The Gradeshnitsa monastery is located 38km to the northwest of the town of Vratsa, 36km to the northeast of the town of Montana, about 1.5km west of the village of Gradeshnitsa and some 2km to the south of the right-hand bank of the Ogosta river. The monastery lies in a valley north of the Kaleto (The Fortress) area, in the western end of the Selishteto (the Settlement) area, at an average height of 165m. above sea level. A small river that flows into Ogosta runs just behind the southern walls of the monastery. The cloister lies within the administrative borders of the village of the Gradeshnitsa and borders with the following villages – Lesura (to the east), Baurene (south), Ohrid and Beli Breg (west), Gromshin and the village of Kushan abandoned in the 19th century (north). The region, in which the monastery lies, is particularly picturesque – a hill, surrounded on its three sides by a canyon that winds in its skirts and connected to a plateau by a narrow strip of land.
Its establishment is related to a late Roman and early Bulgarian fortress in the Kaleto (Fortress) area that existed until the start of the 11th century before Bulgarian lands were overtaken by the Romans and also, to a medieval settlement, known simply as Selishteto (the Settlement) that existed until the Second Bulgarian State (12-14th century) and its necropolis. From military diaries and documents dating back to the 16th century and written by Eudoxiu Hurmozaki to narrate the war led by the Wallach chieftain Mihail Vityazul against the Turks, one learns that during the winter of 1594-1595, Vityazul crossed the frozen Danube and crushing the Turkish army, conquered the Bulgarian towns of Turgovishte, Tutrakan, Ruschuk (present-day Rousse), Svishtov, Nikopol, Pleven, Vratsata (present-day Vratsa) and others, and reached by the Balkan mountain. Some 2,000 settlements were destroyed during the military operations. It is exactly then when the Cherepishki, Gradeshnitsa and Strupetski monasteries were set on fire and destroyed. No information on the monastery’s history in the next 2 centuries has reached us. The monastery complex consists of two parts – an inner monastery yard and a farm yard that are entirely surrounded by high stone walls (up to 2 metres at places) with four big and two small gates. Two-storey residential buildings were constructed in the southwestern walls that oversee the road in 1865. Their corner on the second floor is connected to a small chapel. The chapel, named “St John of Rila the Miracleworker” and the buildings were thoroughly refurbished and reconstructed in 1972. The monastery’s church “Birth of the Fair and Glorious Prophet, Precursor and Baptiser of God, John” stands out in the middle of the inner monastery complex. The architectural style of the present-day church confirms that it was established over the foundations of an old medieval church. This is evidenced by old stone pieces built in its construction. The church consists of a single nave, and represents a solid construction of hewed stone pieces. The church’s cross is also made of hewed stone and represents the Pieta – the Crucified Jesus Christ with Virgin Mary and St John at his feet. The plate represents a relatively small square with its sides being no bigger than 70-80cm and having primitive paintings. A primitive angel can be also seen built in the frame of the window in the northern wall of the church. The painting of a snake built in the corner of the frieze beneath the cross is also quite elementary. The church consists of two parts, a nave and an altar. The latter is separated from the rest with a wood-carved iconostasis with one line of icons of Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary with Jesus, St Firstmartyr and Archideacon Stephen and St Prophet, Precursor and Baptiser of God John. The present-day church was built in 1861 with donations and voluntary labour by people from the village of Gradeshnitsa and neighbouring villages. In 1972, the church was repaired, while in the period of 2000-2001, its interior was completely renovated. The walls of the church are painted in tune with religious canons. The frescoes and the iconostasis’ icons were painted by a team of professional copiers and icon-painters under the supervision of Prof. Toma Vurbanov from the National Academy of Arts in Sofia, with funds donated by the management and staff of the nuclear power plant in Kozloduy. The frescoes amd the interior were consecrated on the church holiday of June 24 in 2001 by the Vratsa Metropolitan Priest Kalinik. There are two legends for the establishment of the monastery. According to the first, narrated by Hieromonk Dionisii, during Ottoman rule, there was an old monastery in the Kurnivo area, about 1,500 metres north of the present-day monastery on the steep bank of Ogosta. The place there is still known among the local people as the “Deserted Monastery”. During raids by the so-called Kurdzalii bands, the monastery was set on fire while its monks – slaughtered. Only one monk was saved and he settled in that area where now the monastery lies. At that time, the place had only a ritual stone (still preserved), and was surrounded by thick and impassable forests on all sides. This monk built a wooden hut there and settled there as a hermit. In a few years’ time, people from neghbouring villages learnt about the monk and started visiting him for advice and prayer. They built the first monastery in the place of his wooden hut, while farm buildings emerged later on, too. According to the second legend, a brother and a sister from the village of Gromshin decided to restore the ruined monastery in the area of Kurnivo. They carried stones beams and shingles to the place. When they started construction, a huge eagle started circling above the place and suddenly flew towards them, taking a shingle up in his feet. He then flew to the south and dropped the shingle in the place where currently the monastery stands. The people took this as an omen and built the monastery exactly in this place. The tomb of a female monk, Glikeria, also gives information on the monastery’s history. A cross over the tomb shows the year of her death, 1821, which suggests that at that time, the monastery was inhabited by nuns. The monastery was also a cultural and religious centre. From 1821 to 1868, the northeastern part of the ground floor hosted a religious school attended by people from neighbouring villages. The monastery’s holiday is June 24, the Birth of the St John the Precursor.
The Gradeshnitsa monastery offers food and accommodation. It can host up to 33 people for night stays, while there are some 40 places in the inside and in the open air where guests can have a meal. The monastery also has its own guarded parking lot for 30 cars. The Gradeshnitsa monastery is a wonderful place for business lunches, dinners, family holidays, wedding and baptizing ceremonies.
The monastery can be easily reached by car from the village of Gradeshnitsa that is situated to the northeast of the town of Montana towards the Danube town of Oryahovo.
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