The Assumption Cathedral

The Assumption Cathedral In the very first years following the Liberation of the country the Orthodox Bulgarian population in Varna increased rapidly. To confirm their close ties with Russian Orthodox faith and to manifest their separation from Greek Patriarchate, on his first visit to the town prince Dondukov-Korsakov was invited by the local municipality members to attend the official religious service at the Bulgarian St. Archangel Mikhail church. He was, however, disappointed with the state of the temple and declared that the town deserved an impressive church, the only one of its kind in the country. And he was ready to help. Soon a committee was elected and its task was to choose the place and raise the funds for the construction. The financial aspect was settled through donations, lottery and a governmental loan. The town's surrounding area offered building materials - hewn stones in good shape from the already ruined fortress were used in the construction process. Copper sheet plates from England, supplied by Velichko Hristov, were used for the roof of the church. Two lifting cranes for the heavy stone blocks were also shipped from England. 

The Cathedral as seen from the clock tower The honour to lay the main stone of the future temple fell to prince Alexander I Batenberg who arrived to Varna on 4th August. The official ceremony took place on 22nd August 1880. The chosen name Uspenie Presvyatiya Bogoroditzi (the Assumption) was to commemorate the recently deceased all-Russian empress Maria Alexandrovna - a Bulgarian benefactress and aunt of the prince. The initially chosen municipal construction site (in the park below the clock tower) did not appeal to the prince. "His Majesty chose for that purpose the area behind the attendance halls, facing the barracks on the one side and the hospital on the other, between the new hamlet and the town of Varna". At those days that was the end of the town. "The site chosen for the above-mentioned temple is actually a very wide area which allows for a garden around the temple. This area rises above the town and presents a good view over the entire town, the railroad, several villages, the port and the Black Sea to a vast and boundless expanse…"
 No time was wasted and the building works started right away. It took 6 years for the temple to be completed. The project imitated the style of the Peterhoff temple in Petersburg. The church was planned to reach the size of 35 x 35 metres, with a three-nave basilica, the main altar dedicated to the Assumption, the northern one - to the faithful prince St. Alexander Nevsky, the southern - to St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker.
The bishop's stall It was in the summertime when the question about the choice of expert master-builders was discussed. Negotiations with the most famous master Kolyu Fitcheto from Tarnovo proved not efficient and the direction of the construction works was temporarily assigned to the Varna master Vassil Ivanov. Finally, after a long search for an appropriate architect, the choice fell on master Yanko Kostandi whose works included also the building of St. Nicholas Church. On 15th March 1884 the committee assigned the construction to the prominent church-builder Gencho Kanev from Tryavna. The following year the temple was already erected, in September the roofing was finished and on 30th August 1886 the first solemn mass was celebrated there. However, the design of its interior continued throughout the following years. The bishop's stall was placed in 1897; later on the iconostasis was also ready. Towards the end of 1890 the board decided that "there is no need for a separate structure for which 30000 levs will be spent; instead, the dome can be raised so that the bell will be heard throughout the town". The bell was supposed to weigh 1638 kg, with an inscribed text that read: In honour of the Liberator. In 1901 the Russian czar Nicolay II presented 42 smaller and 3 bigger icons, and in 1904 other 8 icons were brought to the church to be placed at the middle and northern doorways. In 1911 the church flooring was covered with multicoloured ceramic tiles. 4 years later the balcony was ready. In 1941-43 the bell-tower (38 m high) and the cupolas were reconstructed to their present form, the steam-heating room was built, the roofing structure replaced. The temple was icon-painted in the years following 1949; the chandeliers were also installed at that time. 

The stained glass windowsIn the 1960s stained glass windows were placed: the southern ones (those facing the square) depicted the images of the authors of the Cyrillic alphabet St. Cyril and St. Methodius, and the northern windows - their followers St. Clement and St. Angelarii. The spring of 2000 revealed a new image of the cathedral - the patina-covered copper domes were refreshed with golden paint. Located in the very centre of Varna, the present-day Cathedral is one of the most famous buildings in the city. A religious temple for the citizens, a must-see for the tourists, the cathedral is one of the symbols of Varna. Once you overcome the 133 narrow winding steps of the bell-tower you will be rewarded by the magnificent view over the town. 
The bell-tower inside   The Cathedral, 1999

Special thanks to Esin Halid for the translation of this page.

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