Saturday, July 10, 2010

St. Stephen's Church in Nessebar, Bulgaria

The Church of St. Stephen in Nessebar, Bulgaria, dates from the 10th or 11th centuries.
The eastern end is the oldest portion of the church. It has three naves (the aisles are high and comparable in width to the central nave) and a fa├žade including three high apses (semicircular recesses covered with a hemispherical vault or semi-dome), the middle of which rises above the side ones.
The central nave is separated from the side naves by four pilasters (a slightly projected column built into the face of a wall) and two marble columns
with reversed Corinth capitals serving as a base.
It was enlarged to the west in the 16th century and a narthex (the entrance or lobby at the far end from the main altar) was added on the west end in the 18th century. Below is the back of the narthex.
The eastern and western facades are crowned with pediments in the form of trefoil arches (arches whose inner surface is struck from three centers).
It has mixed masonry of stone and brick, without a fixed pattern, and includes four-leaved and round shaped brown and green glazed ceramics which are mixed in. The ceramic below is from a different church in Nessebar but similar to the ceramic in St. Stephen's.
The south gate has an inscription in Greek from 1599 which states that the reconstruction was completed during the time of Nessebar’s bishop Christopher, who was declared “exarch of the entire Black sea”. This is the time the interior frescoes were painted. The church was originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary and bore her name and most of the frescoes relate to her life. The Virgin Mary, below, at the top of the central apse.
The central nave has the “miracles of Christ,” including Christ healing the ill, resurrecting the dead, and taming a storm at sea. Below are various murals from the church. In the narthex.

In the narthex.
The insides of some decorated arches.
Other murals:
and a pattern on a wall.
Many of the murals, particularly the miracles, were difficult to photograph or not in very good condition.

History of Nessebar and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church:
Nessebar was originally a Thracian settlement called Menebria and then became a Greek colony called Mesimvria when settled by the Dorians in the 6th century B.C. It became part of the Roman Empire in 71 B.C. and part of the Byzantine Empire from the 5th century A.D. It was captured as part of the First Bulgarian Empire in 812 by Khan Krum, but was ceded back to the Byzantine Empire in 864 by Knyaz Boris I. About this same time, because of the influence of the Byzantine Empire, the Bulgarians adopted Christianity. Nessebar was recaptured by Tsar Simeon the Great of the Bulgarian Empire in the late 9th or early 10th century. In 927, the Bulgarian Patriarchate was officially recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church became an autocephalous Greek or Eastern Orthodox Church, meaning that it was part of the Greek Orthodox Church, but its head bishop did not report to any higher-ranking bishop. Nessebar was conquered by crusaders led by Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy, in 1366. Around 1393, the Ottomans captured much of Bulgaria and the majority of Bulgarian churches were razed and most of the surviving ones were converted into mosques. St. Stephen's obviously was not razed and does not appear to have been converted to a mosque at any time. Most of the clergy were killed and the Bulgarian church was subordinated to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Nessebar itself was captured by the Turks in 1453. Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman rule in 1878. The Bulgarians struggled with the authority of the Greeks and gradually gained back more and more Bulgarian clergy. Finally, following World War II, the Patriarch of Constantinople again recognized the autocephaly of the Bulgarian Church. From 1944 to 1989, the church was largely controlled by the government and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and Bulgarian Communist Party had a closely symbiotic partnership.

1 comment:

  1. Those lions and the man being devoured all look pretty calm. Amazingly calm.