St. St. Kozma and Damyan
The Gigintsi monastery “St. St. Kozma and Damyan” is situated below the peak of Kitka (1118m.) in the relatively low mountain of Cherna Gora, about 4km to the southeast of the village of Gigintsi and some 16km to the southwest of Breznik. Because of its location, the monastery is also known as Tsarnogorski or Chernogorski (Cherna Gora) monastery.
At first, the monastery was situated in the area of Kitka, just below the Tumba peak (1129m.). The oldest monastery buildings were built in the 11-12th c. Remains of a rectangular residential building and a rectangular defense tower have been preserved from that time. Such defense constructions were typical for the well-established monasteries of the Second Bulgarian State and protected the Rila, Hilendar and Zograf monasteries. The monastery was saved during the Ottoman invasion and managed to establish itself as a centre of social life for the inhabitants of near-by regions – Breznik, Sofia, Radomir. Each year, a large marketplace was improvised by the walls of the monastery. In the middle of the 17th c., however, Ottomans from the town of Pirot started to consider the large annual market of the monastery as a serious competitor of the just-starting Pirot fair. They engineered a flight at one of the church holidays of the monastery, during which a Turk was killed. The killing was used as a reason for a mass slaughter, while the monastery was set on fire and the Sofia metropolitan priest – killed. The flames destroyed the monastery library, including valuable religious books, the monastery chronicle and other monastery documents. The Chernogorski monastery was abandoned for several years. Passing monks from the Athos-based Hilendar monastery brought it back to life after they discovered a curative water spring next to the present-day buildings and decided to move the monastery next to it. The monastery was rebuilt with the help of local people from the nearby villages of Gigintsi, Begunovtsi, Neovtsi, KOsharevo, Selishten Dol, Gabrov Dol, Berende, Yardzhilovtsi and others. At first, monks’ cells, farm and economic buildings (bakery, granary, and monastery kitchen) were constructed. Then the present-day church was built upon the initiative of two brother-priests from the village of Begunovtsi. The two brothers later adopted monachism with the names of Hrisant and Ilarion. The restoration of the monastery was carried out in the hard times of Kurdzhalii bands, who destroyed and plundered monasteries and churches and harassed the local population. The Breznik area was dominated by a Kurdzhalia, named Kara Heyzi, who had voluntarily adopted Islam. When his most beloved child fell ill, however, neither imams, nor European doctors were able to cure it. Then Kara Heyzi was told that unless he undoes the damages, inflicted on Christian churches, his child will not be cured. Kara Heyzi listened to the advice and donated money for the reconstruction of ruined churches. In parallel, priests Hrisant and Ilarion received permission for the construction of the Gigintsi monastery’s church. Ottoman Empire law did not allow the construction of new Christian churches, so the new temple was built over the foundations of the old church that existed close to the holy spring at the time of the first monastery. The new church was finished in 1814 and represents a one-nave, one-apse building with rich wall-paintings. During the Bulgarian Renaissance, the prestige of the cloister was raised. Here, the Sofia metropolitan priest ordained priests from the entire area, while the monastery school taught reading, writing and religion to children from near-by villages. “St. St. Kozma and Damyan” possessed many properties from the time of the Second Bulgarian State that had been donated by local wealthy men and purchased with the money of worshippers. Its lands were cultivated with the help of hired labourers from neighbouring villages. The monastery owned several pairs of buffalos, about 1,000 sheep, its own dairy farm, an inn in the biggest village, and a large bee-garden. The grain produced by the monks represented a substantial quantity, too - it sufficed to feed the inhabitants of three villages during a year of drought. One of the big benefactors of the monastery was Alexi Stefanov from the village of Gigintsi. He donated a large sum of money to the monastery and helped increase its properties. During 1935-1940, children of poor families from Pernik and Sofia spent their holidays here. In 1937, the monastery remained without monks and was run by priests from near-by villages for a short period of time. After 1944, the Gigintsi monastery was transformed into a concentration camp, while later it became a rest house for workers and a children’s camp. In the end, despite the availability of seven farm buildings, the very monastery was converted into a farm, while the monks’ cells were used for breeding of goats, sheep, pigs and rabbits. Yet the buildings did not receive the necessary care and maintenance. They started to dilapidate and soon the monastery was abandoned. Despite its poor state, in 1956 the Gigintsi monastery was declared a monument of architecture, and in 1976 – a monument of culture. In 1998, the ruined buildings were re-inhabited by monks, who started to transform it back into a cloister. Religious servicing was resumed, too. Gradually, the buildings were adapted for living, real estate properties were claimed back, and the farm – recovered. Water supply and heating networks were built, while the holy spring and its surroundings were uplifted. The cultivation of gardens as well as stock breeding helped feed the monks. Several international student camps were organised to assist the brotherhood with construction works and farming. The first entirely reconstructed building was the one around the holy spring. At the beginning of May 2007, a public prayer was held and the first sod for the restoration of the monastery was turned. A thorough refurbishment of the monastery complex was thus launched. The restoration will encompass firstly the monastery kitchen, the granary and the church, then the ruined eastern wing of the residential building and finally, the central corpse. At present (end-2007), the monastery is functioning as a monks’ brotherhood. Thanks to the entrepreneurship of the monks, the monastery compensates for the lack of power-lines in the area with solar batteries that generate power for a part of its needs. The kitchen’s restoration is already at an advanced stage. An official web-site of the monastery is soon to go online, too.
Food is not offered, while a limited number of people can be accommodated in simple rooms.
Setting off from the village of Gigintsi, the monastery is reached down a poor dirty road that turns impassable for a car during the winter months. The road, however, is nice for a walk and the distance from the village is taken within less than an hour.