top of page
  • Writer's pictureStefan Ivanov

The submerged church "St. Ivan Rilski" and the power of faith

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

"For we walk by faith, not by sight"

Corinthians 5:7

From time immemorial, the inhabitants of the small village of Zapalnya have lived their simple and ordinary lives, working and cultivating their land at the foot of the majestic Balkans, rejoicing and mourning, laughing and crying.

It's 1364

Bulgaria is going through an extremely difficult period.

The Ottoman invasions from the south are multiplying.

The small village of Azablu (Turkish name for the Bulgarian Zapalnya) was set on fire and destroyed.

It's the 15th century

The people from Zapalnya are moving what is left to a new location - in a beautiful sub-mountainous area and near the Tundzha River.

From here passes a busy road from Kazanlak to Nova Zagora and Edirne.

There are several inns along the road. Near the village from east to west this road is crossed by the Roman old road Druma.

It's 1884

Zapalnya became a purely Bulgarian village, part of the Novozagorsk district.

It is the beginning of the 20th century

Zapalnya is now an independent municipality.

Later he joined the municipality of Dolno Panicherevo and finally Tvarditsa.

It is the early spring of 1965

In connection with the construction of a dam on the Tundzha River by decree № 57 of February 5, 1965, the village was deleted from the list of settlements, and…

… it is submerged.

The only surviving building is the church "St. Ivan Rilski ”, because no one dares to destroy the house of God.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness“.

Romans 1:18

On a hill, near the remains of the church, is an abandoned cemetery. In front of it, facing the Zhrebchevo dam, is a memorial plaque for the entire submerged village.

The inscription:

"The village of Zapalnya, inhabited in the 15th century, evicted in 1962"

Most of the people of Zapalnya moved to the town of Tvarditsa, where they built a new neighborhood south of the railway line. Another part moved to the town of Kazanlak.

Almost every late autumn, especially after a long, hot and dry summer, the remains of the sunken church become accessible to anyone wishing to explore the majestic antiquity.

The rest of the time, the relentless waters of Zhrebchevo engulf the building, still reminiscent of difficult human destinies, irretrievably lost hopes and distant dreams.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God

Ephesians 2:8

And so for more than half a century the church has been submerged almost halfway every spring, with the relentless waters leaving their mark on its walls.

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Romans 10:17

In 1892 the history of the church "St. Ivan Rilski”.

Then the people from Zapalnya consecrated a church.

This was the largest and most beautiful building in the whole village.

„That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.“

Romans 10:9-10

The construction and the frescoes were made entirely with funds raised from the locals.

During the eviction, parts of the altar were moved to neighboring villages.

The sub-Balkan town of Tvarditsa became the current home of the bell towers.

„For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.“

John 3:16-18

A promise was made that when a person form the three depopulated villages gone, their voice would resound again into infinity and beyond.

Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time“.

Peter 1:5

Today the ruins are known all over the world. There are hundreds of videos about it on YouTube. Hundreds of photographers also glorify the church and the faith through their photographs.

„Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls“

Peter 1:8-9

Zapalnya Bay on Smith Island in Antarctica is named after the village.

It's the spring of 2013

Vladi Ampov - Grafa shot the video for his song "Seven Lakes" right here - in the ruins of the submerged church.

It's 2020

Intensive restoration of the building is underway. The waters of the dam have been diverted so that the church can be restored.

The initiative is of families of descendants from the evicted villages.

It's the end of November, 2020

The water has receded far and is barely visible on the horizon.

A huge flock of sheep grazes peacefully around. A lone shepherd accompanies them past the temple as they disappear from my sight.

I walked around the beautiful surroundings and took a few modest photos and a video, which I share here with you.

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 6:23


How то get to the submerged church?

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page