Rila Monastery July 2018

Rila Monastery is about 2 hours south of Sofia and is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria.  It was founded in the 10th century and named after the hermit Ivan of Rila, also known as St John of Rila.  St Ivan actually lived in a cave not far from the monastery.  Not only is Rila Monastery an important religious center, it also served as an important cultural, language, and spiritual center especially during the periods of foreign rule.  It was looted and destroyed during the Ottoman rule in the 14th century and was rebuilt in the late 15th century.  It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.  Rila Monastery is constructed like a fortress with the main church built in the middle of the inner courtyard.  The complex is 8,800 sq meters in size.  The most famous piece of artefact at Rila Monastery is Rafail’s Cross.  The 81×43 cm wooden cross was whittled down by monk Rafail using fine burins and magnifying glasses to carve the 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures.  It took Rafail 12 years to complete when he lost his eyesight.  Even though there were hordes of tourists, there is still a sense of serenity amongst the black, white, and red stripes and golden domes.  It was worth the long drive from Sofia.

DSCF1854Main entrance to the Rila Monastery compound


DSCF1867Rila Monastery is a functioning monastery housing about 60 monks.

DSCF1874There are about 300 monastic cells and some are available for overnight stays by pilgrims.


DSCF1886Colorful frescoes cover the domed porch surrounding the church


DSCF1984Hrelyo’s Tower is the oldest surviving building inside the compound.  It was named after the local ruler who was in power when Rila Monastery was built.

DSCF1892Hrelyo’s Tower


DSCF1951Photography not allowed inside the church

DSCF1948Scenes of demons tempting people to do bad things


DSCF1910Archangel Michael and scenes from hell underneath


rila-rafail-crossRafail’s Cross with 36 religious scenes carved on both sides.


From Bulgaria, we fly to Romania to begin our roadtrip through the Transylvanian countryside.  Next post will be on Peles Castle and Bran Castle in Transylvania.  Stay tuned!

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