14th Century Bishop’s Bone Crosier to Be Displayed at Restored Trapesitsa Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo

The discovery of this 14th century bishop's crusier indicates that the gated complex of Church No. 3 in the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress in Bulgaria's Veliko Tarnovo was a bishop's residence. Photo: Yantra Dnes

The discovery of this 14th century bishop’s crusier indicates that the gated complex of Church No. 3 in the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo was a bishop’s residence. Photo: Yantra Dnes

A very rare find, a bone crosier, i.e. a staff, of a Bulgarian bishop from the 14th century is to be displayed in the museum exhibition of the soon to be opened newly restored Trapesitsa Fortress in the city of Veliko Tarnovo.

The bishop’s staff from the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422) is one of the most valuable archaeological artifacts to be showcased in the future interactive exhibition center (formally called “Center for Cultural Heritage Interpretation), which is to host the museum exhibition of the newly restored Trapesitsa Hill Fortress.

This is according to archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Mirko Robov from the Veliko Tarnovo Office of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, who discovered the bone crosier during excavations in Trapesitsa back in 2013, as quoted by the local daily Yantra Dnes.

Together with the neighboring Tsarevets Hill Fortress, the Trapesitsa Fortress was one of the two citadels of medieval Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo) which was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396) for 208 years – between 1185 and 1393.

At present, the archaeological restoration of the Trapesitsa Fortress in the city of Veliko Tarnovo is being carried out by Veliko Tarnovo Municipality and the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History with EUR 1.2 million donated by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation of the government of Azerbaijan.

This partial restoration has proven controversial: it has been criticized by the liberal media and by independent journalists because of the human rights and media freedom record of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. The restored Trapesitsa Fortress is to be opened for visitors on September 22, 2016, Bulgaria’s National Independence Day.

The bone crosier to be displayed in the Center for Cultural Heritage Interpretation in the Trapesitsa Fortress appears similar to a crosier depicted in a miniature from the so called Vatican Transcript of the Manasses Chronicle, a 14th century translation in Old Bulgarian of a chronicle by 12th century Byzantine historian Constantine Manasses.

The miniature in question is found on sheet No. 2 of the Vatican Transcript of the Manasses Chronicle, and depicts the funeral service for Knyaz (Prince) Ivan Asen IV, the third son of the ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371), who died fighting the invading Ottoman Turks near Sofia in 1349.

In the miniature, a prelate standing right next to the Bulgarian Patriarch, holds a bishop’s staff not unlike the crosier discovered on the Trapesitsa Hill by archaeologist Mirko Robov in Church No. 3.

Robov believes that the 2013 find is convincing evidence that the gated complex of Church No. 3 probably was a bishop’s residence.

“This ending of a prelate’s staff was found in the eastern part of the building, on top of a layer with other finds from the period when Veliko Tarnovo was [Bulgaria’s] capital. It is made of bone. Its surface is richly decorated with artistic motifs, with six leaves covering all sides. A bird eye ornament is notable. Part of the collar where a wooden stick was plugged had been broken which is probably why this ball was tossed aside, and replaced with a new one," the archaeologist elaborates. He emphasizes the value of the artifact because of its rarity.

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The crusier was probably tossed aside back in the 14th century because it was partly broken. Photo: TV grab from Evrokom Tsarevets

The crusier was probably tossed aside back in the 14th century because it was partly broken. Photo: TV grab from Evrokom Tsarevets

Robov also explains that Church No. 3 in the Trapesitsa Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo was a one-nave cross-in-square temple where two brick towns have been discovered. Both tombs, however, had been opened before they were rediscovered, even though it is unclear whether that occurred in the period of the Ottoman Yoke (1396 – 1878/1912), or during the archaeological excavations by Vasil Beron in 1884, or by French archaeologist Georges Seure in 1900. The latest digs unearthed the marble tombstones of the graves.

The gated complex of the medieval church covers a territory of 2.5 decares (0.6 acres), and existed until the end of the 14th century when the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, Tarvnograd, was sacked by the Ottoman Turks. The church complex had an arched gate leading to a road connected with the main street inside the Trapesitsa Fortress, the one between the northern and southeastern fortress gates.

Inside the complex, there was a large building, the alleged bishop’s residence, which was 32 meters long, and 8.8 meters wide, and was used for civilian purposes, with a stable on its ground floor, a storage facility on top of it, and a residential part in its eastern section. According to Robov, the building is similar to a so called “boyar’s complex" found north of the imperial palace of the nearby Tsarevets Hill Fortress.

He notes that the bishop’s complex with Church No. 3 had an excellent location on one of the highest natural terraces of the Trapesitsa Hill offering a magnificent view of the nearby Tsarevets Hill Fortress, and the imperial palace and the Patriarch’s residence there.

The archaeological excavations of the bishop’s complex in the Trapesitsa Fortress were completed in 2014.

The intriguing bone crosier of a 14th century Bulgarian prelate discovered there is to be just one of the numerous items to be displayed inside the future interactive exhibition center (“Center for Cultural Heritage Interpretation) of the soon to be opened Trapesitsa Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo.

Other artifacts from the new museum include coins, pottery, other bone artifacts, bricks with inscriptions and images, and arms.

Robov has revealed that the most valuable artifact he has discovered on Trapesitsa over the years is a bronze pendant with a gold-coated griffin image dating back to the 13th century. It is part of the collection of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

Another very intriguing find is the first artifact with a personal depiction to have been discovered in the Trapesitsa Fortress is a sgraffito pottery vessel bearing an inscription with the name “Miho".

With respect to the upcoming opening of the partly restored Trapesitsa Fortress, the archaeologist has noted that, in addition to the bishop’s complex with Church No. 3 where the crosier was found, the other top spots will be a military complex in the northernmost section as well as a monastery with Church No. 8 where the relics of Bulgarian saint Ivan Rilski (St. John of Rila) (876-946) were kept between 1195 and 1469 (when they were transported back to the Rila Monastery).

The first archaeological excavations of the Trapesitsa Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo were carried out by educator Marin Drinov in 1879, a year after Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire, who excavated Churches No. 1 and No. 2.

These were followed by the digs of Dr. Vasil Beron in 1884, and French archaeologist Georges Seure who excavated Churches No. 3 and No. 4 in the northeast section of the fortress.

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A 3D computer reconstruction of Church No. 3 in the Trapesitsa Fortress by architect Plamen Tsanev. Photo: Yantra Dnes

A 3D computer reconstruction of Church No. 3 in the Trapesitsa Fortress by architect Plamen Tsanev. Photo: Yantra Dnes

A 3D computer reconstruction of Church No. 8 in the Trapesitsa Fortress by architect Plamen Tsanev. Photo: Yantra Dnes

A 3D computer reconstruction of Church No. 8 in the Trapesitsa Fortress by architect Plamen Tsanev. Photo: Yantra Dnes

Background Infonotes:

The Trapesitsa Hill is one of two main fortified historic hills in the medieval city of Tarnovgrad, today’s Veliko Tarnovo, in Central Northern Bulgaria, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire between 1185 and 1396 AD. Together with the Tsarevets Hill, Trapesitsa was one of the two fortresses of the inner city acropolis of Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo). The Trapesitsa Hill is a natural fortress on the right bank of the Yantra River, and is surrounded by it on three sides. It is located northwest of the Tsarevets Hill. The Trapesitsa Fortress had four gates, the main one being its southern gate, which was also connected with the Tsarevets Fortress with a bridge across the Yantra River. There are two hypotheses about Trapesitsa’s name. The first one is that it comes from the Bulgarian word “trapeza” meaning a “table” or “repast”, possibly referring to the receptions of the medieval Bulgarian Tsars; the second hypothesis is that the word comes from “trapezium” because the hill is in fact is a trapezoidal plateau.

The first archaeological excavations on the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo between 1884 and 1900 revealed the foundations of 17 medieval Bulgarian churches with fragments of rich murals, colorful mosaics, and beautiful floor tiles. The documented artifacts discovered there include crosses, necklaces, coins, rings, earrings, vessels. The churches on Trapesitsa were richly decorated with various architectural forms such as pilasters, niches, blind arches, colored slabs, among others.

The largest preserved church on the Trapesitsa Hill known as “Church No. 8″ is named after the 10th century AD Bulgarian saint, St. Ivan Rilski (St. John of Rila) (876-946 AD); it was surrounded with other buildings which are believed to have been part of a monastery complex. It is known that in 1195 AD, Bulgaria’s Tsar Asen I (r. 1189-1196 AD) transported the relics of St. Ivan Rilski from the city of Sredets (today’s Sofia) to Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo), and had them placed in the specially constructed church on the Trapesitsa Hill. The Bulgarian archaeologists believe that a room in the southern part of Church No. 8 was the reliquary for St. Ivan Rilski’s relics. The relics of St. Ivan Rilski (St. John of Rila), who is Bulgaria’s patron saint, were kept in Veliko Tarnovo until 1469 AD when they were transported to the Rila Monastery where they are kept to this day in what became a major event for the Bulgarians during the early period of the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912), as the Second Bulgarian Empire had been conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1396 AD.

The numerous and richly decorated small churches indicate that the Trapesitsa Hill harbored the homes of the medieval Bulgarian nobility, the boyars, and the supreme clergy. More recent excavations, however, also indicate that the imperial palace of the early Bulgarian Tsars from the House of Asen (the Asen Dynasty, r. 1185-1257 AD) was in fact located on the Trapesitsa Hill, and the imperial seat was possibly moved to the nearby Tsarevets Hill only later, during the reign of Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241 AD). In the recent years, the Trapesitsa Hill has been excavated by Prof. Konstantin Totev from the Veliko Tarnovo Branch of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and by Prof. Hitko Vatchev from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History.

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The Tsarevets Hill is one of two main fortified historic hills in the medieval city of Tarnovgrad, today’s Veliko Tarnovo, in Central Northern Bulgaria, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire between 1185 and 1396 AD. Together with the Trapesitsa Hill, Tsarevets was one of the two fortresses of the inner city acropolis of Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo). The Tsarevets Hill is a natural fortress on the left bank of the Yantra River, and is surrounded by it on all four sides with the exception of a small section to the southwest. It is located southeast of the Trapesitsa Hill. The Tsarevets Fortress had three gates, the main one being its southwestern gate. The name of Tsarevets stems from the word “tsar”, i.e. emperor.

The first settlement on the Tsarevets Hill in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo dates to the Late Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age), around 4,200 BC. The hill was also inhabited during the Bronze Age and Iron Age by the Ancient Thracians, and there have been hypothesis that it was the site of the legendary Ancient Thracian city Zikideva – even though a recent hypothesis claims that Zikideva was in fact located in the nearby fortress Rahovets. An Ancient Bulgar settlement was built on the Tsarevets Hill in the 9th century AD, during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) which later grew into a city. The Tsarevets Hill rose to prominence as the center of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) in 1187, after the successful Uprising of Asen and Petar, later Tsar Asen I (r. 1190-1195 AD) and Tsar Petar IV (r. 1185-1197), who ruled as co-emperors, against the Byzantine Empire in 1185-1186 AD.

Thus, the construction of the Tsarevets Hill Fortress began in the 12th century AD. The total length of the Tsarevets Hill fortress wall is 1,1 km, and it reaches a height of 10 meters (on top of the natural defenses of the hill’s slopes) and a width of 2.4-3.6 meters. The most vulnerable point of the Tsarevets fortification was the southeast section with its gate; however, it was protected by the so called Baldwin’s Tower because it is known that after defeating the Crusader knights from the 3rd Crusade in the Battle of Adrianople in 1205 AD, the Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan captured the Latin Emperor of Constantinople Baldwin of Flanders, and kept him captive in the tower for several months, until Baldwin’s death. The Baldwin’s Tower was restored in 1933 by Bulgarian archaeologist and architect Alexander Rashenov; the restored Baldwin’s Tower was modeled after the surviving fortress tower in another medieval Bulgarian city, the Cherven Fortress.

The medieval church of the Bulgarian Patriarchate is located in the center of the Tsarevets Hill. It is called the Church of the Ascension of God, and was restored in 1981. The church was known as the “mother of all Bulgarian churches”, and was part of a complex with a territory of 2,400 square meters. Right next to it are the ruins of the imperial palace of the monarchs from the Second Bulgarian Empire which had a territory of almost 3,000 square meters. Both the imperial palace and the Patriarchate’s complex were surrounded by fortress walls and protected by towers. The archaeological excavations on the Tsarevets Hill have revealed the foundations of a total of 470 residences which housed the high-ranking Bulgarian aristocracy, 23 churches and 4 urban monasteries as well as a medieval inn. In the northern-most point of the Tsarevets Hill there is a high cliff cape known as the Cliff of Executions which in the 12th-14th century AD was used for executing traitors by throwing them into the canyon of the Yantra River.

For some 200 years the medieval Tarnovgrad, also known as Tsarevgrad Tarnov (i.e. the Tsar’s City), together with its fortresses Tsarevets, Trapesitsa, and Momina Krepost (“Maiden’s Fortress”), also known as Devingrad (“Virgins’ Town”), rivaled Constantinople as the most important city in this part of Europe, with some of the most glorious and famous Bulgarian Tsars – Tsar Asen (r. 1190-1195), Tsar Petar (r. 1185-1197), Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207), Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241), Tsar Konstantin Asen Tih (r. 1257-1277), Tsar Ivaylo (r. 1277-1280), Tsar Todor (Theodore) Svetoslav (r. 1300-1322), Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371), and Tsar Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395) – ruling their empire from Tsarevets.

Tsarevets and the rest of Tarnovgrad had a tragic fate, however, after in 1393 AD, after a three-month siege, it became the first European capital to fall prey to the invading Ottoman Turks. This was somewhat of a logical outcome after the de facto feudal disintegration of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the second half of the 14th century. After Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD) lost his two eldest sons – Ivan in 1349 AD and Mihail in 1355 ADin battles with the Ottoman Turks, he failed to prevent a number of Bulgarian feudal lords from seceding, and on top of that divided the remainder of the Bulgarian Tsardom between his two surviving sons. His third son Ivan Sratsimir (r. 1371-1396) received the smaller so called Vidin Tsardom, with the Danube city of Bdin (Vidin) as its capital, and his fourth son Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395) received the rest, the so called Tarnovo Tsardom, with the capital proper of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo). Just two decades later all Bulgarian lands, disunited and even warring among themselves, fell prey to the invading Ottoman Turks, ushering Bulgaria into five centuries of Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912), and signifying a practically irreversible loss of its former great power status.

As the last ruler of Tarnovgrad, Tsar Ivan Shishman was not in the capital at the time it was besieged by the forces of Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I (r. 1389-1402 AD), its defense was led by the legendary Bulgarian Patriarch St. Euthymius (Evtimiy) of Tarnovo (ca. 1325-ca. 1402-1404 AD), the founder of the Tarnovo Literary School. After they conquered the Bulgarian capital on July 17, 1393, the Ottoman Turks slaughtered its population – an especially dramatic scene was the beheading of 110 captured Bulgarian aristocrats, and razed to the ground the Bulgarian imperial palace and the churches and monasteries of the Bulgarian Patriarchate. Tsarevets and Veliko Tarnovo were liberated from the Turks in the summer of 1877 in the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878 that restored the Bulgarian state.

The archaeological restoration of the Tsarevets Hill Fortress began in 1930 and was completed in 1981, the year that was celebrated, now somewhat questionably, as the 1300th anniversary since the founding of the Bulgarian state. Tourists visiting Tsarevets can view the so called “Sound and Light” audiovisual show, an attraction using lasers and music to tell the story of the medieval Bulgarian Empire as well as Bulgaria’s fight for freedom against the Ottoman Empire, and the story of Bulgaria’s National Liberation. It was first launched in 1985 for the 800th anniversary since the Uprising of Asen and Petar. The Tsarevets Fortress was granted a protected status by the Bulgarian government for the first time in 1927, and in 1964 it was declared a “monument of culture of national importance”.

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