Religion


Ivan Vedar and Freemasonry in Bulgaria

Unfortunately for us all, in Bulgaria the word Freemasonry has a negative connotation because of the national features of the so-called Transition Period – the period after the façade fall of the Communist regime in Bulgaria in 1989 which, according to many, continues to this day. The main reason for this negative word association is the inclusion in the national freemasonry lodges of people who became rich in an assumingly criminal way during the last years of the Communist regime or who have been piling up their money due to their political connections since then.

Our article, however, is a brief summary on how freemasonry came into existence in the world, what were its purpose and role in the development of human societies and, finally, will meet you with the founder of the first Balkan Star freemasonry lodge in Bulgaria which was established in Rousse, Ivan Vedar.

A Very Brief History of Freemasonry around the World

The word masonry comes the English word mason and the French one maçon both of which meaning someone whose work is related to building with bricks. Though we don’t know for sure when exactly the freemasonry originated, researchers concede that it must have started in Ancient Egypt when the masons who took part in building the Great Pyramids and other Egyptian monuments started to unite in associations.

Over the centuries, the idea of craftsmen associations reached Europe. The official theory for the Freemasonry origin on the Old Continent indicates Scotland as its homeland when in 1599 a group of local builders established the first lodge with rituals and secret initiations.

At the heart of Freemasonry lies the idea of initiated members helping each other out regardless of what their location might be and of whether the masons personally know each other. It is believed that through secret signs, shared and known among all masons around the globe, they could identify when meeting each other and are obliged to help a fellow in trouble. The idea is not surprising – imagine a mason worker in the 16th century who, for months or often years, worked on a construction site in another city or country, left completely to the mercy of masters who could at all times break the negotiated terms. In other words, Freemasonry emerged as, let‘s say, a predecessor what we would nowadays call a “trade union” except that the identification of members was not made officially known but was done through secret signs and based on secret rites.

Gradually, more and more people became interested in the idea of solidarity which Freemasonry embodied and the Masonic lodges embraced not only bricklayers but also people of all trades as their members. So, it was from back then when the name Freemasonry was adopted as an indication of the various professional backgrounds of its members. It is important to note that most masons were greatly motivated and broadly knowledgeable people with strong social responsibility. Among the famous masons were Johan Sebastian Bach, George Washington, Sir Winston Churchill, Joseph Haydn, Henry Ford, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain ), Alexander Pushkin, and many more.

Freemasonry has evolved a great deal throughout the centuries and its global history is marked with interesting facts. If you are interested in how Freemasonry originated in Russia, what exactly happened in England in 1753 and 1877, or what the ritual Freemasonry symbols, you can start from article on Wikipedia.

Freemasonry in Bulgaria

In 1880, after the Liberation, Ivan Vedar founded the first Masonic lodge in our country, Etoile des Balkans, in Rousse. Its first founding members are the Bulgarian revolutionaries Zahari Stoyanov, Nikola Obretenov, Ilarion Dragostinov and Toma Kardzhiev, and His Highness Alexander Battenberg. Other notable Bulgarian revolutionaries such as Angel Kanchev, Georgi Sava Rakovski, Hristo Botev, and Dimitar Obshti are also believed to have been masons.

The contemporary Freemason lodges in Bulgaria have established an order with the name of their founder.

Ivan Vedar

And midway through our article we got to the exceptional personality and motley life of the founder of the Freemasonry and the first masonry lodge in our country which was established in Rousse.

Ivan Vedar was born under the birth name of Danail Nikolov in 1827 in the town of Razgrad. Already during his young years, his life was marked by an interesting and dramatic story. His father was the master builder Karastoyan who was hired by a notable Turk to build a house for him. The assignor of the job on the Turkish side, however, refused to pay for the work done and as a result he two sides fought and Danail had to kill the Turk to protect his father’s life. After this incident, Daniel changed his name and went undercover.

His life kept that same dynamic path of development. He attended a college in Malta where he learned several foreign languages; worked as a sailor on an English ship traveling between London and Melbourne; became a translator for Turkish institutions in Constantinople; taught foreign languages to the sons of Turkish rulers in Izmir, including the children of Midhat Pasha, the ruler of the Danube vilayet (an administrative unit) whose centre before the Liberation was Rousse. During the Crimean War, Danail regularly visited Black Sea ports assumingly spying for Russia. He also graduated the medical school in Bucharest and received his Vedar nickname from his professors because of his open mind.

In 1863 Danail was initiated in the secret Freemasonry teachings at the Oriental Lodge Constantinople Branch and reached a 33rd degree which was the highest degree as considered by the Old and Adopted Scottish ritual.

His interesting fate continued and he started working at the construction of the first railway line between Rousse and Varna. Ten he became a sales representative in Manchester where he married the daughter of a respected Rousse-native architect, and also taught at Robert College in Constantinople, and became a correspondent of European newspapers.

Midhat Pasha who was the ruler of the Danube vilayet appointed him a secretary of foreign correspondence which exposed Danail to frequent contacts with foreign diplomats and helped him to establish connections with the revolutionaries from the city who fought against the Ottoman rule in the country and later drove the nation to its Liberation. Danail financially supported both the local revolutionary committee and several uprisings in the region. He also helped Zahari Stoyanov, one of Baba Tonka’s sons-in-law, to become a librarian in the Zora Community Center in Rousse.

Before his death in 1898, Ivan Vedar donated all his property to the state, stating that he had given enough to his children – proper upbringing and good education.

Ivan Vedar’s bones are kept in the Pantheon of National Revival (located in one of the city parks) and a monument was erected in his honor nearby.

An Urban Legend

An urban legend tells us an even more interesting story which, if true, was how Danail saved Rousse from complete destruction as well as 4,000 of its residents from sure death shortly before the Liberation.

Here it is. In August 1877, the Russian troops almost fully demolished the Turkish quarter in Rousse which in turn enraged the Turkish forces making them take steps to kill the entire Bulgarian population in the city. They gathered 4,000 people in one place located on the outskirts of the city where they were kept for several days. Ivan Veder managed to get out of his house that was guarded by the Turkish militaries by bribing them with a bag of gold. He then went to the Italian city consul, together they turned to a then influential local Turkish guy, the three of them climbed the Leventa hill to meet the Turkish pasha who commanded the Egyptian troops that were surrounding the city to negotiate with him to release the people and to spare Rousse from complete extinction.

And here follows the most interesting part – on meeting Delaver Pasha, the three of them make a Masonic hand sign. Delaver Pasha, realizing he was talking to a higher-ranking Mason brother, offered Ivan Vedar his brotherly co-operation. When returning from the Leventa hill, the delegation found out that those 4,000 people were surrounded by Egyptian soldiers who actually guarded them from the Circassian and Bashibosuk troops who wanted to kill them. So, this is how 4,000 people from the city evaded their death and Rousse was not reduced to rubble.

Resources

Disclaimer: The photos used in this article are not owned by insiderguide.me.

Holy Trinity Cathedral

For centuries Rousse has been a cozy home for representatives of different ethnic and religious communities, including Armenians, Turks, Jews, and Bulgarians. Yet, Orthodox Christianity remains the official religion in the city and in the country alike. A number of churches have been built through the years, but the one that stands out is the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

светаТроица1Holy Trinity is the oldest church in Rousse. It was built in 1632 and is located right next to the current building of the Opera. In accordance with the provisions of the Turkish authorities stating that Christian churches may not exceed the height of minarets and mosques, the church was dug into the ground 4.5 metres below the ground level. In terms of its architecture, it represents a pseudo basilica about 15 metres wide and 32 meters long.

The story of its construction is unclear. Presumably, on the place where the Church now stands there used to be a catacomb dating back to the 5th century, or a Medieval church. It is assumed that during the Ottoman rule it was easier to be granted a permission to build a new church on the spot where an older church was situated.IMG_5477[1]-min (1)

The way the church looks today has remained the same since the years after the Liberation from Ottoman rule. A stone staircase that replaced the original wooden steps leads into its interior now. To the left is a built-in tombstone of Father Daniel, a longtime teacher at the religious school in the convent next to the church. To the right is a second inscription on a granite slab, which reports about the reconstruction of the church in 1764.

In the vestibule of the church are the graves of four bishops representing the region of the cities of Dorostol and Cherven. These are Bishops Grigoriy, Vasiliy, Mihail, and Sofroniy. In the 19th century Bishop Grigoriy persuaded his friend Zafir Sarooglu to donate the amount of BGN 40,000 for the extension of the church.

IMG_5540[1]-min (1)The most exquisite part of the interior is the hand-made iconostasis crafted dating from 1803-1807. Some say it is the only one in Northern Bulgaria that was created by the famous craftsmen from the Samokov School. According to others, the iconostasis is a work by the masters Marin and Vasil from the renowned Iconographic School in Triavna while the icons are believed to be created by the Vitanovs masters from the same town. Yet others believe that the iconostasis was made by an unknown Wallachian carver. The icons are in the Byzantine style and are decorated between 1805 and 1807. Most of them are believed to have been painted by Zachary Zograf’s father – Hristo Dimitrov.

The church is a home for the miraculous icon of the Holy Virgin of Tenderness, created in the late 17th century. Also, the church keeps relics of St. Theodore of Tyron, St. Panteleimon, St. Evstatia, St. Terentiy, St. Grioriy-Bishop of Serbia as well as St. James of Persia, which indicates that the church was part of the pilgrimage routes in the region.

The bell tower is hexagonal and with its height of 19 meters it is the highest part of the church. Built of hewn stones taken from the ruined wall of Ruschuk Fortress in accordance with the decision of the Berlin Congress from July 1878 to demolish all fortresses and walls from the Ottoman times within a year. Currently, the bell tower has 5 bells.

IMG_5539[1]-min (1)
After the Liberation, people donated money to build 2 chapels. The first one is dedicated to St. Alexander Nevsky. In 1979 it was turned into a museum for icons and old books. The second chapel is dedicated to the brothers St Cyril and Methodius.

Years ago, near the Cathedral was located the old Christian city cemetery. Now in the courtyard you can see 2 monuments of British officers who died in the Crimean War. As the British at that time fought on the side of the Turks, after the Liberation similar monuments have been forgotten and neglected. The ones in the church yard in Rousse are probably the only ones surviving in the country.

Todor Hadzhistanchev, a teacher, created the church choir in 1870. In 2009 the church began publishing its parish bulletin released on major Christian holidays.

The church is connected with some historical events in in the city:

  • The first schools in the country during the Ottoman period were created by the clergy in monasteries and were led by representatives of the clergy. In Rousse, the first schools of this type were started by the palmer Priest Dragni (Father Daniel) over the period 1720-1735. Then for the first time in the city he gathered children in one of the rooms of the convent by the church.
  • The ceremony at which the writer Vasil Drumev assumed the name Archmandrite Clement, received the title Bishop Branitski, and was appointed vicar in Silistra and Tulcha took part in the church on April 21, 1874.
  • The Russian Liberation Forces led by General Totleben were greeted by the townspeople in front of the Cathedral in February 1878.

In 1983, Holy Trinity Cathedral was declared a monument of culture of national importance.

Sources

  1. Nasam Natam
  2. Wikipedia
  3. StrannikBG
  4. Bulgarian Patriarchy
  5. Buildings – the European Cultural Heritage of Rousse (in print)

All photos that are used in the article, except for the first one, are owned by this website.

St. Petka-Paraskeva

petka9-minThe Church of St. Petka–Paraskeva is somewhat skipped by the standard tourist routes, which are mostly concentrated in the central parts of the city. It is located at the side of the road leading you out of the city, just right next to the bridge, known amongst the locals as the Snail.

On a cool sunny morning in March the taxi is carefully making progress along the narrow neighborhood street frustratingly studded with asphalt undulations, and stops near the entrance of the Orthodox temple. Out of excitement I can hardly unlock my phone to start making pictures. Though I grew up in Rousse, I have never been here before.

The construction works began in 1939. They were initiated and mainly paid for by a local ceraftsman and businessman. petka2-minThe architecture of the church is a replica of the Round Church built by King Simeon the Great in Veliki Preslav and is the first successful attempt for the architectural plans intended for the restoration of the Golden Church to be implemented. Craftsmen from the city worked on the carving of the iconostasis inside as well as on the painting of murals. The overall financing of the construction was also carried out through donations made by other churches in the city. The church  was completed in 1944 when its consecration was done. It takes its name from the name of the last rock church iin the Rusenski Lom River valley, the Church of Sveta Petka, which was buried under the ground after the Liberation.

A little anteroom with the traditional cabndle-selling counter greets me. Despite the solitude of this remote corner of spirituality, a smiling woman over 60 welcomes me with a good-natured look through her frames. The wood stove is booming and through the glass I see the playful flames darting up and then seemingly safely resting. I talk to her, she comes out following me around smiling, telling me that the Church Administration have applied for funding to restore the temple. I am told the church has never been restored ever since it was built and that the need is acute as the fence and other parts have begun to crumble.

I look at the murals and the painted glass windows, seeing the oozing light streaming through the dome and am engulfed in colour and tranquility. We exchange a few more words about the present and its people, us including, too busy to deny cultural values that uphold them, if only in churches. And yet, when she asks where I come from and what I do for a living, I see her genuine kindness. She’s an optimist. So am I.

Read more about the Church of St. Petka–Paraskeva here. Part of the materials for this article was provided by the Regional Museum of History in Rousse. See below a few more photos of the Church.

The photos in the article are owned by this website.