The Church of Saint Nicholas and Saint Panteleimon, also known as Boyana Church, is located southwest of Sofia, Bulgaria. The church, noteworthy for its medieval frescoes, is a cultural monument under UNESCO protection, inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1979.
Several building stages can be distinguished in the structure of Boyana Church. A small cross-domed church was built between the 10th – 11th centuries, known as the Old church. It was renovated in the 12th century. In the 13th century, a narthex and a small upper-floor chapel were added to the western facade of the Old Church. In the middle of the 19th century a two-storied anteroom was constructed, dedicated to Saint Nicholas and Saint Panteleimon. Boyana Church operated until 1954.
The donor’s inscription written in Old Bulgarian in the church narthex indicates the year (1259) when the church decoration was completed, the names of the donors and the family relation of the localf donor to the Bulgarian Tsar and the Serbian King.
The 13th century frescoes in the nave follow the general principles of the Christian canon for church mural painting. The apse features the grand image of Christ Pantokrator. Underneath, the drum exhibits paintings of angels and the four Evangelists. The altar conch depicts the Holy Virgin Enthroned, Melismos, the Annunciation. On the walls and arcs are presented scenes from the life of Christ.
The life of Saint Nicholas is represented in 18 compositions located in the narthex (probably a burial chapel). Here are depicted the donor’s portraits – Sebastokrator Kaloyan and his wife Desislava, the Bulgarian Tsar Constantin-Asen Tikh and Tzaritsa Irina, as well as the first known image of the Bulgarian Saint Ivan of Rila.
The frescoes on the second floor of the chapel of Saint Panteleimon are from the same period but differ in style. There are preserved fragments from the Annunciation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and scenes from the life of Saint Panteleimon.
Boyana church is unique with the multitude of colors, versatility and images of profound psychological complexity. The frescoes dating back to 1259 reflect the 13th century traditions of the Turnovo School of Painting. The unknown master follows the classical composition of the iconography. His artistic work is bright, compact, the images radiate vitality, rich spirituality, the portrait characteristics of the depicted donors figures are emphasized. The master painter innovative approach placed Saint Nicholas and Saint Panteleimon church on the World Heritage List.
The restoration of Saint Nicholas and Saint Panteleimon church started in the middle of the 20th century and was completed in 2006 following a fundraising campaign initiated by the National Museum of History.
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Plan by Vassia Atanassova
Boyana Church Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)