Visiting the Poganovo Monastery of St John the Theologian

Letters to the Editor | Author: Yoav Chudnoff |March 25, 2015, Wednesday // 10:37
Bulgaria: Visiting the Poganovo Monastery of St John the Theologian Photos by Yoav Chudnoff

Novinite is publishing another article submitted by Mr Yoav Chudnoff, who recently headed to Serbia to visit a beautiful monastery that takes just a fifty-minute drive from Sofia.

Yoav Chudnoff first visited Bulgaria in 1979 as a guest of the then 'Bulgarsko Narodno Radio.' It was on that first trip that he learned that everything one hears or sees may not always be what it seems. Growing up in the United States, it was a given, through education, that the weather behind the 'Iron Curtain,' was gray, overcast, always raining and no electricity. This was quickly discounted on the flight in from Amsterdam to Sofia, where the lights of Sofia shun brightly in the clear night sky.
It was Bulgaria that broke down his point of view when it comes to stereotypes and historical facts, or lack of mention. He studied International relations at the University of Wisconsin - Madison with a focus on Balkan inter-relations and worked on his Masters Degree at Florida State University. He returned to Bulgaria in 1988/89 in order continue his Masters' Thesis research based on the writings of the early 20th century American Diplomatic Agent (1902 -1913), John B. Jackson. Chudnoff, like Jackson, was interested on internal and external perceptions.

Yoav, now based in Sofia, is currently writing a Guide Book to Eastern Europe based on the migratory travels of a Bulgarian born Eastern Imperial Eagle (Царски Орел) written from the viewpoint of the Eagle covering, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Belarus, Romania, Poland, Russia, Latvia and Lithuania under the pen name Pesho the Imperial Eagle. The Guide Book will take people to out of the way places in Eastern Europe not normally written up in main stream guide books.

I was listening to the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Go West’ last week which made me think (dangerous for those around me) of yet another road trip… to Serbia. A fifty minute drive to the west as the crow flies from Sofia. Maria, my mother-in-law were game, two friends were game too. But where to, one may ask? Our friends have traveled there on several occasions mentioned that there is a small functioning monastery built in 1395 along the banks of the Erma River: Poganovo Monastery of St. John the Theologian a few kilometres from the picturesque village of Sukovo off the main Dimitrovgrad – Pirot roadway.


The road is a windy one following along the rapids of the Erma River Canyon dividing the Greben and Vlashka Mountains. The road replaced the early 20th century narrow gauge railway in the 1970s. The scenery reminded me of the similarities between Erma and Trigrad Canyons, with its rock formations and river and hand chiseled tunnels. Unfortunately, only one thing was missing; the beautiful red, black, grey and white Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria). The Vlashka mountain cliffs jut upward towards the sky from the valley showing off its bare cliffs in all its majesty. The church was built by Konstantin Dejanovi? and his daughter Helena Draga?. Helena, it is interesting to note, later married the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, and mother to the last two Byzantine emperors John VIII Palaiologos and Constantine XI Palaiologos. It was with his death during the battle for Constantinople in 1453 which ended the last remnants of the Roman Empire and beginning of a new Empire under the helm of Mehmed II.

The mountains act as a backdrop to the monastery. The monastery complex, located on the left bank of the Erma, consists of 4 to 5 buildings: living quarters, the main church, watch tower and courtyard. As it was a beautiful day, two couples were enjoying a picnic on the hill just outside the gate of the monastery. No wonder, with such a beautiful backdrop, this would be a must.

As implied, the church was built towards the end of the 14th century and the 15th century frescoes depict various religious figures painted by Greek masters. The slots of the frescoed cupola allows some light to shine onto the17th iconostases which separate the church’s central chapel from the nave. The buildings surrounding the church are relatively new dating back to the 19th century. The complex was repaired in the 1980s.

Outside of the walls surrounding the monastery; on the hillside one finds vegetable gardens and orchards and the graves of last three nuns who occupied the now closed convent which was part of the complex until 2000. Whilst walking around the grounds of the monastery, a couple of border police entered the church to visit as well, as we left the complex; they met their colleague who patiently waited for them outside with their side arms. Respect for the site is kept.

After visiting the monastery and heading off to our next stop, I found out that there were hot-springs further down the road – another reason to come back here. (I think that there are fairly inexpensive organised tours from Sofia to the monastery – look around – you won't be disappointed).

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Tags: Poganovo, monastery, Erma, Serbia

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