The monastery “Holy Trinity” (also called Shishman’s, Assenov’s, or Patriarchal monastery) is situated in the canyon of the river Yantra, in the foot of magnificent rocks near the old capital Turnovo.
It is believed that is was founded in the 11th c but its real prosperity was when, in 1371, the follower of Teodosiy Turnovski, the monk Evtimiy returned from Mount Athos and in 1375 was elected Patriarch of Turnovo. During the reign of Ivan Alexander and Ivan Shishman the monastery was a lively cultural and educational centre.
In the beginning Evtimiy settled in a cave but after that, with the help of the rulers in Turnovo, the church ,,Holy Trinity” and the monastery buildings were erected. The glory of Evtimiy spread quickly and followers from Bulgaria, Serbia, Byzantium and even from Russia gathered in the monastery. Under the guidance of Evtimiy in the monastery was conceived the well known linguistic reform called “correction” (“izpravlenie”), which introduced a uniform spelling on the basis of the language norms established by Cyril and Methodius. The basic liturgical books were translated or edited once again from Greek into Old Bulgarian in accordance with the reform. In this way the monastery ,,Holy Trinity” became the centre of the Turaovo Literary School and acquired the character of a true mediaeval university. In addition to the educators, artist of various fields also worked there – painters, goldsmiths, binders of books, scribers and so on.
During the conquering of Turnovo by the Turks the monastery was pillaged and destroyed. The old church with its remarkable architecture and mural paintings however survived till 1847. There are proofs that in the 16th-18th c the life in the monastery went on. These are a Sultan’s firman of 1612 for exemption from certain taxes, charters of a Wallachian voevode, etc.
In 1803 the monastery was pillaged again but this was also a pretext to collect funds for its restoration. We are not sure however whether the new monastery was built in the place of the old one. The old church was destroyed and in its place Kolyo Ficheto built a new one in 1847, with its original broken-up architecture. It is believed that it was painted by Zachary Zograph himself. Unfortunately the big earthquake of 1913 destroyed the church completely and only some icons, among which that of ,,Old Testament Holy Trinity” of 1708 and ,,Archangel Michael” of 1663, were miraculously preserved. The church was restored in 1927 but not in its
previous grandeur. The remaining buildings of the monastery were constructed later.
Despite the numerous pillages and disasters the monastery still exists as a material witness of achievements of mediaeval Bulgarian culture and even more – of living national memory.
A narrow winding road leads to the heavy gates of the monastery and it commands a magnificent panorama of the canyon of the river Yantra and the Preobrazhene monastery on the hill across. It also offers us a vision of the times of Patriarch Evtimiy.