A New Look for the Boyana Church

Partners: Balkan Heritage Foundation, National Museum of History

Period of the Project: 2021-2022

Funded by: National Fund for Culture, Bulgaria

The Site: The Church of Saint Nicholas and Saint Panteleimon, also known as the  Boyana Church, is famous for its medieval frescoes. It is a cultural monument under UNESCO protection, inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1979.

Several building stages can be distinguished in the church’s construction. A small cross-domed church was built between the 10th – 11th centuries, known as the Old church. It was renovated in the 12th century. In the 13th century, a narthex and a small upper-floor chapel were added to the western facade of the Old Church. In the middle of the 19th century a two-storied anteroom was constructed, dedicated to Saint Nicholas and Saint Panteleimon. The Boyana Church operated until 1954.

The inscription in Old Bulgarian in the church narthex indicates the year 1259 when the church decoration was completed. It also states the names of the donors and the family relation of the local feodal-donor to the Bulgarian Tsar and the Serbian King.

The 13th century frescoes in the nave follow the general principles of the Christian canon for church mural painting. The apse features the grand image of Christ Pantocrator. Underneath, the drum exhibits paintings of angels and the four Evangelists. The altar conch depicts the Holy Virgin Enthroned, Melismos, the Annunciation. On the walls and arcs are presented scenes from the life of Christ.

The life of Saint Nicholas is represented in 18 compositions located in the narthex (probably a burial chapel). Here are depicted the donator’s portraits – Sebastokrator Kaloyan and his wife Desislava, the Bulgarian Tsar Constantin-Asen Tikh and Tzaritsa Irina, as well as the first known image of the Bulgarian Saint Ivan of Rila.

The frescoes on the second floor of the chapel of Saint Panteleimon are from the same period but differ in style. There are preserved fragments from the Annunciation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and scenes from the life of Saint Panteleimon.

The restoration of the church started in the middle of the 20th century and was completed in 2006 following a fundraising campaign initiated by the National Museum of History.

The Project: The main goal of the project titled “A new face for the Boyana church” is the creation of a new digital portfolio of the monument in order to bring it up to date with the latest standards for presentation and management of cultural heritage and  thus make it accessible to a wider audience. In order to achieve this goal the project features a new interactive website with an updated gallery of photos and publications dedicated to the monument and virtual storytelling  targeted at different age and interest groups. There will be a 3D tour of the church, which will display parts of the church, which were inaccessible to visitors before. In addition a social media strategy will be developed to increase the monument’s online presence and the Europeana database will be updated. As part of the project’s community outreach there will be an open doors event for the local residents of Boyana and the project’s results will be presented at the Night of the Museums.