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August 6 is the feast of Christ’s Transfiguration (Preobrazhenie)

Bulgaria’s oldest functioning church in Pomorie jealously guards a valuable icon of Jesus Christ

Photo: library

On August 6, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Holy Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ (Preobrazhenie Gospodne). In Bulgaria this is a very widely celebrated religious feast as many churches bear the name of this feast. Among them is the oldest functioning church on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. It is located on the seacoast in the old part of the town of Pomorie.

Recently, a team of archaeologists from the National Archaeological Institute, together with the Historical Museum in Pomorie began excavations near the church. The Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord (Preobrazhenie Gospodne) is part of the cultural heritage of Bulgaria and is distinguished by the fact that there is no altar apse, which is rare in the construction of churches in Bulgarian lands, the director of the Historical Museum Anton Karabashev told BNR-Burgas:

"The church itself is built in the post-Byzantine style and has a gabled roof, wooden ceiling, and the floor is covered with large stone slabs. The church does not have an apse, but we cannot say whether it was built that way or the apse was removed later when there was a border militia base here in the churchyard."

According to preserved historical sources, the church was built on the foundations of an earlier Christian basilica in 1763-64 and was consecrated in 1765. It is also the oldest building in the whole town. It preserves valuable examples of iconographic art from the 15th -19th centuries, as the oldest icon dates to the late 15th –early 16th century. The iconostasis is wood carved, with 17 large icons of the royal order, painted by various iconographers in the 17th -18th centuries. In the second apostolic order there are 33 small icons.

Upon entering the temple, the visitor’s gaze is drawn to the icon of Jesus Christ Pantocrator embedded into the wooden ceiling. The priest from the church, Father Yani, recounts a legend related to this icon:

"Pirates robbed the church in the 19th century and took icons, including that of Jesus Christ Pantocrator. However, a terrible storm caught them in the open sea and they threw it into the water in fear. The icon "returned" and was discovered by the locals on the shore next to the church."

During socialism, there were attempts to demolish the temple, explains Stefka Likova, a local:

"My ancestors took part in the construction of this church and I grew up in it. In 1970, my family and I joined a petition for its preservation, as they wanted to build a vacation home for the Ministry of Interior in its place. We used to collect the signatures of people secretly, late at night, Thanks God, Lyudmila Zhivkova became Minister of Culture and stopped its destruction, thanks to the petition."

In recent years, cracks have appeared on the facade, and the probable reason for this is erosion of the shore. At the initiative of the locals, the Municipality of Pomorie has taken action to preserve the church. A survey by a team from the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy is planned to study the foundations and indicate ways to strengthen the building.

Compiled by Darina Grigorova

English version Rositsa Petkova

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