Holy Trinity, Church of the Nativity (Arbanasi)

The Father embraces the Son. The Father represents eternity; the Son, time. His wings resemble an hourglass. His wings with his torso resemble a heart.


Christ Pantocrator, Alino Monastery

Christ’s mouth is slightly ajar, because he is the Word. His face resembles an almond; at the top, a crack, where a shoot will appear.


Archangel Michael, Berende Church

A very tender image of St Michael. He normally holds a sword. Here he resembles a classical Greek statue.


Adam and Eve, Iliyantsi Monastery

Adam and Eve are painted against a background of the Tree of Knowledge and its golden fruit, under which there is darkness. Adam holds up his hand, affirming God’s prohibition; Eve is less sure. Adam even steps on Eve’s foot.


Annunciation, Berende Church

The Virgin Mary is with bowed head before God’s will. The dove, by which she will conceive, is aimed at her brain, the rational part of the soul.


Nativity, Eleshnitsa Monastery

According to tradition, the Virgin Mary gave birth to Christ without pain. She has turned away, as if aware of the pain that awaits her. Christ in the manger resembles Christ in the tomb, two births, together with baptism.


Presentation in the Temple, Eleshnitsa Monastery

The Mother and Child are separated for the first time, while Simeon the Righteous holds the Child and receives a blessing from him. Mary’s hand moves towards her child like a spider, but they do not belong to each other.


Christ among the Doctors, Seslavtsi Monastery

The dome under which Christ sits is like an egg shell – Christ is new life. The folds of his hair resemble the folds of his brain – Christ is heavenly wisdom.


Baptism, Preobrazhenie Monastery

Christ’s body in the river Jordan is like a child’s – not only because we have to be like children to enter the kingdom of heaven, but because it shows his complete kenosis – emptying of himself – in this world.


Healing of the Sick, Seslavtsi Monastery

Christ’s hand is three-dimensional, like the Holy Trinity. His body is almost transparent, because he has overcome the world. There is a bitterness in his features.


Transfiguration, Strupets Monastery

There are two lights in this scene – red created light, and white uncreated light. The latter resembles the pendulum of a clock, gathering time and eternity into one.


Raising of Lazarus, Eleshnitsa Monastery

Christ raises Lazarus with his two fingers, which signify his two natures. Lazarus’ shroud resembles a snake. With his resurrection, Christ overcomes the snake.


Entry into Jerusalem, Bilintsi Monastery

Christ is wrapped in his clothes like a baby in a nappy. He rides a donkey the way a child would ride a wooden horse. He will enter the labyrinth of the city, from where he will emerge as the Risen Christ.


Cursing the Fig Tree, Seslavtsi Monastery

Even when Christ curses, he blesses. See how the tree, which resembles seaweed, shines with his light.


Last Supper, Alino Monastery

The disciples’ hands are open on the table. This is because the gesture of giving precedes the gesture of receiving. From now on, they will give the Word of Christ all over the world.


Washing the Feet, Seslavtsi Monastery

Christ washes the disciples’ feet, a gesture that mirrors Pilate washing his hands on the following day. In this way, Christ pre-empts Pilate’s question, ‘What is truth?’ Truth is service, not self-justification.


Arrest of Christ, Iliyantsi Monastery

It is as if this scene has been taken from a play by Shakespeare. Christ is being pushed from all sides. We can see the swords and helmets of the other people, but not Christ’s hands, because he refuses to protect himself.


Crucifixion, Boboshevo Monastery

Christ’s body on the Cross describes a figure of eight. Eight represents eternity, and also the eighth day, the Resurrection.


Christ in the Tomb, Malo Malovo Monastery

Christ is already in the sky – see the blue behind his halo. He resembles a fish, a symbol of Christianity. His hands are crossed not in death, but for Holy Communion.


Descent into Hell, Seslavtsi Monastery

Christ draws us out of the many waters. He holds a cross, like Jacob’s ladder to heaven. The lower left part of his robe draws a heart – his love for us.


Doubting Thomas, Seslavtsi Monastery

The cave is like a womb. Christ is born in a cave. He heals the paralytic who is let down through a cave (a roof). He resurrects in a cave. And he allows Thomas to place his finger in the selfsame wound.


Sea of Tiberias, Seslavtsi Monastery

As the disciples throw their net into the sea, so Christ on the shore throws the net in which Peter is swimming. Not only did he make the water holy by his baptism in the Jordan, he has promised to make his disciples ‘fishers of men’.


Ascension, Seslavtsi Monastery

Christ’s body is in the egg shell of the universe. He is in the centre because he is the one who nourishes. His body resembles a tear, which in the monastic tradition is a symbol of purity.


Assumption, Karlukovo Monastery

The Virgin Mary is not dead, she is sleeping. Her body resembles the body of Christ in scenes of the Nativity. Her soul is like a baby in Christ’s hands, just as she herself held Christ when he was a child.

Text: Tsvetanka Elenkova

Photographs: Jonathan Dunne