‘Seven Tales about Faith’ Exhibition Shows Unseen Orthodox Christian Treasures in Archaeology Museum in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

The gold miter of Paisius the Thessalian, bishop of Bulgaria’s Plovdiv in 1818-1821, has been shown to the public for the first time in the new exhibition of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology. Photo: Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology

The Regional Museum of Archaeology in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv. has presented an exhibition entitled “Seven Tales about the Faith" featuring religious treasures from Bulgarian Orthodox Christianity which are shown to the public for the first time.

Some of the most interesting exhibits are a 200-year-old gold miter (headgear), a crosier (a bishop’s staff) made of wels catfish bone, and consecrated gifts brought from Jerusalem.

The exhibition has been co-organized by the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology and the Plovdiv Bishopric of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church on the occasion of the 2018 Easter holidays.

The Christian treasures displayed in the “Seven Tales about Faith" exhibition come from the collection of the Plovdiv Bishopric, and have never been shown before, reports local news and culture site Plovdiv Time.

The most impressive treasures belong to Paisiy (Paisius) the Thessalian (of Thessaly) who was the Metropolitan (Bishop) of Plovdiv between 1818 and 1821.

At the time, Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire (a period known as the Ottoman Yoke, it was not liberated at least partly until 1878), and the Bulgarians did not even had an independent church as they did during the time of the Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages, and were in the diocese of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The exhibition has been opened by Plovdiv Archaeology Museum Director Kisyov (left) and Father Emil Paralingov (right) and curator Sonya Semerdzhieva. Photos: Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology

The autocephalous Bulgarian church, the Bulgarian Exarchate (today the Patriarchate of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church) was restored only in 1870 with the acquiescence of the Ottoman authorities.

Before the Bulgarian movement for an independence church which began in the mid-19th century, during the so called National Revival Period, the bishops in the expansive Bulgarian-populated regions of the Ottoman Empire were mostly ethnic Greeks, and only the low-level priests were ethnic Bulgarians.

From among the exhibited Christian treasures, the two early 19th century belongings of Plovdiv Bishop Paisius the Thessalian showcased in the Seven Tales about the faith exhibition at the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology are his sophisticated gold miter and his crosier (staff) which was made of the bone of a large wels catship.

The crosier (staff) made of bone, likely wels catfish. Photos: Plovdiv Time

The gold miter of Paisius the Thessalian, bishop of Bulgaria’s Plovdiv in 1818-1821, has been shown to the public for the first time in the new exhibition of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology. Photo: Plovdiv Time

Another valuable artifact on display is a collection plate which belong to Plovdiv Bishop Nikifor (Nicephorus) from the middle of the 19th century.

The plate features the names of prominent donors Valko and his wife Rada who helped fund the construction of a number of the splendid churches built in the city of Plovdiv during Bulgaria’s National Revival Period.

The “Seven Tales about the Faith" exhibition also showcases gifts brought from Jerusalem in the 18th and 19th century when the number of Bulgarians who went on pilgrimage to Jesus Christ’s Empty Tomb grew substantially.

One explanation for that is that the title of hajji or hadzhi – assumed by an Orthodox Christian who went to the grave of Christ in Jerusalem – was a matter of honor and importance among the Bulgarians who had no aristocracy of their own as their medieval nobles had been slaughtered or assimilated by the Ottoman Turks in the Late Middle Ages.

Another intriguing item on display is a cross which belonged to the Bishop of Dorostol (today’s Danube city of Silistra, ancient Durostorum and medieval Drastar).

The cross was made of boxwood, and was carved by an artisan from the Danube city of Vidin with biblical scenes whose depiction is typical of the end of the 18th century.

The exhibition at the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology tells, among other things, the story of a legend how in 1926, an elderly woman from the southern town of Velingrad, Yanka Payteva, got three times visions of St. George who told her that digs should be carried out in an area called Georgievitsa.

The newly displayed artifacts are from the 18th and 19th century. Photos: Plovdiv Time

The resulting digs led to the discovery of an ancient Christian monastery as well as artifacts such as religious vessels, adornments, and Venetian silver coins. The discovered treasure was used to pay for a chapel dedicated to St. George.

The “Seven Tales about the Faith" exhibition has been opened by Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology Director Kostadin Kisyov and Father Emil Paralingov from the Plovdiv Bishopric.

The head curator for the exhibition is Sonya Semerdzhieva who was aided by Katya Ilieva, Lyubomir Merdzhanov, and restaurer Militsa Ilieva

“These artifacts carry not just precious historical data but they are also interesting as works of art," Museum Director Kisyov has stated.

“These relics are from the professional fund of the Bishopric, and are given publicity for the first time," Father Paralingov points out.

It is noted that the exhibition does not just showcase Christian artifacts but tells seven well researched stories about the exhibited artifacts.

The “Seven Tales about the Faith" exhibition can be viewed at the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology from March 26 until June 30, 2018.

Also check out these other stories about exhibitions of Christian artifacts:

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

‘Christian Art from Bulgaria’ Exhibit Unveiled in Austria’s Klosterneuburg Monastery by National Museum of Archaeology in Sofia

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Background Infonotes:

According to the pre-1980 excavations, the history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe" is the Turkishword for “hill"), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.

Thanks to the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv hold the title of “Europe’s oldest city" (and that of the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

The hills, or “tepeta", are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.

During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills") as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.

In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills").

Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.

Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.

In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.

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