Boyana Church
Boyana Church
Cultural Bulgaria Europe And North America Boyana District, Sofia

During the Middle Ages the strong Bulgarian fortress of Boyana (Batil) stood on the lower slopes of Mount Vitosha in what is now the Sofia suburb of Boyana. This name is mentioned for the first time in 969. Boyana was one of the 35 fortresses and settlements that formed the fortification systems of the city of Sredets (Sofia). Boyana Church was built within the fortress and is a magnificent example of medieval architecture and monumental art.

The church has undergone many transformation and extensions, and thus its present complex volume differs considerably from the original. New buildings have been added to the First (East) Church, architectural transformations have been made, and the decoration has been changed. At present Boyana Church consists of buildings from the 11th, 13th and 19th centuries.

The oldest Boyana Church, the so-called East or First Church, was designed and used as a chapel. It had a typical Greek cross plan with a dome, and a concealed internal cross without free-standing support and without a narthex. It is built entirely of brick. The north and south facades are articulated on the outside with three blind arches, each with the central arch higher than the side ones;the arches are not related to the structure of the building. The brickwork decorations are figural: archivolts with 'wolf's tooth' and concentric rows of bricks above the arches.

The plan of the interior is reminiscent of a Greek cross and is scantily lit by long narrow openings (one each on the north and south walls, four on the dome) as well as through one triforium on the apse. The entire interior surface of the walls and dome was covered with murals. Some larger fragments have been preserved in the apse. As the First Church was painted again in the mid-18th century, traces of the original paintings are noticeable only where the upper layer of murals has been destroyed.

In the 13th century the feudal ruler of the western region of the Second Bulgarian State, Sebastocrator Kaloyan and his wife Desislava, who were closely related to the royal family, commissioned the extension of the church. The builders added a new two-storey building to the western wall of the First Church. The ground floor has direct access from the First Church and was intended as a narthex. It is rectangular, covered with a cylindrical vault. On the inside, the walls are decorated only with two niches on the southern and northern sides respectively, probably for a family tomb. The upstairs floor of Kaloyan's Church has an almost identical architectural composition to the older building, in the shape of a Greek cross, and it was used as a family chapel. It was dedicated to the martyr healer St Panteleimon. Access to the chapel is by an outside staircase along the southern wall. It is possible that the stairs connected the chapel with the house of the nobleman. There are grounds for believing that in the event of danger, the mobile staircase was removed, thus, the upstairs chapel could also be used as a defence tower.

The articulation of the facades is figural as in the First Church. The northern and southern facades have four blind arches each on the level of the second floor. One of the arches on the southern wall is wider and was used as an entrance to the chapel on the second floor. The eastern facade of Kaloyan's Church rises above the roof of the First Church. On the outside its surface is broken by a small semicircular apse. The western, entrance facade is the most representative and has a pronounced monumental character. The new church, extended and renewed by the family of the Sebastocrator, was decorated with paintings and consecrated in 1259.

The Boyana frescoes are an early example of the icon-painting style which later on was adopted in mural painting and as such they mark the beginning of specific features which strongly influenced the Tirnovo artistic school. The icon-style murals that became widespread in the Serbian, Russian and Mount Athos monasteries during the 14th to 16th centuries are closely related to this innovation.