The first Bulgarian consecrated temple in Plovdiv is Saint George’s. The religious building attracts not only Christians but also lovers of history and architecture. Many tourists visit the church, too. Today we’re going to tell you precisely this story – of the struggle to build the temple, its renovation and the architectural merits it has.
The story began in 1846 when the citizens of the now Marasha district decided that it is time to build an Orthodox temple in the region. The main moving power for the building of an Orthodox church came from Stoyan Chalakov, who initiated the idea. Of course a significant amount of money was needed for the creation of a Christian center but people from all over the country helped when they found out about the selfless cause of the citizens of Plovdiv. Among the biggest benefactors are also the brothers Stoyan and Salcho Chomakov and Alexander Exarch and hundreds of poor people set aside a part of their scarce finances in order to show their support.
Saint George’s Temple was built in 1848 and it is the first Bulgarian consecrated temple but the difficulties didn’t cease. A Bulgarian school was also built together with the temple and there taught Ilarion Hilendarski who managed together with Stoyan Chalakov to get the Sultan’s epistle for the temple to continue to exist because it was built contrary to Ottoman laws. Unfortunately the first Bulgarian temple existed for only 30 years until 1878 because Russian cannon accidentally destroyed the church during the war.
There isn’t much information about the first building in honor of Saint George but one can assume that it was ternary. We come to this conclusion from a single photograph of Dimitar Kavra. In depth at the northwest end of the temple, there is a bell tower on which the two upper floors are square. The tower ends with a four-walled peak roof.
After the Liberation the citizens of Plovdiv didn’t give up and their desire for a temple where to worship God didn’t cease. So once again they collected money to renovate the destroyed building of the diocese and the initiative exceeded the borders of Bulgaria and donations were received from neighboring counties. So after a significant amount of money was collected, in 1881 Georgi Krumov together with experts arrived at the location of the ruins of Saint Goerge’s Temple to find out how the temple can be restored. Unfortunately, the consequences turned out to be more serious than people expected and a new church had to be built on the old foundations.
This didn’t scare the residents of the neighborhood. They divided into groups and started to clean the place and transport the remains of the destroyed building by themselves. They also got inspired by the fact that this would be the first church in Plovdiv after the Liberation. Fortunately the altar of the old church was preserved.
Josef Schnitter took the new project for the Christian temple at the invitation of the church council in the city under the hills. He was ready with the project for the first temple after the Liberation after only a few months and the actions started. The new Saint George’s church was finished in 1882 and the chapel which the citizens of Plovdiv managed to save was put there. The new center for believers was consecrated the same year on Saint Dimitar’s Day.
Saint George’s church continues to impress the visitor even a century later. The incredible architecture of the building was strongly influenced by the Russian Classicism of the 19th century while the tradition of the Revival period was kept.
The temple is a ternary pseudobasilica but there’s also something new. A dome with hemispherical coating was erected and it has ten windows shaped with semicircular arches. In 1903 a bell tower was built by the West entrance. Again it was built by Josef Schnitter. A beautiful dome with four round holes was put at the top, under which there was the year of its placement.
Even today you can see the old iconostasis inside the temple. The icons on it were painted by Nikola Odrinchanin who also painted in other churches on Plovdiv. A liturgy in memory of Hristo Botev and those who died for the freedom of Bulgaria was held for the first time in Saint George’s church after the Liberation.
The temple is still active today and is open to visitors and laymen.
Curious: From the Armenian church
At the end of IVcentury the Plovdiv region is included in Byzantium and this is when the so called Byzantium period began. From this period begins the history of today’s Armenian Christian temple Surp Kevork which was built by Orthodox Byzantines near the west side of the fortress wall in the beginning of V century and was called Saint George (Agios Georgios). In its original form, the church existed until 447, when the barbaric invasion of the Huns burned Trimontium.