The St. Virgin Mary convent can be found at the very beginning of the Arbanasi village, which in turn is situated 5 km away from Veliko Turnovo on the road to Gorna Oryahovitsa. It is one of the cloisters scattered around the former capital of Bulgaria, which hold painful memories of the Turks’ invasion in Bulgaria. A visit of this monastery can be a part of a nice day off or a weekend in the ancient village of Arbanasi. Another monastery, St Nikola lies at the other end of the village and can complement a visit in the neighbourhood.
The St Virgin Mary cloister was established at the time of the second Bulgarian state, which ended with the fall under Ottoman rule in the end of the 14th century. As soon as the Tsarevets fortress of the Bulgarian king (in the nearby Veliko Turnovo) is conquered by the Ottoman troops, only a few houses of Arbanasi, including this monastery, survived the invasion. During the first years of Ottoman domination, the monastery remains a wealthy convent, but was later abandoned following a series of raids by groups of the so-called Kurdzhalii. Yet in 1680, local people raise money and erect the monastery’s church, which has survived to date. It is an interesting building for its being quite different from the gorgeous churches of other cloisters – it represents a low and longish building (18 meters long, 6 meters wide) with two entrance halls and a spacious chapel, without external brilliance or bell-tower. Its walls were painted by the Krastyo, Tsonyo and Georgi masters in 1704. Soon afterwards (in 1716), the Troyan monk Danail initiates the construction of monks’ dwellings and brings the monastery back to life. In 1762, the church and the chapel were additionally decorated with frescoes. Besides the wall paintings, a few icons, painted by the Tyavna master Zahari Stefanov and his son, Tsonyo, have been also preserved to present days. The bell-tower is brand new and stands out just above the main entrance of the monastery. Visitors are also taken by the icon of St Virgin Mary with a silver repousse cover – a part of the silver cover being added at a later stage with the funds of a local trader whose child was cured following a pray to the icon. The icon is believed to be miraculous by both the nuns and the local people who come to the monastery to address their prayers to her. It dates back before Bulgaria fell under Ottoman rule. According to the legend, at the time the nuns abandoned the monastery shortly after the fall of the state, they covered the icon with cloths and hid it in the ground. Many years later, a shepherd boy heard a mournful voice coming from the ground at the same place while walking his herd, and found the icon with the help of his father.
The monastery does not offer accommodation or food. Instead, one can take advantage of the plenty of hotels, rooms to let and restaurants of the holiday city of Arbanasi.
One can reach the monastery easily by car, following the signs from Veliko Turnovo to Arbanasi, on the main road to Gorna Oryahovitsa. The street that leads to the monastery starts at the very entrance of the village. The entire road from Veliko Turnovo to the monastery is a good asphalt one.
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