The Rila Monastery in Bulgaria

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The Rila Monastery is located in the western part of Bulgaria, in the Kyustendil region. It is located at an altitude of 1147 meters in the valley of the Rilska River among the mountains of the Rila massif. The nearest settlement-the city of Rila-is located 20 kilometers southwest of the monastery. The Rila Monastery of St. John is the largest Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, having a stavropegic (reporting directly to the patriarch). To get an excursion to this wonderful place you can visit

According to legend, the monastery was founded in the 10th century. In the 930s, the Monk John of Rila, who was later canonized and declared the patron saint of Bulgaria, settled here in one of the caves. The monastery was built by the disciples of John, who named the monastery after the teacher.

In fact, since its foundation, the Rila Monastery has been revered and supported by the Bulgarian tsars. In the 12th and 14th centuries, every ruler of the country donated significant funds to the holy monastery. During this period, it was the main spiritual center of Bulgaria.

In the 14th century, the Rila monastery was damaged by an earthquake, but the local nobleman Hrelio Dragovol rebuilt it at his own expense, making it actually a fortress. However, the walls did not protect the Ottoman Turks, who captured the country in the 15th century. The conquerors ravaged and destroyed the Rila Monastery.
Since the middle of the 15th century, the revival of the monastery began. For this purpose, permission was obtained from the Sultan, cooperation was established with the monastery of St. Panteleimon in Athos. In 1469, the relics of St. John of Rila were transported from Tarnovo to the Rila monastery.

During the Turkish rule, the monastery was one of the main centers-guardians of the Bulgarian language. And when the monastery burned in fires (1778 and 1833), the whole of Bulgaria collected money for its restoration. At that time, the Rila Monastery acquired a modern look.
In addition to the relics of John of Rila, the miraculous icon “Odigitria”is kept in the monastery.
In 1976, the monastery became a national monument of Bulgaria. His image is used in collectible coins.

The Rila monastery covers an area of 0.88 hectares and has the shape of an irregular quadrangle with an inner courtyard.
In the courtyard there is a Catholicon-the cathedral church of the monastery. It was built in the middle of the 19th century on the site of the old church of 1343. The Catholicon is a five-domed building with two side chapels and three altars. Inside it is painted with frescoes and decorated with icons.
There is a library in the inhabited part of the monastery. The storage of books is actually the same age as the monastery. It contains a lot of ancient texts that have been collected by monks for centuries. Among them are handwritten books of the 10th-11th centuries (250 copies), old printed editions (9 thousand), engravings of the National Renaissance (18-19 centuries), musical notes.
Within the walls of the monastery there is a museum of the monastery. Its fund consists of 35 thousand exhibits. It houses a collection of icons, ethnographic and religious objects, products of applied art. The main exhibit is the cross of Raphael. It was created by the monk Raphael for 12 years (finished in 1802). The cross is a masterpiece of wood carving, depicting 650 miniature figures and 104 religious scenes.