The Kilifarevo monastery was founded by the prominent religious activist and literary man Teodosiy Turnovski during the rule of King Ivan Alexander (c. 1348-1350) in a spot different from the present one.
Teodosiy Turnovski was born in a famous boyar family. After he became monk, he stayed in many monasteries in Bulgaria and in Mount Athos. He lived for some time in the Paroria monastery (near the town of Sliven) where he studied Hesychism and became its follower. Together with his disciple Romel Bdinski he finally settled near the village of Kilifarevo. He was greatly respected by King Ivan-Alexander for his literary activity and his struggle against the enemies of official religion. Helped by the king, he built cells for the monks, a defensive tower and a church. Soon the Kilifarevo monastery, which in its construction was on a par with the best Byzantine monasteries, became famous and attracted literary men from Bulgaria and the neighbouring countries. Books were copied and translated in it, collections with passionals of saints were compiled, many prominent educators and writers of the period like Dionisiy, Panaret, Sava, Timotey worked here. This gave rise to the Kilifarevo Literary School, which played the role of a mediaeval academy. Some facts indicate that till 1360 the school of Teodosiy had more than 400 followers who later become major literary figures, followers of Hesychism and fighters against heresies. This is the place where the great literary man and educator, the future Bulgarian Patriarch Evtimiy was educated. He was chosen by Teodosiy to take his place.
The Kilifarevo monastery takes active part in the public life of the nearby capital. Till the end of the Second Bulgarian State it was one of the spiritual centres of Orthodoxy. When the Ottoman armies conquered Turnovo in 1393, they destroyed the magnificent monastery completely.
The Kilifarevo monastery was built again in a different place by the river Belitsa in 1718. This is when the small church “The Nativity of the Holy Virgin” was built and decorated with mural paintings. After several destructions and renovations, the monastery was generally renovated in the period 1839-1842.
The famous builder Kolyo Ficheto made the present church “St. Dimiter” which incorporates part of the old one in the form of a chapel dedicated to St. Teodosiy Turnovski. To the north there is still another chapel dedicated to St. Ivan Rilski. The two are united by means of the interior of the new church in the form of a vast rectangle. The weight of the dome is supported by four cylindrical columns. The building is known for its Baroque elements. Particularly prominent is the front staff on the western wall, decorated with a relief depicting two archangels with their swords drawn in the form of a cross. The walls have flat alcoves, from the foundation to the cornice under the roof.
Most interesting are the mural paintings in the two chapels and particularly that dedicated to St. Teodosi Turnovski. They are typical for the period, bear the marks of sketchiness and disproportion, but at the same time the faces are expressive and animated. The carved iconostasis in the same chapel is probably the work of craftsmen from Tryavna who have made it with great fantasy and an admirable feeling of proportion.
The Kilifarevo monastery has several very valuable icons, the work of Yonko Popvitanov and Dosyo Koyuv, craftsmen from Tryavna. Here also belongs the famous icon – passional of St. Ivan Rilski – painted by Krustyo Zahariev.
The living quarters and the farm building do not close the internal yard completely. They are built south of the church and draw a smooth semicircle from east to west along the river. Most of them were constructed in 1849 and resemble houses from the period of the National Revival. The beautiful well-kept flower gardens and alleys add to the impression.
Despite its numerous reconstructions and additions, the Kilifarevo monastery represents a complete architectural ensemble – among the best created during the Revival. It merges perfectly with the natural environment.