St. John the Precursor
The Lopushanski monastery is situated at 300m above sea level in the Chiprovtsi part of the Balkan mountain. It is impressive for its architecture, proportions and stone plastics, while the visit is long remembered for the wonderful mountainous nature in the neighbourhood.
Once upon a time, the place of the present-day monastery was occupied by another cloister, built during the second Bulgarian state and ruined completely at the time of the Ottoman invasion in the second half of the 14th century. According to a legend, the monastery’s watermill run with waters of the Ogosta river often hosted ‘hajduti’ (i.e. Bulgarian rebels during the Ottoman rule). Once, a father and a daughter set off from the nearby village on their way to the monastery. Yet a Turk started chasing them in the middle of the road and the two hid into the monastery, where the Ognyan ‘voevoda’ (leader of haiduti) was also taking a rest there at that time. The legend further tell that the Turk also got to the watermill and assalted the girl. At that moment, Ognyan jumped out of his hiding place and slayed the Turk with an axe. The voevoda and the family hid the dead body of the Turk into a pile of manure behind the building but unfortunately, the hound of the Turk witnessed numbly the entire scene. The dog ran back to the town of Berkovitsa and started howling in front of the house of its owner. Concerned that something might have happened to their family member, the Turk’s relatives set off after the hound and were led to the watermill, where they eventually found the body. Enfuriated, the local Turkish authorities set the monastery on fire and slaughtered all the monks save for one who succeeded to flee away into present-day Serbia. Around 1850, a villager from the nearby village of Lopushna, Atanas, and a priest named Petko from the village of Glavanovtsi decided to rebuild the monastery. The cleaned up the place, built a cottage and hanged an old icon into it. Other people also started to come to the place and put their efforts into the reconstruction. Thus, the Lopushanski monastery obtained a similar look to its present-day one in 1853. It became a favourite place of the renowned Bulgarian poet and writer, Ivan Vazov, who created a part of his world famous novel, Under the Yoke, while staying at the monastery. In 1989, the cloister was renovated to avoid the collapse of its northern part. The credit for the present-day marvel of the monastery goes to the then-abbot Amvrosii, who curiously, had a higher degree in engineering. He is the mastermind behind the construction of a new residential building with two beautiful woodcarved verandas. The monastery’s church, St. John the Precursor, is consecrated in 1856 and represents a massive rectangular building with 5 domes. The outside is decorated with impressive stone plastics – something rather atypical to Bulgarian monasteries. The inside lacks wallpaintings. Yet it is worth seeing the central woodcarved iconostasis created in 1863 by the renowned Bulgarian iconpainter Nikolay Dospevski from Samokov.
At the time of our visit (May 2004), the monastery did not offer accommodation or food as it was undergoing a new repair. Yet the repair works were to be completed soon, so that the monastery reopened to tourists. The hotel part includes 16 rooms (with the price being 8-10 levs per room) and a restaurant-‘magernitsa’ (the latter meaning a monastery kitchen) for the visitors.
The monastery is relatively easy to reach by car, following the road from the town of Montana to the smaller town of Chiprovtsi. The offroad to the village of Georgi Damyanovo is then to be taken. The monastery lies shortly after the village, on the side of the road.