A Spiritual and Historical Sanctuary: Boyana Church, Bulgaria
Churches, cathedrals, chapels, and other places of worship are always main tourist attractions in any country. This is because these places have very deep histories—the stories behind their construction are attractions themselves. Many of these churches and places of worship were built more than hundreds of years ago, which means they show a part of that country’s history which is probably already forgotten by the natives themselves. Remember that religion was—and still is—one of the major influences in society before; wars were waged, civilizations and empires were built and destroyed due to religious conflicts. Of course, things are very much different now, and these structures are the few reminders of a life past.
Bulgaria’s Boyana Church is one of those churches that a number of stories, a structure that is probably home to an interweaving web of history. To be sure, the Boyana Church may not be the most popular religious attractions in the country; that distinction probably belongs to the more famed Rila Monastery, built in honor of the country’s national saint. Nonetheless, Boyana Church still offers something unique—its frescoes, for instance, are considered as major art works. This magnificent church is not just a spiritual destination or sanctuary; it is also an important historical and cultural site, showing a piece of Bulgarian life and art.
Built during the 10th century, the Boyana Church served as the major Bulgarian Orthodox churches, located in the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia. The Boyana Church has three buildings—the eastern church that was built during the last 10th century; the second church that was built from the 12th to the 13th century; and the third church which was completed in the 19th century. The second building of the Boyana Church was commissioned by a person named Sebastocrator Kaloyan, together with wife Dessislava. This building is a tomb-type church with two floors, in contrast to the cross-vaulated design of the first one. The last building was constructed using the donations of Bulgarians.
However, it is the second building of the Boyana Church that remains to be the most popular, particularly because of the frescoes painted within its walls. These frescoes are considered as a magnificent display of medieval art, among the finest in the history of Bulgaria. The frescoes depict 89 scenes, mostly illustrating the life of Saint Nicholas (or Nicholas the Wonderworker, who eventually became the model for the figure known today as Santa Claus). Some of the frescoes also depict medieval Bulgarian life. The paintings of Saint Nicholas that survive until today were painted during the 16th and 17th century. The design and the general appearance of the frescoes are no different from more popular medieval art found elsewhere in the world. For instance, similarities in style would be found if the frescoes are compared to the medieval unicorn tapestries, a piece of art commonly associated to that period in history.
Bulgaria is always associated to Alexander Nevsky Cathedral or the Pirin National Park (and the abovementioned Rila Monastery). But while these are worthy attractions, nothing can beat the simple elegance offered by Boyana Church, an elegance that comes from its deep artistic and spiritual history.