An old stone church appears as a beautiful apparition in the waters of Zhrebchevo dam and disappears after half a year. Six months a year, the church cannot be reached on foot, but only by water, because it lies under the waters of the dam. The magic has been going on for half a century since in 1962 the church and the houses of the former village of Zapalnya remained under the newly built Zhrebchevo dam.
Once, before the waters engulfed the village of Zapalnya and two other surrounding settlements, the temple was the center of life in the valley, and the crystal ringing of its bell hovered over the fragrant carpets of oil-bearing plantations at the foot of Sredna Gora. The village of Zapalnya was built in the 15th century.
During Turkish slavery, it was famous for its 120 cans of rose oil. At that time the village was at an important commercial crossroads. From here the road passed from Kazanlak to Edirne, and there were several inns near it. According to an Ottoman document from 1472, the Lamp existed before the 13th century, but with a different name.
The church was built by Tryavna craftsmen in 1895 on the site of a church from the 4th-9th century. It is named after the heavenly patron of the Bulgarian people, St. Ivan Rilski. Everyone from the village helped to build the temple – with labor, materials, and funds. Some donate their land for the construction of the church, others help with work, others go to find a man for a priest from a neighboring town. The middle of the 20th century is coming. The central government decided to build the Zhrebchevo dam on this site, which would collect the waters of the Tundzha River. For this purpose, it must submerge the existing three villages Zhrebchevo, Zapalnya, and Dolno Panicharevo.
At first, the locals did not believe their ears, then they were puzzled, but despite their pleas and protests, the three villages were submerged and their inhabitants displaced to nearby settlements. They are allowed to demolish their houses themselves and move the bricks to build houses in the neighboring villages.
Part of the altar of the church “St. Ivan Rilski” was moved to Koprinka and Gurkovo, and the bell of the church – in Tvarditsa with the promise that when a resident of the sunken village dies, she will ring to announce his death. This tradition is still observed today.
small part reminds us that people once lived here. For more than half a century, the lonely church has been submerged almost half every spring by the oncoming waters. There is a special place on the shore where a candle can be lit. There is an abandoned cemetery near the church, and until recently there was an interesting memorial plaque: “The village of Zapalnya, inhabited in the 15th century, evicted in 1962.”
At the end of the summer, the church is completely above the water and you can enter it to feel the spirit of an evicted and submerged village. The submerged church is part of the route of our gastro tour “The submerged church, the donkey’s milk, the goddess Cybele and the 100 voivodes”. The ruins of the church stand proudly above the water to remind of the broken hopes and dreams of the people from Zapalnya, Zhrebchevo, and Dolno Panicharevo. However, the three deleted villages are still alive in the memory of their descendants. Every year they gather on the day of St. Ivan Rilski to pay tribute to their ancestors and their former church.