Type: stati | Historic Period:
Very little is known about the past of the medieval rock monastery near Varna. The scanty findings do not give an answer whose caring hands have turned the natural cave alcoves into a monks’ inhabitation.
Legends narrate that during the severe persecution against the Christians in the Roman Empire, several outcasts from the nearby town of Odessos took refuge in that sheltered and uninhabited place.
In 313 the Emperor Constantine the Great declared the Christian religion as equal to the other ones in the empire. Along with his successors, he undertook massive church construction in the following years. Churches were built and monks’ dwellings sprang up at many places related to the martyr heroism of the first Christians.
Presumably, one of the oldest Christian centres on the Balkans, which the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Bagrenorodni (913 – 959) mentioned in his chronicles, arose in 5th – 6th century. Evidence of the above are the Catacombs rock complex, the remains of a large basilica and a small fortification dating back from that period. Their destiny after the foundation of the Bulgarian state in VII century has been unknown.
The adoption of Christianity in Bulgaria in 864 allowed the revival of hermit cloisters and rock monasteries. Their occurrence and distribution was related to the activity of the Great Bulgarian eremite St. Ivan Rilski.
There is no information when the medieval monks’ dwelling came into being in that area. During the Byzantine domination in Bulgaria (11th – 12th c.) many churches and monasteries from the early Christian period were recovered. It is possible the rock monastery to have been founded at that time. The monks who settled there were probably attracted by the wooded and secluded area, by the numerous water sources and natural rock vesicles suitable for hewing cells. The old Christian glory of that place surely contributed to the above as well.
The period of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (12th – 14th c.) was marked by a new upsurge of the Bulgarian spirituality. Of the Bulgarian kings’ will and with their support a large part of the old monasteries were renovated and a number of new ones were built. Along with the built monasteries, the rock monks’ dwellings flourished significantly as well. Chased away by the more frequent attacks of the Ottoman Turks in the eastern regions of the Balkan Peninsula, a large number of monks-Hesychasts took refuge in the big eremitic colonies by Cherven, Ivanovo, etc. in North-Eastern Bulgaria. Amongst them Aladzha Monastery stands out with its size and picturesque decoration. There is solid evidence that the monastery was renovated and re-painted with the support of the Principality of Dobrudzha’s rulers.
The Ottoman expansion on the Balkans terminated the monks’ dwelling. A legend tells that the monks were killed by the Ottoman invaders after the defeat of the Crusader Army lead by the Polish-Hungarian King Vladislav ІІІ Yagelo in the battle by Varna in 1444.
Deprived of the support of the state and the church in the conditions of the foreign yoke, the monastery gradually sank into oblivion in the next centuries. Time was merciless as regards its authentic Christian name, either. The Arab-Turkish name “aladzha” (meaning “motley, colourful”) has only reached us nowadays.
At the end of 19th c. Karel Shkorpil recorded a legend according to which the name of the monastery used to be St. Spas (from Christ the Savouir) or Ascension.
Today, as a part of the Regional historical museum in Varna, Aladzha Monastery welcomes thousands of visitors from all over the world, and occupies an important position in the system of the international cultural tourism.