Antiquity, Medieval Artifacts Exposed by Landslide Show Bulgaria’s Troyan Monastery May Be Much Older than Known
Archaeological artifacts from the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages have been exposed by a landslide near the Troyan Monastery meaning that Bulgaria’s third largest monastery might have been founded long before 1600, as presently thought.
Dozens of artifacts have been found as a result of landslide on the Chukarka Mount hill, just 50 meters away from today’s Troyan Monastery, by workers cleaning up an old monastery cemetery, the monastery’s Father Superior Sioniy has announced.
The finds include spear and arrow tips, part of a chain armor, coins, rings, crosses, appliques, fibulas, fragments from Roman tiles presumably left from an old monastery building, and other items dating back to the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period, and the High Middle Ages, BNR reported.
The artifacts have now been studied by archaeologists Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, and by numismatist Assoc. Prof. Konstantin Dochev, head of the Veliko Tarnovo Office of the same institute, who deem plausible Father Superior Sioniy’s presumption that “some serious” archaeological and historical research would prove that the Troyan Monastery is much older than now believed.
According to the archaeologists, the 19 coins which have been found date from different historical periods from the 4th until the 13th century.
The earliest coin is a Late Roman coin minted at the end of the 4th century AD. There are also coins from the early period of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, i.e. the 5th-6th century AD.
Numismatist Dochev points out that most of the coins exposed by the landslide near the Troyan Monastery are from the 11th – 13th century, the time when the First Bulgarian Empire was conquered by Byzantium (1018 – 1185) and the period of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422), especially the reign of Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207) and Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218 – 1241). Most of the newly discovered coins were minted in Constantinople.
One of the most interesting finds is a rare coin minted by Isaac Comnenus (Komnenos) who rebelled against Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelus (1185-1195; 1203-1204), and ruled Cyprus in 1184-1191 before the island was conquered by English King Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade.
Ovcharov notes the discovery of a total of six decorated Early Byzantine bronze fibulas and appliques, and the fact that they often signified officer ranks.
In his words, taken together with the Late Roman coin, they might indicate that near the location of today’s Troyan Monastery there might have existed a Roman / Byzantine fort guarding a Roman road.
He points out that one of the fibulas is from the 1st-2nd century AD, which could possibly mean the presence of an Ancient Thracian settlement in the area.
The presence of more numerous archaeological artifacts from the Middle Ages is also noted.
“We can hypothesize that there used to be an important fortress nearby which functioned between the 11th and the 13th century,” Ovcharov says, adding that the existence of an Early Christian or medieval monastery is also possible.
He argues that the discovered rings and crosses could be construed as further evidence for that hypothesis, including because they might have been washed away from a necropolis. So could the spear and arrow tips and part of a chain armor.
The three bronze rings and two crosses are dated to the 12th-13th century. The finds also include three Late Antiquity spear tips, and three medieval arrow tips.
The archaeologist has also informed that large-scale archaeological excavations might possibly be started around the Troyan Monastery in the fall of 2018.
The monastery’s Father Superior Sioniy had already announced that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church would ask Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture to sponsor excavations in order to learn more about the history of the Troyan Monastery.
He now points out that there are allegations that the Troyan Monastery in fact succeeded a much older monastery which used to exist in the area.
According to the archaeologists, the artifacts exposed by the recent landslide indicate that an important hub (fortress, monastery, town) existed at the spot of the Troyan Monastery without interruption from the 4th until the 13th century.
They even hypothesized that the life of hub might have been ended as a result of the Mongol (Tatar) invasion in Bulgaria in 1242.
“According to the data from the coins, it appears that this small fortress, which likely existed up on the hill, survived for about 200 years during the Middle Ages, and perished around 1242 during the wave of the Tatar – Mongol invasion in Bulgaria,” Ovcharov has told the Focus news agency.
“Few people are aware that in 1242, the hordes of Batu Khan (r. 1227 – 1255, the founder of the Golden Horde – note) left behind great devastation in Northern Bulgaria, no less than they did in the Russian principalities, or in Hungary and Poland,” he elaborates.
The Troyan Monastery appears likely to reveal intriguing discoveries and information.
In 2014, a long-lost Bulgarian religious book, a manuscript known as a “damaskin”, written in 1745, was discovered in the monastery during a cleanup.
In 2017, two monks’ skulls with an inscription mentioning 1876 were found in the monastery indicating its participation in the 1876 April Uprising, the Bulgarians’ most famous rebellion against the Ottoman Empire.
Learn more about the Troyan Monastery in the Background Infonotes below!
The Monastery “Dormition of the Holy Mother of God”, more popularly known as the Troyan Monastery, is a Bulgarian Orthodox monastery located near the town of Oreshaka and 10 km away from the town of Troyan in Central North Bulgaria.
The Troyan Monastery lies on the bank of the Cherni Osam River, in the Balkan Mountains.
It is deemed to be the third largest monastery in Bulgaria after the Rila Monastery and the Bachkovo Monastery.
Up until accidental archaeological discoveries in December – January 2017, it was believed that the Troyan Monastery was established ca. 1600. (At that time, Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, a period known in Bulgarian history as the Ottoman Yoke (1396/1422 – 1878/1912).)
Since the 17th century, the Troyan Monastery has been home to the holy icon of the Three-Handed Mother of God, i.e. Virgin Mary.
There is a legend partly based on monastery records that the icon of the Three-Handed Virgin was brought to the monastery by a monk from the Hilandar Monastery on Mouth Athos (the autonomous peninsula in Greece which is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries) on his way to Wallachia north of the Danube.
According to the legend, the Troyan Monastery was started by two monks, or, rather, a hermit and a follower of his.
The monk bringing the miraculous icon of the Three-Handed Virgin from Mouth Athos as a present for his relatives in Wallachia was passing by, and heard about the hermit and his follower, and decided to visit them.
The visiting monk, allegedly craving for greater freedom, refused to stay with the hermit in spite of being invited to join him. But every time he tried to leave, his horse would trip. He figured out that the icon did not want to leave the place, and, shedding lots of tears, parted with it.
There have also been unconfirmed claims that when monks from Mount Athos arrived to the location of today’s Troyan Monastery, there had already been other monks living in there in the ruins of a monastery destroyed during the Ottoman invasion of the Second Bulgarian Empire at the end of the 14th century. These claims cite as evidence the discoveries of crosses and apses hacked into the rocks inside nearby caves.
Before Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire, especially in the 18th century, the Troyan Monastery was attacked and ransacked by armed bands a number of times.
The original 17th century church of the monastery dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary was a wooden one. A stone church was built ca. 1780.
Today’s main church of the Troyan Monastery was opened in 1835. Its murals were painted in 1847-1849 by Zahari (Zahariy) Zograf (1810-1853), the most famous icon painter from Bulgaria’s National Revival Period (18th-19th century). Zahari Zograf painted his self-portrait on the northern wall of the church as well as a version of his famous mural “The Wheel of Life” (also translated as “The Cycle of Life” or the “The Circle of Life”) from the Transfiguration Monastery near the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria.
In the 18th and 19th century, the monks of the Troyan Monastery produced several original literary works such as the long lost Troyan Damaskin which was rediscovered in 2014.
Damaskins are Bulgarian books, manuscripts from the 16th-19th century, containing collections of homilies, sermons, and saint biographies (and even short stories and historical accounts) written in vernacular Bulgarian, rather than Old Bulgarian (also known as Church Slavonic).
The name of the damaskin books is derived from the name of Damaskinos Stouditis (Damascenus Studites) (ca. 1500 – 1577), a Greek cleric and writer (even though the word’s etymology is connected with the name of the city of Damascus in Syria).
Damaskinos’ most popular work, the Thesauros, containing 36 sermons based on passages from the Bible, was published in Venice in 1558.
This book became the first “damaskin” after it was translated into Bulgarian by Bishop Grigoriy Prilepski (Gregory of Prilep) in the Holy Trinity skete of the Great Lavra Monastery on Mount Athos, (the autonomous peninsula in Greece which is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries).
The Troyan Monastery has two sketes (isolated monk dwellings) – one established in 1785 and located 1 km away, and a second one built in 1832 and located 8 km away.
The monastery’s five-floor bell tower was built in 1866. Parts of it was demolished in 1898 but were restored in 1987.
The Troyan Monastery was a seat of one of the secret revolutionary committees preparing an armed uprising against Ottoman Turkey which were founded all over Bulgaria by revolutionary and national hero Vasil Levski (1837-1873), and today the monastery features a museum dedicated to Levski.
It was originally believed that the monastery did not participate in the Bulgarians’ most famous rebellion against the Ottomans, the April Uprising of 1876, because there were Ottoman troops quartered there at the time. However, the 2017 discovery of two monks’ skulls with an inscription mentioning 1876 cast doubt over this original hypothesis.
The late head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Maxim (1914-2012, Patriarch in 1971-2012), a native of the town of Oreshaka, is buried at Troyan Monastery.
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