Monastery of healers
The St. Cosmas and St. Damian cloister was founded near a curative spring
17 March, 2017
The old church dates back to 15th century.
The new church was built in the 20th century.
The healer saints watch over the monastery.
The courtyard and the residential buildings.
The Kuklen Monastery “St. Cosmas and St. Damian” is located some 15km southeast of Plovdiv, nestled in the picturesque north Rhodope Mountains. It was dedicated to the two canonised healers as it was built near a spring that was believed to have curative powers, especially regarding ailments of the spirit. The spring was used from ancient times, with artefacts found in the region dating back to the Thracian era.
The exact year of the monastery’s establishment is unclear, but it was first mentioned in an 11th-century document on the Bachkovo Monastery’s properties. The monastery thrived during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (13th-14th century) and it was famous for its literary school and widespread cultural influence during the rule of King Ivan Alexander (1341-1371).
Following Bulgaria’s fall under Ottoman rule at the end of the 14th century, some of the students of Patriarch Euthymius of Tarnovo who shared his exile to the nearby Bachkovo Monastery found refuge in the Kuklen Monastery. Even though it w as twice destroyed and subsequently rebuilt during the Ottoman occupation, the cloister was often protected by the local Ottoman authorities as many of the ruling class families sought treatment there.
During the wave of 17th-century conversions to Islam in parts of the Rhodope Mountains, when over 30 monasteries and more than 200 churches between Kostenets and Stanimaka (modern Asenovgrad) were razed to the ground, the Kuklen Monastery survived and even sheltered many monks persecuted by the Ottoman Turks, several local legends allege.
In the 16th-17th century the monastery supported literary and educational activities and established the famous Kuklen art and calligraphy school at the end of the 17th century, which employed well-trained scholars and calligraphers and trained their successors. A portion of the hand-written heritage of that era is being preserved at the Plovdiv National Library “Ivan Vazov” and the National Library “St. Cyril and St. Methodius” in Sofia.
In its modern shape, the Kuklen Monastery is a complex of residential and commercial buildings, two churches – the ecumenical church “St. Cosmas and St. Damian” of the 15th century and the new church “Annunciation Day”, built in the 1950s - and the monastery holy spring. The cloister was preserved in its original 15th-16th-century look until the 1920s, when half of the north and the entire south wing burned down. The west wing and parts of the north wing are still standing.
The ecumenical church “St. Cosmas and St. Damian” is a one-nave, one-apse building with two shallow conchas. It has two narthexes, with the outer one keeping the healing chains put on mentally sick people. The church’s design resembles a Greek cross, with a large blind dome propped up by pointed Ottoman arches rising over the entire naos. The altar space is under a mirrored vault connected to the naos via pointed arch. The niches on the western side of the church, where the entrance and side windows are, are also pointed.