Rila Monastery is a glorious location that overlooks rivers and the serene mountain scenery. Rila Monastery not only is the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, but it boasts a pretty impressive history.
Ivan Rilski, the leader of the monastic colony, was legend to have healing powers. Even after his death, his bones were a precious commodity among medieval rulers. In fact, the bones were moved from Rila to Esztergom in 1183, and then, after the Bulgarian and Byzantine interventions they were returned to Rila Monastery in 1469.
The building themselves have been destroyed and rebuilt over the years. The current monastery dates back to the 1830's, and upon arrival, visitor's will revel in the grandeur and artistry of the structure.
The Nativity Church is the largest in Bulgaria and the walls are superbly decorated with checkered colonnaded balconies, a red tiled roof, and scattered dome impressionistic paintings.
Rila Monastery also contains a double sided crucifix and the Rafail's Cross, which is a wooden cross made from a whole piece of wood (81×43 cm). It was whittled down by a monk named Rafail using fine burins and magnifying lenses to recreate 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures.
The frescoes, which were designed by Bansko, Samokov and Razlog, including the famous brothers Zahari Zograf and Dimitar Zograf, are appropriately painted depicting the different saved and sinner's scenes.
Rila was named a national monument by the Bulgarian government in 1976 and included in the World Heritage sites in 1983. Til this day, it still remains a working monastery and guests must stay in sparsely furnished rooms. In 2002, Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to Rila Monastery and was greeted by Bishop Ioan, who had been an observer at the Second Vatican Council.