Chirpan Monastery “St. Athanasius”: the oldest monastery in Europe

The monastery of St. Athanasius is one of the many places I have come across to. We were traveling on the Maritsa highway to the village of Mezek and we saw a road sign to the monastery. The plaque was new, the turn-off too, so I thought maybe it was a new tourist site.We passed the sign and forgot about this monastery. A few days later, when we came back to Sofia, the plaque reminded us for the monastery again. I pulled out the phone, asked Google for more information, and realized the importance of the place. Unfortunately, it was too late that day, but I promised I would be back soon.

10 months later we visited this holy place. Now, I would like to tell you about it.


The oldest monastery in Europe: monastery St. Athanasius

Why is the monastery “St. Athanasius” so interesting?

The Chirpan Monastery of St. Athanasius is the oldest active European monastery. It was founded in 344 by St. Athanasius himself, also known as Athanasius the Great, who at that time was a Patriarch of Alexandria. Athanasius was a famous defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism.

Athanasius the Great visited the today’s Bulgarian lands in 344 when he attended the First Ecumenical Council held in Serdica in 343-344 AC. He was on a his way back along the old Roman road Via Diagonalis and he had to spend the night in an old Roman fortress near Zlatna Livada (Golden Meadow). He stayed there for longer time to preach Christianity and founded there a monastery on a place of an ancient Thracian sanctuary.

Monastery St. Athanasius

Monastery St. Athanasius

In its many years of history, St. Athanasius Monastery has been repeatedly devastated and rebuilt. Nowadays the monastery consists of a small church, a holy spring, monastery buildings and a well arranged yard.

Monastery St. Athanasius: the church

Monastery St. Athanasius: the church

Most buildings are new, some are restored. Overall, the place is beautiful, quiet, peaceful and very pleasant. Beneath the church there is a holy wellspring with healing water. A small river – Stara Reka (Old river) – is also nearby.

Monastery buildings

Monastery buildings

In the rocks on the other bank of the river there is a place – a miraculous hole, which is a small cave inhabited in days of fasting, prayer and solitude. Unfortunately, when we visited the monastery, we were unable to see the cave because the path to it was blocked due to possible collapsing rocks.

Monastery St. Athanasius: to the cave

Monastery St. Athanasius: to the cave

Monastery St. Athanasius: to the cave

Monastery St. Athanasius: to the cave

The first major renewal of the Chirpan Monastery was made in the 1980s by the idea of Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of Bulgarian Communist leader Todor Zhivkov. At that time, the monastery was extended and the two-floor building, which is next to the current gate, was built. Prior to this development, the entrance to the monastery was from the northern gate near the church.

In 2003, the monastery was visited by the 115th Alexandrian Patriarch Petros VII. He gifted the sacred monument an icon of the St. Athanasius, the patron. The icon can be now seen in the monastery temple.

In recent years the monastery had several bigger donors, one of them being Boyko Borisov, the prime minister. In my opinion, his most important contribution to the monastery was his order to built the exit from the Maritsa highway to the monastery in both directions. Thus, the holy place restored its strategic position to an important road.

Monastery of St. Athanasius has several temple feasts:

  • January 18: Athanasius Day;
  • May 2: Boris Day;
  • October 14: The Day of the St. Petka Bulgarska.

How to get to the monastery “St. Athanasius”

The monastery is situated 15 kilometers southeast of Chirpan (thus the name Chirpan monastery) and about 72 km east of Plovdiv. It is located near the village of Zlatna Livada, very close to the Maritsa highway. If you come from Plovdiv, the exit to the monastery is about 22 kilometers from the beginning of the highway, at the road junction of Orizovo. If you come from Svilengrad or Harmanli, the exit is about 50 km from Harmanli. There are large brown signboards near the road.

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