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  • Writer's pictureStefan Ivanov

The buried church of St. Dimitar in Patalenitsa

Updated: Feb 23

Once upon a time there was a young boy shepherd.

Every morning, even before sunrise, he led his flock to pasture.

One night, however, a terrible storm arose. Heavy rain poured down and flooded the fields. A strong wind shook the trees. Lightning tore at the tar-black sky. The thunder echoed on the slopes of the Rhodopes.

Early in the morning the storm passed and the shepherd led his flock again.

At the end of the village was a high hill, and on top of it stood an old tree.

It so happened that that morning the shepherd first passed by the hill and looking up towards it what he saw – the big tree was knocked down by the terrible storm.

The shepherd climbed to the top of the hill, and there was a large hole in the ground. He timidly stepped to the hole itself, and from inside – faces peered and looked at him. The little shepherd got scared, rolled over the hill and went straight to the village.

The villagers came and peered into the hole. Then one of the elders remembered an ancient story told to him by his grandfather when he was a young boy – an old church buried in the ground, hidden from evil eyes – for eternity!

The buried church of St. Dimitar in Patalenitsa
The buried church and its high walls, over which red roses shine

This is my own tale based on one of the legends, my dear friends, but the buried church in the village of Patalenitsa – the real paradise at the foot of the Rhodopes, exists, I went there, saw it, listened to stories about it and photographed its incredibly well-preserved frescoes and now I will tell you what I learned.

There is another legend:

A peasant had a donkey grazing on the outskirts of the village.

He tied it to the top of a nearby hill where an old cherry tree grew. One day the rope with which the donkey was tied was entangled in a strange metal stake protruding slightly above the ground. The donkey was pulling, pulling, until its owner came to free it. The man dug up the ground and what to see – the rope was entangled in an old rusty cross.

It was later learned that this cross protruded from the dome of a long-forgotten, old church, buried in the ground away from evil eyes.

This is the buried church St. Dimitar, hidden from evil eyes underground and forgotten over time.

Today, anyone who wants to see its uniquely preserved frescoes can visit it.

How to get to the buried church of St. Dimitar in the village of Patalenitsa?

In fact, very easy!

The village of Patalenitsa is located 15 km south of the town of Pazardzhik. It is located in the picturesque and so beautiful northern slopes of the Rhodopes.

You can set the navigation point, at least I did, and it took me right in front of the church near the southwestern end of the village.

I parked in front of the high walls, over which red roses shone.

The buried church of St. Dimitar in Patalenitsa

"Medieval Church of St. Dimitar from the XII century" this inscription stands on a marble slab next to the large wooden gate.

The old gate was unlocked and I entered.

Today St. Dimitar has been restored, the churchyard is well maintained by the good people of Patalenitsa and beautiful flowers grow in the alleys allong the walls.

The buried church of St. Dimitar in Patalenitsa

I found contradictory information in various sources, so I will tell you what the nice woman who greeted me at the entrance told me.

The church is very old – one of the oldest in Bulgaria, along with the church "St. George" in Kyustendil, the church in the Zemen Monastery and the church "St. Archangel Michael" in Rila.

Today, St. Dimitar is almost ten centuries old.

In 1956 it was declared as an architectural monument of culture of national importance.

In 1971, after studying its artefacts, unique and so valuable frescues, it was declared as an artistic cultural monument of national importance. Apart from the buried church, it is also known as the stone church, as well as the "Holy Kurkuleshtitsa" church.

The buried church of St. Dimitar in Patalenitsa

It was probably built by Duke Gregory Curcua during the reign of the Greeks.

Maybe one of its names comes from Curcua's.

A marble plaque was found with the inscription in Greek ".... by Gregory Curcua prospatarius and duke of Philippopolis, in the 14th indictment, 6599 from the creation of the world".

6599 years since the creation of the world is 1090 or 1091.

The inscription is kept in the National Archaeological Museum in Sofia. Even today, standing outside on the south side of the church, you can see the remains of the old Byzantine plaster, which is blue.

The buried church of St. Dimitar in Patalenitsa

Another version of the origin of one of its names is related to its burial, ie. it has "curled up" in order to be preserved. This happened somewhere around the end of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (end of the 14th century) and the Ottoman invasion of the Bulgarian lands, looting, plundering and destroying everything in its path.

In 1372 the troops of Sultan Murad once again raged in Bulgaria. Northern Thrace, the Rhodopes region and Zagore were conquered. The Bulgarian population of the Northwestern Rhodopes offered serious resistance, but to no avail. The medieval Bulgarian fortresses near Bratsigovo, Dorkovo, Peshtera, Radilovo and Batkun were destroyed. Probably the whole population was enslaved and sold.

To save the church from such an evil fate, they buried it deep underground.

And then they forget it.

Buried and forgotten, away from evil eyes, "St. Dimitar" sleeps at rest for over 500 years.

Today I step through the entrance of this more than impressive antiquity with trepidation.

Uniquely well-preserved faces look at me from the walls - the murals are just masterpieces!

The buried church of St. Dimitar in Patalenitsa

Today, about 80 scenes can be read.

The buried church of St. Dimitar in Patalenitsa

In the 1960s, a decision was made to add a new narthex. Then some of the frescoes were plastered with lime plaster, and later oil paint was applied. Subsequently, over the years, the new plaster cracked. Restoration follows and today the beauty of the frescues is in all its glory.

Just remarkable and unique works of ancient art, perfectly preserved today!

In the middle is the altar. On the left pillar in front of it you can see the "Intercessor", on the south - St. Dimitar. Fragments of St. George on a white horse, St. Achilles of Larissa (Greek: Αχίλλειος, also known as Prespa, because of the relics brought by Tsar Samuel. He is a Christian saint who lived during the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great) and Saint Nicholas.

Central to the vault of the altar is a fragment of the Ascension of Christ with the Apostles, on the vault to the left of the apse is the Resurrection of Lazarus, and next to it is the Transfiguration of Christ.

There are also images of church fathers, images of deacons, monks and bishops.

Some of the scenes and images are difficult or impossible to identify.

To the south of the altar you will find the "Three Boys and the Furnace of Fire."

The temple itself originally had a marble floor.

The buried church of St. Dimitar in Patalenitsa

When the north wall was rebuilt, an opening was made, surrounded by two pilasters on the side, the floor was made of compacted clay.

During the third construction stage in 1870, a new porch was built to the west facade, the old west wall was removed and the temple regained its current appearance. Then he received his name St. Dimitar.

The temple is cross-domed and has four L-shaped domed supports with a five-walled apse.

The buried church of St. Dimitar in Patalenitsa

The octagonal drum of the dome is placed on the pillars.

During the construction, mainly stone, brick and travertine were used.

I slowly shift my sight from fragment to fragment, from image to image, from face to face, and carefully capture everything.

I'm amazed! What an antiquity!

Now you have the pleasure to see St. Dimitar in Patalenitsa with me and go back in time a thousand years.

I wish you a charming walk!

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