of the Tsars of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
“I’ve reckoned that the restoration of the greatest symbols of Bulgarian statehood in the Middle Ages such as the Great Basilica in Pliska and the crowns of the Tsars and Tsaritsas is my professional and patriotic duty,” says the Director of the National Museum of History, Bozhidar Dimitrov, a nationalist historian who oftentimes gets criticized by the liberal media in the country for his controversial statements, as quoted by the Novinar daily.
Dimitrov points out that the medieval “first ladies” played a major role in Bulgaria’s development. In his words, they would assume the position of éminence grise, i.e. operators behind the scenes who would push their “lazier husbands to conduct a more aggressive [foreign] policy in order to bolster the country’s positions”.
“There were no greater champions of Bulgaria’s interests than the Bulgarian Tsaritsas because here they enjoyed the status of empresses whereas in their homeland (most of them came from Byzantium) they would be at best maids of honor who would be “kicked around”,” he adds.
Dimitrov tells the story of Theodora, the wife of Tsar Teodor (Todor) Svetoslav Terter (r. 1300-1322). In his words, they had one of the most romantic stories of the Bulgarian throne, having met while Teodor Svetoslav was a hostage in Constantinople. Theodora is said to have been one of the most beloved medieval Bulgarian Tsaritsas because was very committed to charity work.
Dimitrov says her other major contribution is that after her husband’s death she married the boyar who rose to the throne, Tsar Mihail III Shishman (Mihail Asen III) (r. 1323-1330), thus legitimizing his dynasty and providing stability for the country. He notes that other famous Empresses of the Second Bulgarian Empire were Maria, the second wife of Tsar Konstantin Asen Tih (r. 1257-1277) (his first wife Irina is the one portrayed in the Boyana Church murals), and Irina, the third wife of Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241).
While Bulgaria has been part of the Eastern Orthodox Christianity ever since it adopted the Christian faith in 865 AD, in 1204, Tsar Kaloyan made a church union with the Papacy in Rome in exchange of the Pope’s recognition of his royal title.
For a couple of years, the medieval Bulgarian Empire was under the diocese of the head of the Roman Catholic Church. The union, however, proved to be short lived after Kaloyan’s murder in 1207 AD, not to mention the war between Bulgaria and the Latin Empire (formed by the Western European knights of the Fourth Crusade after their capture of Constantinople in 1204) which was soundly defeated by the Bulgarians in the 1205 Battle of Adrianople.
Back in December 2015, when it unveiled the first crown replica, Bulgaria’s National Museum of History pointed out that the imperial crowns of the Bulgarian Tsars from both the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) and the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) had “an unhappy fate” as they were captured by invaders and lost.
The crown of the First Bulgarian Empire was captured as a trophy by the Byzantines in 971 AD when Tsar Boris II was taken captive, and was lost; the same probably happened to the crown worn by Tsar Roman (r. 977-991/7 AD), and the crown of Tsar Samuil (r. 997-1014 AD) and his heirs, Tsar Gavril Radomir (r. 1014-1015) and Tsar Ivan Vladislav (r. 1015-1018 AD).
The fate of what likely was the first crown of the Second Bulgarian Empire worn by the co-emperors, Tsar Asen I (r. 1190-1197) and Tsar Petar IV (r. 1186-1197) is also unknown.
The crown of the Second Bulgarian Empire which was presented to Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) by Pope Innocent III (r. 1198-1216 AD) in 1204 AD was captured by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1395 AD after the Battle of Nikopol and disappeared.
The Tsars of the Third Bulgarian Tsardom (1878-1944/46) – Knyaz (King) Alexander I Batenberg, Tsar Ferdinand, and Tsar Boris III – were not entitled to wearing crowns as per Bulgaria’s setup as a parliamentary monarchy after its Liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1878.
Also check out the replica of the crown of the medieval Bulgarian Tsars unveiled by the National Museum of History in December 2015:
The Boyana Church “St. Nikola and St. Panteleimon” (St. Pantaleon) is a medieval / Early Renaissance Bulgarian church located in today’s Boyana, a suburb of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. It is a two-storey tomb church, with the lower storey designed as a crypt (tomb), and the upper storey – as a chappel for the family of the local feudal lord.
The earliest construction of the Boyana Church took place at the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century AD when a small one-apse cross dome church was erected. It was expanded in the 13th century when it was turned into a two-storey family tomb church by the local feudal lord, Sebastokrator Kaloyan, ruler of Sredets (today’s Sofia, known as Serdica in the Antiquity period), and his wife, Sebastokratoritsa Desislava, as testified by a donor‘s inscription in the church from 1259 AD. (Sebastokrator (pronounced sevastokrator) was a senior court title in the late Byzantine Empire and in the Bulgarian Empire. It comes from “sebastos” (“venerable”, the Greek equivalent of the Latin “Augustus”) and “kratоr” (“ruler”). The wife of a sebastokrator was named sebastokratorissa in Greek and sevastokratitsa in Bulgarian.)
A second expansion dates back to the mid 19th century, during Bulgaria’s National Revival period, when residents of the then village of Boyana funded further construction. After Bulgaria’s National Liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, local residents wanted to tear down the Boyana Church in order to build a bigger one in its place but was saved by Bulgaria’s Tsaritsa-Consort Eleonore (1860-1917), the second wife of Bulgarian Tsar Ferdinand (r. 1887-1918).
The unique murals of the Boyana Church also date back to different periods. The oldest layer is from the 11th-12th century, while the 240 most valuable mural depictions from the second layer date back to 1259 AD. There are also murals from the 14th century, the 16th-17th century, and 1882. The world famous murals from 1259 AD, which have been described by many scholars as Early Renaissnace or precursors of Renaissance Art, are the work of the unknown Boyana Master and his disciples who are believed to have been representatives of the Tarnovo Art School in the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD).
They have sometimes been described as belonging to the tradition of the so called Byzantine Palaiologos (Palaeologus or Palaeologue) Renaissence. In addition to the many biblical scenes, the murals at the Boyana Church feature depictions of Sebastokrator Kaloyan and Sebastokratoritsa Desislava as donors, as well as of Bulgarian Tsar Konstantin Asen Tih (r. 1257-1277 AD) and his wife, Tsaritrsa Irina. Two other small churches preserved in today’s Sofia are also attributed to the donorship of Sebastokrator Kaloyan. The frescoes of the Boyana Church were restored several times between 1912 and 2006. The Boyana Church was first opened for visitors as a museum in 1977.