The Ancient Church of the Holy Virgin and Martyr Paraskevi in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The wide square ends at the cliffs of Dhambaz tepe below which one can see a small brick-roofed church, done in the architectonic fashion of old – five strides in length and six in breadth – with one altar dedicated to Saint Paraskevi, perfect in size for a couple of priests. If we were to imagine this holy site as a circle, with the church in its center, the rocks of the hill would cover three-eighths of the circle, while the churchyard, enclosed with a simple wall, would comprise five-eighths of the whole, featuring the cliffs all the way down to the square.

With these opening lines begins the nineteenth-century description of the ancient church of Saint Paraskevi in the account of one eminent intellectual of the National Revival period in Plovdiv, Mr. Constantine Moravenov.

The history of the church of Saint Paraskevi the Virgin-martyr dates back to the Fall of Bulgaria under Turkish yoke and is connected to the story which tradition tells about the stately cathedral, dedicated to Saint Paraskevi (Saint Petka) of Epivates, constructed by Tsar Ivan Asen II in Plovdiv in order to commemorate the translation of the relics of the Saint to Veliko Turnovo in 1238. Having seized Plovdiv in 1371, the Turkish military commander Lala Sahin was so struck by the cathedral that without delay he turned it into a big mosque as a token of his conquest. Thus appeared the Dzhumaya Mosque. The Orthodox Christians were permitted to construct in some other spot a smaller church dedicated to the very same Saint. That spot came to be the cliffed slope of Dhambaz tepe where in all likelihood at that time stood a ninth- or tenth-century Byzantine church.

The present Saint Paraskevi Church is built in 1836 thanks to the actions of Hadzhi Vulko Chalukov and his relatives and with the financial contributions of local Bulgarians and Greeks, and Bulgarians from the nearby towns and villages. An archive log of the benefactors shows that the Metropolia of Plovdiv in the face of the then-metropolitan Nikiphoros at its head, and also the Bachkovo Monastery, contributed money for the construction of this church. This new church was dedicated to Saint Paraskevi (Saint Petka) of Epivates; however, in the late fifties of the nineteenth century it was transferred to the local Greek population and rededicated to Saint Paraskevi the Holy Virgin and Martyr of Rome. One reason for the change of the patron-saint was the holy well in the narthex of the church. Its water that would heal diseases of the eye: healing and alleviating such handicaps was particularly something Saint Paraskevi the Holy Virgin and Martyr would assist with. This dedication was retained further after 1906 when Greeks no longer had control over the affairs of the church; at that time the community became attached to the parish of the larger church of Saint Paraskevi (Saint Petka) of Epivates which had been constructed in 1888.

The Church of Saint Paraskevi the Virgin-martyr was consecrated on December 12, 1836.

The icons in the sovereign tier of the iconostasis are painted by Zahari Zograph, while the upper three tiers feature small icons of masters from Tryavna and Edirne. Of particular note is the rare bishop’s throne with its inlaid mother-of-pearl and ivory ornaments.

In the late seventies of the twentieth century the church underwent closure. Its restoration began only in 2007. The church was reconsecrated on December 9, 2007, by His Eminence the Metropolitan of Plovdiv Nicholas.

By the prayers of Saint Paraskevi the Holy Virgin and Martyr may God grant all who enter the steps of this small but blessed and history-rich church fulfillment of all their prayers and spiritual strength to follow our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!