The Red Church near Perushtitsa
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
The Red Church of the Holy Mother of God, the Red Church near Perushtitsa or simply the Red Church is a partially preserved impressive ruins of a Christian church, which operated from IV to XIV century and is located near the town of Perushtitsa.
The name "Red Church" it gets because of the typical Roman bricks and pink mortar from which it is built.
The impressive old antiquity "Red Church" is one of the pearls of early Christian architecture in Europe, an architectural and archaeological monument of national importance.
Since 1927 it has had the status of "National Antiquity", and in 1966 it was declared a cultural monument of national importance.
In its highest part it is a central four-concha hall, which in each of the four directions has semi-cylindrical niches covered with a dome.
There were protrusions on the north and south sides of the building.
In the northern section there was a pool lined with pink marble, which served initially as a baths and later as a baptistery - it was where the baptisms of new Christians were performed.
The church was extremely richly decorated, the floor was covered with mosaic, and the walls were lined with marble slabs and covered with frescoes.
Experts believe that the two layers of frescoes discovered were made between the 6th and 11th centuries.
In 2013, conservation and exhibition activities were carried out.
During the renovation works, the church was strengthened by removing the old wooden supporting structure and installing a new metal one. The walls have been preserved and, where there was a need to complete the volumes, they have been rebuilt. Artistic lighting has been created that illuminates the site at night.
The renovated church was officially opened on April 19, 2013.
A new pedestrian alley with a length of about 700 meters leads to it.
A new visitor center has been built, where you will find rich information about the history of the place.
How to get to the Red Church near Perushtitsa?
The ruins are located about a kilometer from Perushtitsa, at the foot of the Rhodopes, approximately 20 kilometers southwest of Plovdiv.
The ruins can be reached by a pedestrian alley to the left of the main road in the direction of the town of Perushtitsa, in front of which there is a small parking lot.
A sign will tell you where to stop.
The church is a Roman building built in the IV or until the beginning of the VI century under the reign of Emperor Anastasius I. It is the only one in the world that originally had a north altar, the result of early Christian worship in the early Roman baths and mitraeum - bath and the temple of Mithras.
The floor was a swimming pool, which was later built into the floor of the church and a baptistery. The initial construction was for the Roman legionaries stationed in this area, who built thermal baths for their needs, as evidenced by the pool opened in the church. Subsequently, with the spread of the cult of the ancient Iranian god Mithras, whom the Roman legionaries adopted as their patron, Mitraeum was erected at the baths. A trace of them is also the freshwater spring below the church with a fountain, the stone of which is pierced along its entire length, and water flows from its core. This stone refers to the legend of the god Mithras, who pierced a stone with an arrow and water flowed from there.
The remnant of the Mitraeum that existed here is a mural that has not been erased in Christian times - the revival of the god Mitra from a red egg.
Certainly the Red Church is one of the oldest churches in Europe. Immediately after the Ecumenical Council convened in Serdica in 343, the construction of religious buildings began throughout Thrace, including those designed to preserve the memory of the martyrs who died for the establishment of Christianity.
The place is carefully chosen.
The Red Church was built near an old pagan shrine. It is close to the important Byzantine city of Philippopolis (Plovdiv) and to the most important roads from Thrace to the White Sea and from Constantinople to Western Europe.
Originally built here, the church served as a martyr - a cult building designed to preserve the memory of martyrs who died for the establishment of Christianity, and in a later period of its existence, according to legend, served as a summer residence of Byzantine nobles.
Frescoes preserved on the walls have been found.
According to sources, the arch is unique, and a "baptistery" was built there, built of pink marble in the shape of a cross. It is believed that the temple was known in the past for the healing relics of a Christian martyr who died to establish the faith in these lands. It was located among the prehistoric, ancient and medieval town of Dragovets.
The temple was also dedicated to the Holy Mother of God.
The central building is in the shape of a four-leaf clover, located on the remains of another ruined building with almost the same plan.
The central and highest part of the church is the four-concha hall - around the central square are located to the west, north and south 1 conch (semi-cylindrical niche covered with a dome in the wall). To the east, in the 4th conch, is the altar apse, in front of which a pre-apse space is formed. Extremely tall and elongated conchs support a hemispherical dome erected on pillars with a horizontal cross-section in the shape of L. The northern and southern conchas are surrounded by arched semicircular corridors. To the west, the nave (central square hall) ends with two narthexes and a portico in front of them. The symmetry of the building is broken by the two south and north sections. The inner narthex provides a connection with the adjoining chapel, ending with an apse to the east. The outer narthex is connected to a small baptistery built to the west. The pool (bath) is lined with pink marble. All the rooms were vaulted. The dimensions of the church are 32 by 26 meters. Combined with the original construction space, they testify to an exceptional in design and execution architectural work.
Today only the arch of the temple is preserved, which is cracked and this necessitated its strengthening, separate walls and parts of the dome, which was 8 meters in diameter and 27-30 meters high.
Very little of the former rich decoration of the church is preserved - some of the frescoes and mosaics of the church are stored in the NIM, others are exhibited in the Historical Museum in Perushtitsa, but there are frescoes that are exposed to weathering and crumbling. According to UNESCO, they are unique and resemble the basilicas of the Italian city of Ravenna and the Sinai monasteries. The earlier frescoes, from the beginning of the 6th century, are of better quality than those from the 12th century, so the earlier frescoes have been left in the restoration.
In analyzing the Red Church, researchers draw analogies to other buildings with similar plan compositions - the Stoat of Atalos in Athens, ancient mausoleums, the church "St. Sofia ”in Edirne, martyrdom in Rusafa. At the same time, a comparison in the construction leads to references to two other churches in Bulgaria - the Elena Basilica near Pirdop and the Basilica “St. Sofia ”in Sofia.
The ruins of the Red Church rise to a height of 14 meters.
Surviving today as majestic remains, the antiquity is one of the most remarkable early Christian monuments in Southeast Europe.
I wish you an exceptional and impressive walk!