Grapes are an integral part of life in Bulgaria, from ancient times to the present, as we shall see in the rural life of Goranovtsi Village, Part II.
In Part I our small tour group explores the Hristo Botev Cultural House, Goranovtsi, Bulgaria, enjoying a warm and friendly welcome from its secretary, president and others. Iva, our translator, is kept busy relaying information about the weaving, folk costumes and daily living items. Alex, our guide, distributes hand-woven shoulder bags as gifts from the cultural house people.
About 11 o’clock we leave the cultural house and walk through the village to a museum of a typical house and farming objects and then to the church. [Click on pictures to enlarge and use left arrow on your browser to return to article.]
Here grapes are ripening and insects are being caught in bottles.
Inside the tidy white house there are two rooms, a kitchen/living area and a bedroom.
In the bedroom we see a metal stove of the same design that Del and I have seen in several locations.
On the wall is a picture of the man who donated his house for use as a museum.
The crisp cotton towel has lace edging. I think it is crocheted using a fine thread. It reminds me of crocheted edgings that an aunt of mine made on pillow cases and handkerchiefs. Little things like this are connections with people and how they and we live.
Outside we view farm equipment.
In the 1950s I used to use a wooden machine very similar to this when visiting an aunt and uncle, only it was smaller and used for shelling corn for their chickens.
I think this is quite an unusual object. When a bee colony is hanging clustered on a branch it can be captured in this woven cone and moved to a wooden beehive box. The cone has a mud plaster coating.
Making wine is an ancient tradition here and it, too, is made at home for family use.
We begin walking uphill to visit the Holy Trinity Church.
The church was built in 1885, shortly after the Ottomans were defeated. A major area of the country was cleared of Ottomans in 1878, but it took several years for the current shape of the country to emerge. Church services are held here every Sunday and on Holy Days.
The church yard is tiny and secure behind the stone wall. There is an ever-flowing fountain here that has provided water from the earliest of times. It never dries up. I can identify with the importance of this, having lived on a farm in Pennsylvania. One summer we had a drought and many creeks dried up. Neighbors had to transport water for their cattle, but our creek had springs that provided water for our animals. We were very grateful and I remember feeling like it was a miracle and very wonderful. Let’s go inside the church.
There is much symbolism in churches, especially Orthodox ones. The more I, a protestant, learn, the more I understand what Bulgarians may see and feel when they visit their churches. Images can have different meanings, but I will do the best I can to explain what we see.
It is possible that the apple tree outside the church was planted on purpose as a symbol of salvation.
A lot of symbolism is on the iconostasis, the screen that divides the most sacred part of the church from the people. The two-headed eagle is a reference to the eastern and western Catholic churches. The iconostasis has a Holy Door in the center that the priest uses. The icons on the wooden screen are in a fairly predictable order. Usually to the right of the door is an icon of Jesus and to the left an icon of Mary. Many believe that the icons are a link between earth and heaven and/or a spiritual connection with that saint. Icons have been sanctified, or made holy. Think of the emotion people must feel when in a room covered with icons, even the ceiling. We have been in several of these special places in Bulgaria as well as the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
Individually framed icons, displayed on special stands, are sometimes believed to bring about miracles or have healing powers. We were in one church where women lined up to pray in front of a beautiful silver icon of Mary to grant them help with conception.
I remember being in a little Parisian Roman Catholic church where an older woman with stooped shoulders, in a dark wool coat, headscarf tied under her chin, was talking quietly to a statue of Mary. She obviously had a very spiritual and personal connection.
Note the black iron stand in the picture that is for holding candles people light when they say personal prayers.
Across the upper portion of the iconostasis is a beautiful border of pink and blue grapes. The grape decorations have many meanings including representing Christ as well as abundance and family. In ancient times they were the symbol for Dionysus, god of wine. He was the son of Zeus (ruler of Mt. Olympus gods) and Semele, a mortal. Later, as we were traveling, I saw hanging down from an overhead arbor, a large cluster of rosy pink grapes with the sun shining through them … translucent, glowing.
The lighter color blue may be a symbol of the heavens or truth. A darker blue is used for Mary’s gown.
There are blue roses, a symbol for mystery, something that cannot be explained. The pink roses are a symbol for love, for Mary, or perhaps for the union of God and Mary.
The people here often work two or three jobs, yet they take time to care for their church. The roses remind me of my father who worked long hours as a teacher and dairy farmer. He took time to grow special tea roses for my mother, watering, pruning, fertilizing (with cow manure) and spraying them for insects. Each winter he ordered another rose plant for her.
The dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It can also mean unconditional love and peace. Painted blue, it stands out against the white ceiling.
This little church is not covered in gold and shrouded in darkness, as are so many magnificent churches, but rather it is bathed in natural light, God’s light, and covered in love.
It is with reluctance that I leave the beautiful little church, lovingly cared for by her people. I can feel God’s spirit here as I often do in small, intimate places of worship. Others in our group are also slow to leave.
Quietly we walk outside, down the narrow sidewalk and through the wooden doors in the wall. It is time to return to the village center for the festival. A young father and his child are walking past us, already on their way.
Grapes and roses tumble over the fence and wall. We walk slowly, savoring the crisp Autumn air, the smell of sausages being grilled, people talking and laughing, relaxing and enjoying being with each other.
Next time, Part III, the meal, music and dancing.
Photographs copyright Del and Evelyn Weliver