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Konacheto - Nestinari temple

Konacheto - Nestinari temple

Bulgari 8274, Bulgaria

RELIGIONS Orthodox, Paganism


Koncheto is located in the center of the village of Bulgari, next to the burning ground. The rectangular building is aligned with the four cardinal directions and marks the sacred center of the village. It is the cloister of Saint Constantine and a cult place for the Nestinari fire-dancers. The ceremonial drum and other liturgical objects are kept inside. During the Panagyr of Saints Constantine and Helena the Nestinari gather inside the temple to pray, listening to the beating of the drum, before until they enter an ecstatic trance. A religious procession carries the icons of the Saints Constantine and Helena, washes them with holy water and clothes them. The celebration culminates with a fire-dance in the evening as the highest form of veneration of the Saints. It involves a barefoot dance on smouldering embers performed by nestinari. The ritual is included in the in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List since 2009. Bulgari is located within Tsarevo municipality, 17 km from the town of Tsarevo on the main road to Malko Tarnovo, at 300 m above sea level.
Roots of the tradition go back to time immemorial. It may be assumed that fire-dancing rites preserve the structure of an ancient ritual for the renewal of a sacred person. The similarity of some elements of the Panagyr celebration with other rituals is not only a typological one deriving from the religious and social systems. It probably also has ethnic roots that lead us to the cultural traditions of the Balkan population in antiquity. The strong presence of the Anatolian cultural tradition is probably the basis of some ritualistic actions (walking around, washing and dressing of cult objects, animal sacrifice, ecstatic dancing, fire worship) that have passed into later antique celebrations. Elements of Thracian cults of the sun and fire are probably adopted by the Nestinari. The Thracian population of Strandja was the material carrier of thousand years of cultural continuity, preserved by Bulgarians and Greeks in the Middle Ages and blended with the Panagyr cult. In the modern era, the ritual has been rejected by the Bulgarian church and forbidden by the communist regime. Today, the village of Bulgari is the last community that keeps the ancient tradition alive.
In its structure, the Panagyr rite reproduces an ancient pagan celebration of the sun and cosmic changes. It includes the deification of the sun and its earthly equivalent - fire. During the transition of the spring-summer season the ritual subject (deity, sacred person, cult object) performs magical actions to reestablish order in the universe and maintain sunlight. Emperor Constantine the great declared religious tolerance for Christianity in the Roman empire with the proclamation of the Edict of Milan in 313. He also erected a statue of the sun god Helios in a prominent place in the capital and demanded it to be honored as a monument of himself. With this he identified himself with the solar deity. He also introduced dies solis as a common roman holiday. Thus, after the adoption of Christianity in Byzantium, pagan solar cults continued their vitality. Undoubtedly St. Constantine inherited the features of ancient pagan solar deities, which is revealed by the ritual connection with the fire and the sun in the nestinari rites. Through the ecstatic dance the nestinari enter a mystical relationship with the saints and are able to channel their will. This religious ecstasy is akin to shamanic cult practices in which the shaman is possessed by a supernatural spirit. Since the middle of the twentieth century, nestinari communities are have shrunk significantly, leaving only a handful of followers today. In the new millennium, popularity and interest in the cult practice are growing. Today the Panagyr celebration in Bulgari draws large crowds. Beside orthodox Christians, many New age spiritual seekers join the ritual as they believe that they can also reach the ecstasy of Nestinari dancers and thus enter a communion with the divine.
The Panagyr festivities are unique mixture of Eastern Orthodox beliefs and older pagan traditions from the Strandzha Mountains. The local religious community has retained a strong inclination towards occult practices and mysticism. Veneration of icons and the elements is also characteristic. Dance and music are an irreplaceable element of the Panagyr celebration. Musical instruments that are used are drums and bagpipes. Particular ceremonial melodies and rhythms are played. Folk music replaces the liturgical chanting in rites that take place outside the church. Dances of worship are typically not a part of the orthodox service. Despite not belonging to the clergy, Nestinari are spiritual leaders of the community. The elder Nestinari woman holds the greatest authority among the people of the village.
- Direct visit - best on 4 and 5 June, spending a night at the village.
- Virtual visit: Watch videos and listen to songs from the media resources section.
- Classroom activity: Use the musical example 'Ceremonial melodies from Strandja' engage students in phenomenological inquiry and reflection. For detailed instructions, refer to 'Using Music in Religious Education' (



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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.