THE ARAPOVO MONASTERY
The Arapovo monastery “St Nedelya” is located 8km to the northeast of the town of Assenovgrad, close to the village of Zlatovrah (formerly named Arapovo). “St Nedelya” is one of the few Bulgarian monasteries built in the field and not in the natural protection of the mountain. One of its kind, the monastery was built during the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria. According to the legend, water from the monastery’s holy spring cured the beloved one of Arap Bey, a local Turkish ruler. Arap Bey was so grateful that he donated a plot of land and allowed the construction of a monastery around the spring.
Firstly, the monastery emerged as a monks’ simple residence close to the holy spring in 1856. It was transformed into a thorough monastery complex by 1863 with donations by patriotic citizens of Plovdiv, as a counteraction to the assimilatory attempts of the Greek Church at that time.
The monastery complex was built by Rhodopi masters from the village of Yugovo, led by Stoyan Uzunov (Gudevski). The monastery church was constructed in 1859, as it can be seen from an inscription over its western door. The church represents an imposing three-nave, three-apse stone building, with its exterior being covered with stone plates. Six stone columns support the dome, while the floor is covered with marble tiles. The altar’s iconostasis and the four small icons at the columns were painted by the famous painter of the Bulgarian Renaissance period, Georgi Ganchov – Zografina, a close friend and collaborator of Vassil Levski. At the beginning Ganchov worked with his teacher, Alexii Atanassov, but due to unknown reasons, later on he was left to finish the church alone, when he was only 18 years old.
More than 150 scenes are painted in the frescoes of the church. The life and work of the saint brothers, Cyril and Methodius, can be seen here for the first time in Bulgaria’s monumental painting. This is done in a cycle of 10 consecutive themes, in which the images of the saint brothers are not canonised but look rather lively.
One of the most valuable icons of the monastery is the one of the Holy Mother that is considered to be miracle-working. It can be seen to the right of the southern entrance. It is painted so that its sight always follows the worshipers.
The most original building in the complex is the tower of Angel Voyvoda – one of the most famous rebels against the Turkish rulers. According to a legend, he personally mandated the tower’s construction. The tower is rectangular, and had been used both as a watchtower and as a residential building. The first two floors are made of stone and have narrow windows that served as loop-holes. The third floor represents the actual residential part, and has a wooden frame-built construction with strongly-outgoing bays. There are four rooms in this floor that are currently rented out to visitors.
The old holy spring can be found behind the monastery’s walls, not far away from the northern entrance. The first chapel of the monastery that is still preserved was built around it. The chapel was painted in 1870, again by Georgi Ganchov.
The monastery was closely connected with the educational and revolutionary activity in the region. A school for priests was established here in 1868 and it functioned in parallel to an existing school for children from the region. In 1871-1872, “St Nedelya” served as one of the many monastery shelters of Levski.