THE GORNOVODEN MONASTERY ,,SAINTS KIRIK AND YULITA”

The monastery is situated at 3 km west of the town of Assenovgrad, directly above the village of Gorni Voden. Data about its past are scanty. Probably it existed during the Middle Ages, being destroyed and restored many times. This was what happened also at the time of the forceful Islamization of the Bulgarians of this region in 1657. The monastery is part of the group of religious complexes, connected culturally and historically with the Bachkovo monastery.

In its present state the monastery was formed in the first half of the 19th c. It is among the big Bulgarian monasteries. In the middle of the spacious yard surrounded by living quarters and farm buildings, rises an impressive cross-like church of stone with an enormous dome on an octahedral drum. It is dedicated to St. Paraskeva and was completed in 1835. The monastery itself however is named after the martyr-saints Kirik and Yulita (mother and son). It is believed that there existed two monasteries in these places in the past and this has led to a mixture of the cults.

The architecture of the exterior and the interior is plastic, grand and magnificent. It is built after the pattern of the church in the Bachkovo monastery. The interior represents a harmonious composition of mural paintings, carved wooden iconostasis and icons. It was painted by the famous icon-painter Alexi Atanassov between 1847 and 1850. This artist is a master of dynamic compositions. In painting traditional scenes from the Gospel (for example, the death of the Forty Holy Martyrs in the icy lake) he concentrates on the scenic backgrounds. The saints often acquire the faces of ordinary people, events are situated in the ordinary environment of the Bulgarian Revival (for example, the Romans in the evangelical scenes strongly remind of Ottomans). The painter has a feeling for measure and achieves almost perfect proportion between human figures and architectural forms. Particularly impressive are the scenes of the torture and death of St. Paraskeva, St. Kirik and St. Yulita, and of St. Ignatiy torn by the lions. It is obvious that, in addition to his knowledge of the canons of Athos, the icon-painter was also influenced by the works of West European painting – Renaissance and Baroque.
With its fretwork forms the iconostasis, the work of an unknown master, is among the best examples from the middle 19th c. Many large and small icons are valuable works of art and six of the large icons on the royal level are by the famous Zachary Zograph.

Between the middle 19th c and 1930 the monastery was under Greek rule. For that reason the only inscription in Bulgarian is that the memorial text on the stone fountain in the yard built in 1696. In spite of that, the monastery is an important spiritual and literary-educational centre of the Bulgarians. In it were prepared clergymen who found realization in the neighbouring monasteries as well.
The monastery was severely damaged by a fire in 1924 and by the Chirpan earthquake in 1928.
During the 80s of the 20th c the living quarters in the monastery underwent reconstruction on a large scale. Their imposing structure keeps features of the Revival and was used as a holiday home for the Union of Bulgarian Architects. Today the monastery serves as a hotel.

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