Bulgarian 2 Leva bills (worth about $1.20 at today’s rate) are in the process of gradually being replaced by the 2 Leva coin, but both are still very common in Bulgaria. Both contain a picture of Paisii Hilendarski. Hilendarski was born in 1722, and is considered the father of the Bulgarian renaissance.
|The Bulgarian 2 Leva coin|
My western readers might be a bit confused at this point. We think of the renaissance as occurring between the 14th and 17th centuries, so how could a Bulgarian from the 18th century not only be considered a renaissance area man, but the father of the renaissance? To understand this we have to look farther back in Bulgarian history.
|The Bulgarian 2 Leva Bill|
In the 1300’s, when the renaissance was in its infancy in Western Europe, the Ottoman Empire began expanding from what is now modern day Turkey into Europe. Bulgaria stood in its way. Over the course of several decades Bulgaria was conquered and absorbed by the Ottomans.
As most of Europe emerged from the Middle Ages and grew in knowledge and culture, Bulgaria was enslaved. They became servants of the Ottoman sultans. Their dark ages were just beginning.
Fast-forward hundreds of years and Paisii Hilendarski came on the scene. He spent much of his early adult life in the Hilendar Monastery. Here he grew in education and in freedom of thought.
He traveled around Bulgaria seeking to raise funds for the monastery, and found that most of his fellow Bulgarians were living in desperate conditions and were apathetic toward their situation. They had been beat down and come to accept their lives of servitude. Paisii decided to reignite the Bulgarian spirit by writing a history book. It took a long time for him to research Bulgarian history as the centuries of Ottoman rule had damaged or destroyed much historical evidence, but after years of toil he finally finished his work. During his research he also found evidence and documentation about the life of Ivan of Rilla (see the previous post on the 1 Leva note to find out more about him).
His work awakened the Bulgarian spirit. It would still be over 100 years before Bulgaria would regain freedom again, but the seed had been sown. Knowledge and history served to stir up a national spirit that would eventually lead to freedom and the rise of the new Bulgarian nation.