St. St. Kozma and Damyan
The Kuklen monastery “St. St. Kozma and Damyan”, also known as “St Vrach” (St. Healer”) among local people, lies about two kilometers to the southwest of the village of Kuklen, in the Chernatitsa part of the Western Rhodopi mountain. The village of Kuklen is situated about 8km to the west of Assenovgrad.
The monastery was established during the Second Bulgarian State. It is mentioned in an 11th century title of ownership of the Bachkovo monastery. The monastery emerged around a spring of curable waters and was named after the saint brothers Kozma and Damyan for their being known as medicine men. The monastery has traditionally been visited by sick people, and particularly by mentally sick persons, who are believed to get better after spending a night in its premises. One of the two churches in the complex, dedicated to St. St Kozma and Damyan, still has a pair of chains in the anteroom. Mentally sick men used to be chained to the floor in the past. At present, it is believed that if a sick person holds the chains for a while or puts them over a sick part of her/his body, he/she will be cured. When Bulgaria’s lands were taken over by the Ottoman Empire, the monastery’s role as a place where sick people came in hope of being healed increased. The Turkish authorities protected the monastery, as it took medical care including of local Turkish rulers’ families. The monastery was protected from robbers, including with the help of Turkish soldiers sent from Provdiv when needed. During 1657, when a lot of monasteries in the Rhodopi mountains were destroyed, monks flocked to “St Kozma and Damyan”. During the 17th century, the monastery was a centre of letters, with it hosting authors such as Krustyo Gramatik and abbot Avram Dimitriev. Financially, the monastery was enjoying the support particularly of the Plovdiv association of producers of abba (a type of woolen cloth). Currently the monastery is operational and open to visitors. It has two churches - one dedicated to St. St. Kozma and Damyan, built in the 15th century, and another one named “St. Annunciation”, built in the 50es of the 20th century. The monastery complex includes farming and residential buildings, as well as a big holy spring nearby. The “St. St. Kozma and Damyan” church is 22m-long and 8m-wide cross-shaped building with no domes. During the wave of forced conversion of Bulgaria’s population to Islam, the monastery was set on fire more than once, but its unique wall-paintings survived. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the monastery was run by Greek monks who covered the church’s original frescoes with new paintings and put Greek inscriptions on them. Following a restoration of the church’s frescoes in more recent times, both layers of paintings were restored and can now be seen. The monastery is declared a monument of culture. Its official holiday is marked each year on the 29th of June, Peter’s Day, when celebrations usually continue for 3 days. The icon of St. St. Kozma and Damyan, believed to be miracle-working, is taken out of the church then, too.
The monastery accommodates visitors only during the summer. The price per bed is 5 leva (in early 2007). Food is not offered.
The road from Assenovgrad to the village of Kuklen is a good asphalt road. Yet the offroad from the village to the monastery is in poor condition - though far from being impossible to pass with a limousine.