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Aerial view of the ruins of the Cherven medieval fortress near Rousse, Bulgaria Source: Atanas / Adobe Stock

Forgotten Warrior-Saints Exposed in Murals of Medieval City

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In Bulgaria, a previously unknown medieval church has been unearthed in an abandoned medieval city. It dates from the Second Bulgarian Empire and archaeologists have found some important murals in the church. One fresco, in particular, depicts ‘warriors saints’ has been hailed as a very important find.

This discovery was made by Bulgarian archaeologists working in the ruined medieval city of Cherven, which overlooks the Danube in Northern Bulgaria. It was one of the most dynamic urban centers in the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD). Cherven was originally a Thracian settlement in ancient times and was later an important city in the First Bulgarian Empire until its capture by the Byzantines in the 10 th century AD.

However, it once more flourished after the establishment of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1185 AD. This state eventually dominated an area from the Adriatic to the Black Sea , until it was conquered by the Ottomans in the late 14 th century.

Church 16 discovered at Cherven medieval citadel. (Image: Divulgação/Museu Regional de História)

Church 16 discovered at Cherven medieval citadel. (Image: Divulgação/Museu Regional de História)

Long-lost church

The medieval city was first excavated in 1910 and has been regularly investigated since then. Archaeologists established that it had high defensive walls and towers. It was a very important ecclesiastical center and a number of churches were unearthed here over the decades. However, over three seasons another church was revealed, that dated from the 14 th century. This was the period just before the Ottomans sacked the city, which led to it being abandoned.

The Regional Museum of History in Ruse is quoted by Archaeology in Bulgaria as saying that ‘until recently, Cherven was known to have had a total of 15 churches, until the 16th one was exposed’. It was found in the western part of the medieval city. Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that ‘The church has one apse pointed to the east and is 13 meters long and 7 meters wide’.

Experts working on the temple have now exposed all its surviving ruins and during this process, they made an amazing discovery.

Warrior Saints

AH quotes the Ruse archaeologists as stating that ‘The full-fledged exposure of the church building led to the discovery of a preserved layer of murals on the temple’s walls’. These church murals probably date from the 14 th century and the majority are badly damaged and faded. The surviving murals cover an area of 34 square feet (12 m) on the house of worship’s walls.

A series of frescoes have been uncovered in the newly excavated church. (Image: Divulgação/Museu Regional de História)

A series of frescoes have been uncovered in the newly excavated church. (Image: Divulgação/Museu Regional de História )

Archaeology in Bulgaria reports the local Ruse Museum as stating ‘The preserved fresco fragments are parts of a painted drapery as well as a partly preserved scene with figures of warrior saints’.  These saints were revered for their holiness, miracles and martial abilities and were seen as defenders of the Christian faith. They were holy warriors and would have been especially revered during the bloody Middle Ages when war was a common occurrence.

Restoration of murals

It has been reported by Archaeology in Bulgaria that the local Museum ‘has drafted a project for seeking funding from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture for the conservation and restoration of the 14th-century murals’. Experts have placed a cover over the wall-paintings and AH reports that ‘the murals found were sent to a conservation laboratory’.

After the murals have been restored they will be placed on public exhibition. Archaeology in Bulgaria quotes Ruse Museum as stating that the restored ‘picturesque decorations from the newly found church [in Cherven] in the permanent exhibition of the Museum’.  There are already a large number of objects and artifacts from the medieval site on display there.

Insights into the Second Bulgarian Empire

The newly discovered church was very important in the city and it and its murals are offering fascinating glimpses into life in the Second Bulgarian Empire. Along with the place of worship a number of other important finds have been made at the archaeological site.

The archaeologists have also uncovered a necropolis, the remains of some buildings, and a street.  Archaeology in Bulgaria quotes the Ruse Museum experts as saying that ‘Future research in this area would help clarify important questions about the urban planning [of the city of Cherven], and about the events around the conquest of the fortress’. Over a hundred years after it was first excavated the medieval city is still yielding important discoveries about Bulgaria during the medieval ages.

Top image: Aerial view of the ruins of the Cherven medieval fortress near Rousse, Bulgaria Source: Atanas / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

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