Rila Monastery is named after the hermit, Ivan of Rila who lived in a cave in the mountains above where the monastery stands today. We debated if we were going to check out the monastery on our own or go with a tour leaving from our hostel. It seemed easier to just go with the hostel (even if it was a bit more expensive) and they took you to the cave where Ivan of Rila resided. After a two hour drive, we began our tour by climbing up into the mountains to see the cave, and then had the afternoon to explore the walled in monastery below.
The walk through the woods was nice, a little bit tricky in flip-flops, but nice. It wasn’t a long climb up, about twenty minutes or so and then we stood before a closed church. Our guide kept apologizing for his poor English. We didn’t get much information on the little church that was standing, but instead were lead behind the church to the infamous cave. Our guide lit a few candles, and then told us there was only one way out of the cave. We had to climb through a tiny opening, a far contrast from the big opening we all walked through to get inside. We were told that all of our sins would be washed away by climbing out the smaller exit way. It was a tight squeeze, but we all made it out, cleansed of all of our sins.
We drove back down to the Monastery below and upon entering the walled in compound, I was impressed by the size and grandeur of the place. Sometimes, the religious really know how to live, you know what I’m sayin’? It was beautiful. and peaceful, even with the tourists milling about.
Andrew and I sat on the outskirts in the sun people watching for awhile. Then we walked around the courtyard. Wandered under the murals painted on the ceiling of the church in the center of the courtyard. We wandered in the church, and I wondered why the woman (and one of the monks) blew out prayer candles, throwing them out before they were burned all the way down. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this. It happened in Greece as well- all in the Orthodox Churches. From my observations in the Catholic Church, they are always kept lit until they go out on their own. Am I missing something? I wonder if it has to do with the smoke and trying to preserve the ancient murals in these churches. Why not sell shorter candles?
Back outside of the church (I didn’t stay long inside as I was wearing shorts… and they were technically forbidden) I couldn’t take my eyes off of the murals and so, I give you one too many pictures of the murals with the contrasting monks’ cells in the background.
If you find yourself at Rila, I suggest getting some of the donuts for sale just across the entrance to the monastery. Made to order. Also, the little souvenir shop had such lovely bells for sale that I desperately wanted, but feared they wouldn’t survive five months in my backpack or being sent home. I’ll pick a few up next time…