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  • Writer's pictureStefan Ivanov

Adjar Literary School

Updated: Aug 30

Dear friends of "Photo Moments", I will always perfectly remember where I was and what I was doing on May 24, 2022, because in the early morning of the date in question, I presented to all of you my website - "Photo Moments".

I started my inspiring journey of my life with "In the beginning was the Word" while driving to Sarnena Sredna Gora in the direction of the village of Svezhen.

I liked this place so much that I visited the village again afterwards!

Even today I remember the silence...

Complete silence hovers around!

The air is resounded only by the songs of the birds flying in on this beautiful summer day from the nearby centuries-old green forests.

Svezen has quieted down.

I leave my car in the center of the village, parked opposite the town hall building and the community center, and go for a walk.

It's empty all around. I hardly meet people.

I have headed to the ruins of the old church "St. George", where another story awaits me.

The ruins of "St. George" and the old church cemetery in the village of Svezhen, Brezovo municipality
The ruins of "St. George" and the old church cemetery in the village of Svezhen, Brezovo municipality

- Tell me, tell me, grandfather, how and from where?

Tell me everything that happened there.

About a village, tell me, about those men -

the boyars who raised Ajar!

– In times of turmoil and uncertainty,

when the crescent moon swept in from the south,

amidst the screams of Christian victims,

maiden's cry and fields, saw no plough,

men returning from battles, disheveled;

powerless tears wiped with a hard palm,

and to God they prayed hotly dry lips;

to beat the Turbans in the next bran...

From "Adjar Tale"

Daskal Vasil Savov

But in order to tell you this story, I will take you back, far, far back, to the time when the Kingdom of Tarnovo fell 6 centuries ago.

The end of the Tarnovo kingdom

In the spring of 1393, Sultan Bayezid I gathered his troops from Asia Minor and entrusted the main command of the campaign against Tarnovgrad to his son Suleiman Celebi, instructing him to capture the city at all costs.

The sudden appearance of the huge Ottoman army under the walls of the capital city seriously alarmed its inhabitants. Tarnovo with its fortresses and strongholds was besieged from all sides. The Ottomans ordered the residents of Tarnov to surrender voluntarily, otherwise - fire and death!

Three hard months are coming!

The population, led by Patriarch Euthymius, resisted, but on July 17, 1393, the city was conquered after an attack on the Frankhisar gate of Tsarevets. The Patriarchal Church of the Ascension of Christ was turned into a mosque, and the other churches of Trapezitsa, along with the royal palaces, were burned and razed to the ground.

Well, there it is - the times remember;

both the old men and the books read

how to stop the scythe's atrocities,

the Bulgarian people to save...

Tsaryat Turnovski, his sister Tamara

the most intelligent, beautiful and good queen

wife of the Turkish sultan decided to give,

and for the people it was like a shrine.

From "Adjar Tale"

Daskal Vasil Savov

Patriarch Evtimii Tarnovski, the founder of the Tarnovsk literary school, was pardoned and sent into exile.

Tarnovo Literary School

The Tarnovo school of books is a Bulgarian school of books from the second half of the 14th and 15th centuries with extremely important contributions to medieval literature.

It is part of the Tarnovo Art School, which represents the culture of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom to the fullest extent. The Euthymian orthographic reform and literary school with representatives Grigory Tsamblak and Konstantin Kostenechki exerted a significant influence on the Russian, Serbian, Wallachian and Moldavian medieval cultures. This influence is considered to be the second most important South Slavic contribution to the culture of these peoples.

After the fall of Tarnovo, the disciples of Euthymius dispersed and went to different parts of the world, where they continued undisturbed their literary and educational activities in the Bulgarian language, preaching and spreading the word of God in Church Slavonic.

Part of the students of the last patriarch of the Second Bulgarian State (1187 - 1396), together with noble boyars and their servants fled to the south and crossed the Balkans.

Tamara as soon as they betrayed humiliated,

the boyars with tears in their eyes,

galloped back and saddened

moved, from the city to the woods...

From "Adjar Tale"

Daskal Vasil Savov

Reaching the place where we find Svezhen today, they stopped and created a new home - Adjar (that's what the settlement was called in those times).

Even today, Svezh residents remember that they are direct descendants of the boyars who betrayed the sister of Tsar Ivan Shishman and Ivan Sratsimir - Kera Tamara, daughter of Tsar Ivan Alexander and Tsarina Theodora.

On the highest, on a Rusalian hammer;

on Middle Forest one meadow;

chose a quiet place by a river

moonlight bathed the night...


In bohchichki the most suitable reading

of the Tarnovska school of writing.

They walked at night, they hid during the day

and here in the Middle Forest they descended.


Adjar called it - in Tarnovo cancellation...

From "Adjar Tale"

Daskal Vasil Savov

Adjar Literary School

It is also known as the Karlovo-Adjar Literary School and is the predecessor of the Tarnovo Book School.

Saint George Church in the village of Svezhen (Adjar), Brezovo municipality
Saint George Church in the village of Svezhen (Adjar), Brezovo municipality

These are the foundations of the church "St. George" in Svezhen, which was burned and destroyed in 1877.

A path connecting the church "St. George" in the village of Svezhen (Adjar) and the ossuary

Behind the church there is a small and narrow path paved with stone slabs. This path leads to the ossuary, built on the site of the old ossuary, where the skulls of the brutally slaughtered local people during the great massacre of 1877 are still kept today.

A path connecting the church "St. George" in the village of Svezhen (Adjar) and the ossuary

To the left of the path is the old church cemetery of the village. In it, the priests and some of the notable and prominent residents of Svezhen - the elite of Adjar - found eternal rest.

Stone tombstones from the village of Svezhen (Adjar), Brezovo municipality

On the right, laid on the ground and leaning against the high stone wall, you can see dozens of salvaged stone gravestones, collected from all over Svejen.

During the excavations, the foundations were discovered at this very place - the remains of cells plastered with mud plaster on the walls, which are supposed to have been inhabited by the scribes-calligraphers of the Adjarian literary school.

The activity of Adjara writers, illustrators and ornamenters is one of the most sublime achievements in the Bulgarian art of book decoration. She stands out among copyists-calligraphers and masters of manuscript decoration, working in the period XV-XVIII centuries, with significant artistic achievements, great diligence and skill, original author's handwriting and creative specificity.

The Adjara literary center gradually became one of the most influential Damascene and artistic centers in the 17th century.

Not only large handwritten books are created here - they are richly illustrated, originally decorated and bound with undoubted talent, great diligence, original author's handwriting, trembling effort, diligent and with extreme attention.

The skillfully selected paper and leather binding, the durable semi-statutory script and the rich interior decoration give the books an indisputable aesthetic value.

The handwritten decoration created is in the spirit of the Balkan ornamental style inherited from the XIII-XIV, but flourishing mainly in the XVII century, enriched with new subjects, themes, motifs and overall color.

The main contribution of the Adjara literary school of pen-makers was the transformation of the ornament from a decorative into an illustrative element of manuscript decoration.

Authors of the photographs of the originals: Todor Nenov and Ivan Krachanov

In this gallery you can view priceless originals preserved even today in the "Ivan Vazov" National Library in the city of Plovdiv.

And they did not forget in the days of slavery

let that spark light you

that in the dark to keep them -

let the child's hand write!

Letters, mines, damascenes...

Ajjar grammarians wrote

Pop Yovko, Philip and Nedyalko...

They took the story from Paisius.

From "Adjar Tale"

Daskal Vasil Savov

Prominent representatives

  • Pop Yovko – priest in "St. George" church in Adjar. With earliest literary appearances from the 1730s. His manuscripts are the Chronology of 1634 and the Color Triod with a Pentecostal of 1636, which contain attributions with precise details of the time and place of their creation and of their compiler. He was born in Etropolis and probably went through the calligraphy and art school of the Etropolis Monastery "Varovites", which was flourishing at that time.

  • Daskal Nedyalko - priest and teacher in the church "St. George", a student of priest Yovko. With literary appearances from the 1750s. The work of Daskal Nedyalko are two manuscripts: Four Gospels from 1652 and the famous Kostenechki Damascene.

  • Daskal Philip - son of Daskal Nedyalko and a teacher in "St. George" church. Daskal Philip developed his extremely productive literary activity in the 80s and 90s of the 17th century. 6 manuscripts belong to his pen, 4 of which bear his author's name, and the other two are attributed to him because of their obvious proximity to his indisputable works. These are: Trebnik from 1685, Psalter from 1685, Psalter from 1692, Festive Minei, Trebnik without exact dating and the famous Rila Damascene.

The total number of manuscripts created by Pope Jovko, Daskal Nedyalko and Daskal Philip are 11, of which 2 manuscripts by Pope Jovko, 2 manuscripts by Daskal Nedyalko, 6 manuscripts by Daskal Philip and 1 manuscript jointly created by the last two.

The most famous manuscript of daskal Nedyalko and his son – daskal Philip is the Adjarian Damascene from 1686 (a voluminous book of large format and with 375 preserved leaves), which is currently kept in the Manuscript Department of the Academic Library in St. Petersburg. According to the inscription contained in it, it is their joint work and is the only case in the Old Bulgarian literary practice when it is documented that a father and son worked on the same manuscript (a case is known when three brothers worked on the same manuscript).

Nevyana Doncheva-Panayotova tells about the famous Adjarian damask in her work "Decoration and artistic originality of the Adjarian damask from the 17th century":

The handwriting is in good condition, nice, legible. It is one of the few damascenes that have been dated and located by their makers themselves. On p. 219, the two authors have left a lengthy note in which they report that the damascene was written by Daskal Nedyalko and his son Philip in the village of Adjar in 1686. The village is mentioned in two places in the note, and in one place it is written Khan' Tsar (with n deleted between a and T), and in the second case it is written Khan'Tsar. Hence its name sometimes in the scientific literature Khandjar Damascene. The same note contains information about famine and widespread disease during the year, and the end of it reveals curious details of the fate of the manuscript - that it was sold by daskal Nedyalko for 40 groshis in Panagyurishte and placed in the church of "St. Theodore Tiron" for public use. The names of the patrons of Panagyura, with whose funds the damascene was purchased, are listed. These news also suggest that book work is a profession for the two Adjara teachers, sought after and valued not only in their native village, but also in nearby settlements. They do not create damascene for their own personal reading needs, but sell it and make it available to a larger circle of people. The intended purpose for sale, which may be assumed in their other manuscripts, probably accounts for their more precise writing, and for their rich and varied artistic design, and for their careful and refined binding, almost in all cases with inlaid leather .


The Adjarian damask is distinguished by extremely skillful, refined and beautifully made artistic decoration and can be considered a true example of the Bulgarian art for the decoration of the manuscript book not only in the 17th century, but also during the entire era of Turkish slavery. Few manuscripts of this time can rival it in richness and variety of headers, beginnings, vignettes, miniatures. The technique of their execution and coloring reveal a true artist with a skilled hand, with a sense of beauty and unique creative talent. A lot of work and love, skill, diligence and grace have gone into the artistic layout of the beginning of each of the featured works. Each begins with a beautifully embroidered title and richly ornamented head. For the overall artistic appearance of the home page of each individual word, the interstitial, which occupies more than half and sometimes the entire page in front of the text, is of the greatest importance.

Currently, a total of 15 manuscripts are associated with Ajar by location and origin, 11 of which were written in the village by local writers in the 17th century, and the remaining 4 were found in Ajar, but there is no indisputable evidence that they are the work of Ajars.

These are: Adjara collection, Octoglasnik, Collection with mixed content and Manuscript of unknown fate, dated between the 16th and 18th centuries.

It is unlikely that these numbers exhaust the entire manuscript heritage of the mentioned scribes, because, as is infamous, Adjar was burned several times, and in the carnage of 1877, priceless manuscripts and documents were irretrievably destroyed.

The 11 surviving manuscripts created in Adjar in the 17th century,

are of indisputable scientific interest both in paleographical, linguistic, historical-literary terms, as well as in an art history aspect.

Moreover, in the overall complex characterization of these manuscripts, their original and unadulterated decoration deserves the highest evaluation. Its analysis reveals not only a number of sides and moments connecting it with the ornamentation and illustration traditions of the era, but also some specific features that reveal the unique talent of the Adjarian penmen.

At the beginning of 2023, in the central lobby of the "St. St. Cyril and Methodius" National Library, the phototype full-color edition of the Adjarian Four Gospels from 1652 was presented, equipped with an introductory text about the history of the manuscript, its cultural and artistic value and movement on the Bulgarian lands.

It was issued in a limited edition of 200 numbered copies on the occasion of the 144th birthday of the National Library.

The Adjarian Four Gospels is one of the few manuscripts with the scribe's signature and the only gospel from the 17th century Adjarian school of books with a preserved decoration of miniature inserts. It entered the library collection at the end of the 70s or the beginning of the 80s of the 20th century and is the most representative of the manuscripts of the Adjara school preserved in Bulgaria.

The Adjarian Four Gospels is one of the most colorful manuscripts in the Slavic collection of the National Library. It was written, and most likely also decorated, by priest Nedyalko. The decoration is very rich: interspersed miniatures with the images of the evangelists at the beginning of each gospel, accompanied by large braided initials, from which a luxuriant floral ornament develops. The entire layout resembles the decoration of a luxurious manuscript. Together with another gospel in the Plovdiv National Library, these are the two, so far the only known gospels produced in the Adjara literary center from the second half of the 17th century and the very beginning of the 18th century, which can rightly be called a local literary school - the latter in late medieval Bulgarian culture.

The National Library has preserved eight manuscripts, the work of Adjarian writers, among them of Pope Yovko, the founder of the school, daskal (or priest) Nedyalko, daskal Philip.

Prof. Musakova, author of the afterword in the edition, published by the Academic Publishing House "Prof. Marin Drinov"

Used sources and literature:

Danchev, G. "Pages from the history of the Tarnovo Book School"

Doncheva-Panayotova, Nevyana "Decoration and artistic originality of Ajara damasks from the XVII century"

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