The church of the 40 Holy Martyrs

The church of the 40 Holy Martyrs was made into a royal sepulchre and a monastery church, named Velika Lavra. In all probability, Ivan Assen II was himself buried here.

The construction of churches was carried on under the rule of King Ivan Alexander, which was the second Golden Age of o o Bulgarian Culture and Art, the first being during King Simeon’s reign (893—927).

In 1237, when the Serbian saint Sava, the son of Stefan Neman and brother of the Serbian King Vladislav, died in Turnovo as guest of the King on his way back from Jerusalem, Ivan Assen II had him buried in the yard of the church of the 40 Holy Martyrs.

The presence of so many relics gave both the churches where they were kept and the capital itself the prestige of a sacred place. So Turnovo began to attract worshippers from all parts of the country and abroad.

The pilgrims who visited the holy places returned home with most excellent memories of the town and its vicinity. despot of Epirus, Ivan Assen II ordered the following words to be carved on a stone pillar in the church of the 40 Holy Martyrs.

In the summer of 6738 (1230), indiction third, I, Ivan Assen, pious King and Autocrat of the Bulgarians in the name of Christ the Lord, and the son of the old Assen, built this entire church of the 40 Holy Martyrs, with whose help in the twelfth year of my reign, when the church was already completed, I went to war against Romania (the Byzantine Empire), crushed the Greek troops and took the King, Kir Theodor Comnenus himself, prisoner with all his noblemen. I captured all the lands from Adrianople down to Durazzo, the Greek, Albanian and Serbian states. The Franks retained only the towns around Constantinople, but they also sub- mitted to my royal hand, because they had no other King and lived under my rule according to God’s ordinance. For nothing is done and no word is pronounced without him. Eternal glory be to him! Sovereign of a large country, whose boundaries were washed by the Black, Aegean and Adriatic Seas.

Ivan Assen II was well aware that only the fame which had its roots far into the past was everlasting.

He therefore brought from Pliska, Bulgaria’s ancient capital, the inscriptions on stone, left from the days of the First Bulgarian State, which were of great historical value. Among these was Omourtag’s Inscription, which he ordered to be placed in the church of the 40 Holy Martyrs next to the pillar in honour of the Klokotnitsa victory.

Thus he established a close link between his state and that of Isperih, Kroum, Omourtag, Boris and Simeon. In the following simple words, full of profound wisdom, which Omourtag had inscribed on stone, Ivan Assen II wanted to stress the significance of life and historical development : ‘No matter how well he may have lived, every man dies and an- other one is born; and may the one born later, who happens Outstanding rulers of the First Bulgarian State to see this monument, remember the man who has built it.’ The church of the 40 Holy Martyrs was made into a royal se- pulchre and a monastery church, named Velika Lavra.

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