The Saint Sofia Church, which dates from the fourth century, is the oldest church in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. The Council of Serdica, attended by 316 bishops, most likely took place in the precursor structure in 343. The city, originally known as Serdika (ердикa), was given its name by the church in the 14th century.
It was in the 6th century that the early Byzantine Church of St. Sophia was erected on the site of a Roman theatre and many prior Christian shrines. Once a church, it eventually became a mosque under the Ottoman Empire when the Second Bulgarian Empire was overthrown.
In the days when Serdica was a Roman city, the necropolis was surrounded by several churches and other houses of worship. A Roman theater stood here in the second century. Invading armies such as the Goths and Huns destroyed a number of more churches throughout the following centuries. As far as we know, the current basilica’s basic cross shape, which has two east towers and one tower-cupola, was erected during Emperor Justinian I’s reign in the middle of the 6th century (527-565). It was built about the same time as Constantinople’s more famous Hagia Sophia church.
At some point during the Second Bulgarian Empire, the building was elevated to the rank of a metropolitan church. The church, which in Greek means “holy knowledge,” gave the city its name in the 14th century. The original 12th-century paintings were damaged and minarets were erected to the cathedral under Ottoman administration in the 16th century. Minaret of the mosque was damaged by earthquakes in 19th century. Restoration began around 1900.
The Hagia Sophia Church is today one of the most significant examples of Early architecture in the region. The current structure is a three-altar cross basilica. The church’s floor is decorated with intricate mosaics, many of which date back to the early Christian period. Hagia Sophia Building is located inside an old necropolis that has yielded several graves both under and around the church. It is possible that some of the graves have been decorated with paintings.
For generations, people have believed that the church has been safeguarded by the supernatural abilities of St Sophia, who is said to have preserved it from human invasion and natural calamities alike.
Icons at the church portray St. Sophia as a woman standing over three other ladies who symbolize faith, hope, and love since she represents heavenly knowledge rather than a real saint. St. George and St. Vladimir, for example, have icons on exhibit in the church.
History and architecture of Saint Sofia Church
The church was erected on the foundations of numerous ancient churches going back to the fourth century, as well as places of worship dating back to the time when it was the necropolis of the Roman town of Serdica. It was the site of a Roman theatre in the second century. Several other churches were built throughout the following several centuries, only to be destroyed by invading armies like as the Goths and Huns. The current basilica, with its two east towers and one tower-cupola, is thought to be the fifth construction to be erected on the site, and was completed in the middle of the sixth century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. (527-565). It is consequently a contemporary of Constantinople’s more well-known Hagia Sophia cathedral.
The edifice was elevated to the rank of a metropolitan church under the Second Bulgarian Empire (which lasted from the 12th to the 14th century). The city was named after the chapel in the 14th century. During Ottoman domination in the 16th century, the church was turned into a mosque, with the original 12th-century paintings removed and minarets erected. Two earthquakes in the 19th century demolished one of the minarets, and the mosque was abandoned. After 1900, restoration efforts began.
The Saint Sofia Church is currently considered one of the most important Early Christian structures in Southeastern Europe. The current structure is a three-altar cross basilica. Complex Early Christian decorative or flora and fauna-themed mosaics adorn the church’s floor. Many graves have been discovered beneath and around the Saint Sofia Church, which is located in the center of an ancient necropolis. There are also paintings in some of the graves.
Saint Sophia is depicted as Christ Emmanuel, a juvenile image of Christ reclining on a rainbow, since she symbolizes Holy Wisdom. Icons of historical saints, like as St. George and St. Vladimir, are also shown throughout the cathedral.