The Varna Cathedral, “Dormition of the Holy Mother of God”, is the first of the large modern-era Bulgarian Orthodox cathedrals built after the country’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire, and one of the several major churches in Bulgaria with gold-plated domes. Photo: Radio Varna
Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna, successor of ancient Odessos, has started the restoration of its largest church, the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God Cathedral, whose construction was completed 134 years ago.
The restoration will cost BGN 2.6 million, of which BGN 400,000 is a grant from Varna Municipality and Bulgaria’s central government, Yoan, the bishop of the Varna and Veliki Preslav Bishopric of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, has told a news conference in the Black Sea city.
In his words, the restoration of the 38-meter-tall Varna Cathedral is going to take at least a year but the church services in the temple will continue without interruption.
As part of the restoration, the famous golden domes of Varna’s largest church will receive a fresh layer of gold plating.
The funding for the new layer of gold plating are provided in full by a local businessman, Dimitar Zhelev, Radio Varna reports.
The Varna Cathedral “Dormition of the Holy Mother of God" was built between 1882 and 1886, right after Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1878.
It is thus the oldest of the three modern-era largest and most notable cathedrals in the country, the other two being the St. Cyril and St. Methodius Cathedral in the Black Sea city of Burgas (built between 1895 and 1907), and the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia (also with golden domes, built between 1882 and 1912, and consecrated only in 1924).
The Varna Cathedral, however, acquired its present-day look only in 1941-1943 when its bell tower was built up further, the foundations of the church were reinforced, the roof was renovated, and the present-day domes were put in place.
The architectural design of the Varna Cathedral was changed several times, with the project changing several architects until it was eventually assigned to Gencho Kanev (1829 – 1890), a self-taught master builder from Bulgaria’s National Revival Period, who completed the construction successfully.
A back right-hand side view of the Varna Cathedral. Photo: Wikipedia
The Varna Cathedral is a three-nave basilica, which has the shape of a square, and 35 meters long and 35 meters wide. Its iconostasis was created in at the end of 19th and the beginning of 20th century by masters from the Bulgarian wood-carving school in Debar (today in the Republic of North Macedonia), also known as the Debar School of Iconography.
The murals of the Varna Cathedral were drawn only later, between 1949 and 1951.
During his news conference, Bishop Yoan has pointed out that the Dormition of the Holy Mother of Good Catherdral has not been renovated during the 77 years since 1943.
Thus, the restoration of the Varna Cathedral starting now is going to include the full renovation of the roof structures since at present many of the iron sheets covering the roof are rusty, and let in rain water, which in turn damages the murals inside the church.
The restoration of the St. Cyril and St. Methodius Cathedral in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas is also just starting.
The dawn of Varna‘s history dates back to the dawn of human civilization, the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis being especially well known with the discovery of the world’s oldest find of gold artifacts which date back to the 5th millenium BC (the Varna Gold Treasure).
Ancient Odessos(known as Odessus in Roman times) is considered the precursor of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. It was founded by Miletian Greek colonists at the end of 7th century BC, the earliest Greek archaeological material dating back to 600-575 BC.
However, the Greek colony was established within an earlier Ancient Thracian settlement, and the name Odessos had existed before the arrival of the Miletian Greeks and might have been of Carian origin. Odessos as the Roman city of Odessus became part of the Roman Empire in 15 AD when it was incorporated in the Roman province Moesia.
Roman Odessos is especially known today for its well preserved public baths, or thermae, the largest Roman single structure remains in Bulgaria, and the fourth largest Roman public baths known in Europe.
The First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD) conquered Odessos (Varna) from Rome‘s successor, the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, in the late 7th century.
It is even believed that the peace treaty in which the Byzantine Empire recognized the ceding of its northern territories along the Danube to Bulgaria was signed in Odessos. The wall (rampart) that the first ruler of Danube Bulgaria, Khan (or kanas) Asparuh built at the time as a defense against future Byzantine incursions is still standing.
Numerous Ancient Bulgar settlements around Varna have been excavated, and the First Bulgarian Empire had its first two capitals Pliska (681-893 AD) and Veliki (Great) Preslav (893-970 AD) just 70-80 km to the west of Varna. It is suggested that the name of Varna itself is of Bulgar origin. In the Middle Ages, as a coastal city, Varna changed hands between Bulgaria and Byzantium several times. It was reconquered for the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) by Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) in 1201 AD.