Type: stati | Historic Period:
No written evidence is available about the past of this medieval monastic cloister. Only the legends have survived, recounted by the local population and recorded by Victor Teplyakov, the Shkorpil Brothers and other researchers.
The legends are the most attractive detail of the mysterious world of the Aladzha Monastery. Cult places have always attracted ordinary people with their secrets and where people could find no answers to matters that were of interest to them they substituted them with a world of invented events and heroes that astound us with its fantastic dimensions.
Many of the legends about Aladzha Monasterycontain stories of hidden treasures. That is understandable. Geographically, the area is remote from human settlements and busy roads and during the most dramatic conflicts tearing the Balkan peninsula apart since most ancient times it probably served not only as a place of spiritual refuge.
The most frequently encountered legend tells us about a mysterious monk known under the names of ”Rim Papa”, “Irim Papa”, “Imri Pop” ( from the Turkish.”Urum-papaz”, meaning Byzantine, Christian priest), who, according to the saga, is the keeper of the ancient treasures, of the woods and the monastery.
One of the legends contains information that Aladzha Monasterywas constructed on top of the ruins of an ancient city founded by Philip II of Macedon (359 - 336 B.C.)but that piece of information has not yet been historically proven.
Here are some of the legends recorded by Victor Teplyakov, the Shkorpil Brothers and other researchers:
“…To my further questions about the surroundings the hermit pointed at the bluish woods visible in the distance and said that at a distance of about five versts from the sea shore and nine versts from the monastery of Sts. Constantine and Elena were the ruins of an ancient Greek cloister. The Bulgarians called it “Hachukata” and the Greeks and Turks knew it by the name of “Aladzha Monastery”.
… Old people say, – continued the monk– that this wondrous cloister was built on top of the ruins of the Greek city of Philipopolis. The rumours of ancient riches kindled the imagination of a certain monk so much that he decided to find out for himself whether the legend was true. One night the fearless monk, carrying a burning candle, descended deep into the underground abyss and surmounting the difficulties of the entire labyrinth he saw…
…. In the morning, after a long search, the comrades of that new Ganimed discovered him lying senseless at the entrance of the “cursed cave”. The expression on his pale face bore the strangest mixture of horror and fatigue. The beard of the sufferer, twisted into numerous tresses, was stuffed – like thin sugar sticks – into the nostrils of the hapless adventure hunter. But then, in the deep pockets of his cassock, they discovered an entire quarter of gold and silver antiquities, and in his clenched fists he was holding several valuable amulets.”
V. Teplyakov “Letters from Bulgaria”, Letter three of 14Apr.1829,
Moscow, 1832 .
…The wanderer Stoencho used to say that in the rock (located next to the Aladzha Monastery) there were other buried caves, seemingly an entire bazaar of small rooms, 49in total. The entrance to the last one was walled up. There was a precipice in one of the caves, from which the murmur of some underground water was heard. And in a rock to the west, in an underground treasure-house, behind an iron gate were concealed expensive clerical articles and books belonging to 12 other monasteries”.-
First annual report of VAS (Varna Archeological Society) of the year 1906.” В.1907.
…According to stories collected from elderly villagers of Enikyoy ( present-day Kumanovo) there was one “Rim Papa” or“Imri Pop”. His house was in “Hachukata”. He was very old and spent years in deep sleep.During his time, there was no vegetation at the “Hachukata”and he would wake up every year and ask: ‘Did the vegetation reach this place yet, so that one could find a stick to ride a horse?”
He prophesied that when even some tiny vegetation grew here then an event would occur but what exactly would happen no one can say ….
Iliya Petlichkov – teacher
Д А – Varna, Archive of VAS,
ф.91, оп.2,а.е. 18, page.62
Albert Einstein said: "The best thing is that we can experience the feeling of secret. It is the source of every true art and the entire science. A person who has never experienced that feeling, a person who is not capable to ponderovercome by wonder, is a person resembling a dead man with closed eyes".
The lack of written evidence, replaced in an enchanting way by the numerous legends, creates an aura of mystery and mysticism ofAladzha Monasterythat has been inspiring the imagination of its numerous researchers and devotees for over a century.
One of the legends is related to the mystical patron of the monastery, “Rim Papa”. The cult to “Rim Papa” is not only local– it exists in Southeastern Bulgaria and in Macedonia and Serbia, and other geographical regions along the Crusade routes.But where in these places he is identified with the papal institution and often presented as an evil spirit (demon)that should be chased away with incantations, at the Aladzha Monastery and its surroundings “Rim Papa” is a ProtectorSpirit.
In ancient Gothic history Rim Papa is the name of one of the Gothic spirits who drowned in the outflow of the Danube river. At the end of the 19th century K. Shkorpil recorded the lyrics of a song relating the story of a major natural disaster that happened ages ago: the waters of the Danube rose tremendously and the high wave flooded the monastery and drowned over 300 monks and scholars.
The Aladzha Monastery andPhilipІІ of Macedon
There are a number of mysteries in the legend recorded by Victor Teplyakov, as well. Along with the fairy-tale pieces of information about secret underground labyrinths and the treasures hidden in them the legend mentions that Aladzha Monastery has been constructed on top of the ruins of an ancient city once founded by PhilipІІ of Macedon(359 - 336 B.C.).
Ancient authors reveal that during the punitive march of the Macedonian King Phillip II against the Greek city-colonies along the Black Sea in 353 – 341 B.C. he besieged Odessos (present-day Varna).
After two-week unsuccessful siege the Macedonian King concluded a peace treaty with Odessos and returned the captives. In order to commemorate that act of peaceableness the King married the daughter of the Getic King Kotela within the realm of whom the city of Odessos was located. Ancient authors say that the Macedonian King also visited a sanctuary in the vicinity of the city and offered gifts to the Getic gods there.
There are several unexplored archeological monuments not far from the Aladzha Monastery. Only the archeological excavations could reveal if one of them is related to the legend.
The archives of the Shkorpil brothers contain yet another mystery: a great number of Turkic names of localities, roads and even a large holy spring with curative water that once existed in the vicinity of the monastery contain “Latin” in their root. “Latins” was the name the Bulgarians used about the population of the European countries where the main religion, Catholicism, was practiced in the Latin language.During the rule of despot Dobrotitsa (1347 – 1385) and his successor Ivanko (1385 – 1390)several trading colonies from Genoa, Venice and Dubrovnik were founded in the region of Varna, which continued to exist on the Bulgarian lands during the Ottoman rule as well.Their representatives were also called “Latins”.
Their relationship with the region of the Aladzha Monastery is not known. Among the surviving graffiti from the Medieval period, on the mural of the chapel ceiling is the image of a ship. Research work shows that it is a carrack ship for coastal sailing used for commerce by Venetians and Genoese in the 15th – 16th century. It is assumed that the ship was carved by someone residing in these colonies.For Catholics of that time, especially after the Great Separation (East–West Schism) between the two Churches in 1054, wall-paintings in Orthodox churches were not deemed holy.The ship was probably carved after the monastery was abandoned in the 15th or16th century.
The divine energy of Aladzha Monastery
Along with the mysteries contained in the legends and the scarce archeological and topographic data, an inter-disciplinary study of the monastery conducted several years ago is also a matter of interest. During a congress of radiesthesia practitioners held in Varna a few years ago several of the participants visited the rock monastery and surveyed the cave rooms with the aid of the infamous pendulum.
The results showed the existence of an extremely strong positive energy field at the site in front of the chapel, and in the chapel itself. On the opposite, the rooms in the Catacombs had a negative, ‘black’ irradiation.
There is a belief from medieval times that to construct a monastery one needs to use a place selected by a holy person marked by God.Ancient chronicles relate that such people would see in their sleep a place filled with Divine energy, and in such places man can be nearest to God.
That concept of the divine nature of God has been most tangibly and accurately reflected in the medieval doctrine of Hesychasm. The ascetic practice of Hesychasm provides us with examples of the deepest transformation of the entire human organism, of the actual transformation of man, and of such filling up of man with light-bearing Divine energywhere even after death the relics of saints were able to bring blessed healing to humans. God with His energies is everywhere in the world. The entire universe is like a huge flaming bramble enveloped but not consumed by the uncreated fire of the Divine light.
An old legend tells us about the miracle created by St. Patriarch Euthymius of Tirnovo – one of the supreme priests initiated in Hesychasm. Because of his bravery in protecting his congregation during the seizing of Tirnovo he was sentenced by the Ottoman conqueror to death by butchering on top of the fortress wall of the city. The executioner aimed to strike a blow with his sword but something froze his arm.
Is that actually possible?
Yes, it is! A person that has passed through all Hesychasticschools of teaching and has achieved universal knowledge about the Universe, and has mastered all Hesychastic practices and the ‘smart’ prayer, is able to summon energy that can stop any action.
Of course, rational thinking will deny that it is possible to exert such strong spiritual power that an arm would freeze in motion.But still, there are many phenomena and events in the ancient history of humankind to which modern science has not yet provided an explanation.
The name of the monastery
The origin of the name ‘Aladzha’, under which the monastery is known today, is a mystery no less.
In translation from the Turkish language ‘aladzha’ means ‘motley, many-colored”. It is believed that the name was given by the local ethnos Gagauzi - settlers of Turkic origin from the ancient Bulgarian territories in Asia, who adopted Christianity as early as during the time of the Byzantine domination of the Bulgarian lands in the 9th – 12th century. It is supposed that after the monastery was abandoned at the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century the Christian orthodox population continued to visit the old Christian cloister and worship at the monastery chapel notwithstanding that no monks inhabited the monastery any longer. The name was probably given because of the medieval murals preserved on the monastery walls to our times.
Why the old Christian name was not preserved, remains a mystery.
There are assumptions as well that the word ‘aladzha’ is of Persianor Arabic origin. If we assume that ‘Al’ is the definite article then the second part ‘adzha’ is of exceptional interest; in translation from Sanskrit ‘adzha’ means ‘Lamb’ (‘Agnus Dei’).
The archive of the Shkorpil brothers contains a memo according to which there is a legend (that legend has not been recorded)that the Christian name of the monastery is St. Spas (from Christ the Savior) or“Lord’s Ascension”). According to some of the researchers of the relic the surviving mural on the chapel ceiling represents exactly that Christian Holy Day. According to others though, it is a representation of the composition of “Christ in Majesty”, which is related to the other holy day, “Lord’s Transfiguration”.
The name ‘Holy Trinity’, most often used in different publications nowadays dates back to the 19th century and has been given by another great Bulgarian archeologist, Archimandrite Inokentiy of Sofia on the basis of an older research of Karel Shkorpil.
The mystery related to this monastic cloister, remains!