Partners: Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, Balkan Heritage Foundation

Period of the Project: September – November 2020

Funded by: Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, Balkan Heritage Foundation

The site: The medieval church “Sveti Nikola” is located in the village of Kalotina, Bulgaria along the Nishava river on the border with Serbia. During the Medieval period the area was a crossroads for cultural exchange as evidenced by the multitude of small, but richly decorated churches many of which survive until the present day. This particular church  is a cultural heritage monument of local importance and is noteworthy because of the wall paintings covering its interior and exterior dating from the 14th century.

The building consists of a nave with no isles, a narthex and a single apse. The entire interior is decorated with medieval and late medieval wall paintings depicting various scenes from the bible, as well as portraits of saints. Among them, in the narthex, is a rare for the Bulgarian monuments depiction of the church donors – an aristocratic family. There are two layers of wall paintings, the earlier one dating from the 14th century. The exterior of the church was also decorated with wall paintings in two layers, and remains of them can be seen on the southern facade just above the entrance.

Some of the wall paintings were moved to the National Archaeological Institute with Museum – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (NAIM-BAS) in order to preserve them, while the ones remaining in situ require conservation and restoration.

The project: The project was carried out in three phases in order to address the different questions surrounding the site.

The first phase consisted of gathering all the available information about the church in various libraries, archives, museum collections and catalogues. Our search yielded most of the Bulgarian and foreign publications dedicated to the church “Sveti Nikola”, including mentions. In the archives of NAIM-BAS were discovered photos from the expedition of A. Grabar in 1920 who was the first researcher to publish the site. Also the wall paintings from the church removed for conservation and preservation in the 1940s, which became part of the museum’s collection,  were documented and added to the growing data file on the monument.

The second phase of the project included documentation of the church and its surrounding area using various interdisciplinary methods. The process included a geodetic and geophysical survey of the building and its surrounding area and also photography, photogrammetry and RTI (reflection transformation imaging) of the inscriptions and graffiti found among the wall paintings. A series of interviews with local informants, as well as a field survey of the surrounding area were also part of the effort to place this monument in its geographic, historical and chronological context.

During the final phase all the documentation was analyzed and structured into a presentation of the site and the achieved results, which were later presented at several conferences. You can find the abstracts below.

  • The Annual Reports at NAIM-BAS in the Medieval section, March 8, 2021
  • Seventh Scientific Conference with International Participation – “Cultural and Historical Heritage: Preservation, Presentation, Digitalization” (KIN2021). It took place in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, April 22-24, 2021.

Abstract

Digitizing the Medieval Church of “Sveti Nikola” in Kalotina, Bulgaria

From 2008 – 2013, the Balkan Heritage Foundation conducted a couple of small-scale digital documentation projects of the wall-paintings at the medieval church of Sveti Nikola (14th century) in Kalotina, Bulgaria. In 2020, the team returned with funding from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture and carried out a full-scale investigation of the ecclesiastical monument, its surface and surroundings, wall-paintings, and graffiti using a non-destructive digital toolset to address research questions about the architecture and history of the edifice and the iconography of its frescoes. The documentation project aims to promote future archaeological research of the area and the preservation of Sv. Nikola Church. The team implemented methods from the fields of archaeology, art history, epigraphy, geophysics, geodesy, architecture, photography (incl. RTI), and photogrammetry and succeeded to create an extensive digital portfolio and database of the church. The presentation will discuss the use of the combination of the digital tools applied during the project and their contribution towards digital documentation projects of this type and scale.

A public lecture, part of “The European Researchers’ Night” on August 23, 2021

Abstract for the Leeds International Medieval Congress 2021

A visual memoir of the Crusade of Varna (1443-1444) – graffiti on the walls of the medieval Sv. Nikola Church in Kalotina, Bulgaria

Crusading on the Baltic and the Balkan Fronts The Crusade of Varna began in 1443 with a military campaign led by king Wladyslaw III of Poland and Hungary against the Ottomans. Once in Ottoman territory the line of march followed the Diagonal Road (connecting Belgrade with Constantinople) in the direction of the Ottoman capital city of Edirne. This first campaign was repulsed after the crusaders’ defeat at the battle of Zlatitsa. The allied Christian forces returned to Hungary following the same road, abandoning the local Christian population to the revenge of the furious Muslim army and Ottoman authorities. On the interior walls of the humble 14th century church of Sv. Nikola (St. Nicolas) in Kalotina, Bulgaria, located on the Diagonal road, numerous graffiti images are preserved. These depict a crusader, a priest, equestrians, and many more hunting scenes as well as inscriptions in Cyrillic (one is dated to 1443) that presumably relate to this event. This ‘visual memoire’ was created either by locals or crusaders themselves in the abandoned church which was used temporarily as a shelter or hunting lodge. This paper will present and discuss these graffiti for the first time since they were “discovered” and documented.

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