New Exhibition Showcases Bulgaria’s 15th-19th Century Religious Culture and Folklore Art at National Museum of History in Sofia

The official poster of the “The Sacred Space of Religious Culture and Folklore Art in the Bulgarian Lands, 15th-19th century" exhibition at the National Museum of History in Sofia. Photo: National Museum of History

Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia is opening a new exhibition which is to showcase “The Sacred Space of Religious Culture and Folklore Art in the Bulgarian Lands, 15th-19th century."

The exhibition is on display in Hall 4 of the Museum, which is housed in a former residence of Bulgaria’s communist dictator Todor Zhivkov in Sofia’s Boyana Quarter. It will be opened formally on February 7, 2018, at 11 am, the Museum announced.

“This is an innovative exhibition showing unseen unique samples of Christianity in folklore art united by the faith and creative spirits of the Bulgarians during the centuries-long period in which they were devoid of statehood and freedom," the National Museum of History says, referring to the period in which Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, known as the Ottoman Yoke (1396/1422 – 1878/1912).

The exhibition has been organized by the Museum team in cooperation with the Ivan Duychev Center for Slavic and Byzantine Studies at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski" (“Clement of Ohrid"), and the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture.

The exhibition is going to show to the public for the first time “valuable samples of church goldsmith art" such as a box of a taxidiotis (a traveling monk collecting donations for monasteries) with an image of the Suffering Mother of God (Virgin Mary) and a gold-coated cross decorated with precious stones, an 18th century silver chalice with gold coating and images depicting the Four Evangelicals Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and a monk belt with silver belt buckles from 1741.

Among the most interesting items on display in the new exhibition is a 1632 icon of the three healer saints Cosmas, Damian, and Panteleimon.

The exhibition also features 19th century prosphora seals, which are used for printing symbols on consecrated bread, from Mount Athos, (the autonomous peninsula in Greece which is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries) and from the Bachkovo Monastery near Asenovgrad in Southern Bulgaria.

Other intriguing samples of goldsmith art include a vessel for rakia (the Bulgarian alcoholic drink similar to brandy) made of gold coated belt buckles which was owned by the old goldsmith family Sarkesyan, and belt buckles with images of St. Constantine and St. Helena, the patrons of goldsmiths.

“The new exhibition reveals the diversity of an age which saw the Bulgarian society’s long farewell with the Middle Ages, and the laying of the foundations of the Modern Age culture at the end of Bulgaria’s National Revival period (18th-19th century)," the National Museum of History in Sofia notes.

“In the 15th-19th century, the Bulgarians lived under foreign ethnic and religious domination, they were devoid of statehood, and of a political and cultural elite. The only consolidating power in their society at the time remained the Christian religion supplemented with folklore culture. They became the basis of the spiritual life of the Bulgarian society. By enriching one another, they became the guardians and conveyors of the collective memory," the Museum elaborates.

It further points out that the icons, manuscripts, and religious vessels displayed in the new exhibition provide for tracking the process in which the canonic and closed church system and folklore art gradually came together

“The showcased samples of folklore art such as decorations, embroideries, vessels, etc., clearly demonstrate the reflection of religious beliefs and mythological perceptions of the Bulgarian people. The weaves, adornments, clothing and household items reveal the vitality and the aesthetic sense of the Bulgarians," the Museum adds.

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The exhibition testifies to the gradual merger of religious and folklore art in Bulgaria in the 15th-19th century. Photos: National Museum of History

The exhibition on “The Sacred Space of Religious Culture and Folklore Art in the Bulgarian Lands, 15th-19th century" includes icons painted by prominent representatives of the iconography (icon painting) schools of Samokov, Tryavna, Bansko, and Debar.

The visitors of the exhibitions can also see “manuscripts and early printed books with extreme influence on the formation of the [Bulgarians’] national ideas and the preservation of historical memory", the Museum says.

These include the “Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya" – “Slavonic-Bulgarian History", authored in 1762 by Bulgarian monk and scholar St. Paisiy Hilendarski (St. Paisius of Hilendar) (the book that almost literally brought about the Bulgarian National Revival in the 18th-19th century when Bulgaria was still part of Ottoman Turkey), histories authored by 19th century revivalists Hristaki Pavlovich and Gavrail Krastevich, and valuable samples of apocrypha and damaskin works.

(Damaskins are Bulgarian books, manuscripts from the 16th-19th, containing collections of homilies, sermons, and saint biographies (and even short stories and historical accounts) written in vernacular Bulgarian, rather than literary Old Bulgarian (also known as Church Slavonic).

The Center for Slavic and Byzantine Studies “Prof. Ivan Duychev" at Sofia University has provided for the exhibition several valuable manuscripts from its collection.

These include a damaskin written in New Bulgarian and decorated according to the traditions from the region of the Sredna Gora Mountain in Central Bulgaria, and a psalm book written in the Rila Monastery which housed the largest musical school in the Bulgarian-populated lands in the 19th century.

The exhibition also showcases rudimentary writing tools – a divit (a box for ink and quill pens) and a board with a slatepencil, “which cast light on the conditions in which literary work and education developed during the Bulgarian National Revival."

The exhibition is accompanied with an educational program at the Children’s Education Center of the National Museum of History in Sofia which includes activities such as making clay icons, calligraphy, baking of ritual breads, and painting of Easter eggs.

The exhibition on “The Sacred Space of Religious Culture and Folklore Art in the Bulgarian Lands, 15th-19th century" is also part of the cultural program of Bulgaria’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union which lasts from January 1 until June 30, 2018.


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