The Silk and the Blood


Murals of the elite

The Boyana Church

The Boyana Church is situated in the eponymous Sofia suburb at the foot of Mt. Vitosha, easily accessible from the Sofia city centre. During its existence, the Boyana Church has undergone several transformations and extensions. The oldest Boyana Church was the so-called Eastern or First Church. It was built at the end of the 10th or in the 11th c., and it was renovated during the 12th c.

In the mid-13th c. these lands were within the estates of the Sebastocrator Kaloyan, who was probably a relative of the Bulgarian sovereign, the Tsar Constantine Tich Asen (1257-1277).

Sebastocrator Kaloyan commissioned the extension of the Boyana church: a second church, a two-storey building, was annexed to the west of the First Church.

The ground floor had direct access from the First Church and served as vestibule (the so-called narthex) and was dedicated to St. Nikolas. The upper floor was used as a family chapel and was dedicated to the martyr healer St. Panteleimon. The new church was decorated with paintings and consecrated in 1259, a date that we know from the donor's inscription.

The text of the donor’s inscription undoubtedly testified that Boyana church belonged to the elite patronage of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. In a prominent position we can see the portraits of the donors Sebastocrator Kaloyan and his wife Dessislava

and those of the Bulgarian ruler of the time – Tsar Constantine Tich and his wife Eirene, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor of Nicea Theodoros II Laskaris.

The exquisite and well-preserved garments of the ruling and the sebastokrator couple in Boyana are an important example of the Byzantine symbols of authority and power (insignia) of the time. Simultaneously, some minor details show the Latin influence over costumes, hairstyle and manners.

In addition to that, the artists and artisans working at Boyana church used iconographic and aesthetic models of Constantinopolitan origin, depicting replicas of miraculous icons and relics in Constantinople, such as Christ Chalkites, Christ Evergetis and Theotokos Evergetis.

The incorporation of Constantinopolitan prototypes was made consciously to ensure the donor’s prestige by association with symbols belonging to the Byzantine Empire and culture.

The use of Constantinopolitan themes and the exquisite quality of the frescoes has been considered as evidence of direct contacts with the artists working at the Emperor’s court at Nicea, the new imperial seat during the period of exile following the Latin occupation of Constantinople in 1204.

The mural paintings from 1259 were undoubtedly an important document of its time, providing information about historical figures of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, and shedding light upon the role of the Byzantine diaspora after the occupation of Constantinople by the Latin crusaders and on the cross-cultural contacts at that time.

These frescoes, well preserved and with great artistic value, make the Boyana church one of the most complete monuments of Medieval art in the Balkans, and had it included in the UNESCO List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage in 1979.

The Kremikovtsi Monastery of St George

Cherubic Hymn, Vergiliy Atanasov,
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Art Studies, CC BY-NC-ND

The Kremikovtsi Monastery is situated in the eponymous suburb to the northeast of Sofia. The old church is regarded as one of the most important and representative monuments of Post-Byzantine art in Bulgaria.

The archaeological excavations revealed an older phase of the building probably dating to the 14th-15th c., that was entirely rebuilt at the beginning of the 1490s and decorated with mural paintings in 1493. The patrons are indicated in the donors’ inscription on the eastern wall of the vestibule (narthex) of the church: the Reverend Metropolitan of Sofia kyr Kalevit, his son Radivoi, his son kyr Danko.

The high rank of the donors was witnessed by the fact that they were able to engage one of the best icon painters of the time.

This master belonged to one of the ateliers connected to Kastoria – one of the biggest artistic centres in the Balkans – whose high-quality production can also be observed in Poganovo Monastery (Serbia) and in several Kastorian churches with paintings from the last decade of the 15th c.