Orthodox cathedral at the end of a wide street
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Gallery: Sofia’s St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Sofia’s St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is not only a place of worship but also a memorial and a symbol of gratitude – the gratitude of the Bulgarian people to the Russian and Bulgarian soldiers who had earned the country its freedom.

The cathedral was built in the early part of the 20th century. The Russian Army had liberated Bulgaria from the rule of the Ottoman Empire in 1879, and it was decided that the most fitting tribute to all the brave men, Bulgarian and Russian, who had fought and died for the country’s freedom would be a magnificent cathedral.

The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky who was a 13th century Russian prince. He took monastic vows just prior to his death in 1262. It is said that a miracle occurred at his burial, when he supposedly extended his hand for the prayer of absolution. Alexander Nevsky was the patron saint of the Emperor Alexander II of Russia, ruler during the liberation war; he was therefore chosen as patron saint too of the cathedral offered in gratitude for his support.

Inside the cathedral

The interior is in Italian marble of different colours; but the years of smoking candles have taken their toll and the colours are dark and muted. What impressed me most was its grand scale and an atmosphere of genuine reverence, with candle-lighting locals outnumbering tourists.

I had paid the required fee to take photographs inside. I had no idea whether or not that would have permitted me to use flash, and I didn’t care, because I had no intention of using it. For one thing, people were praying inside and it would have been very intrusive. Also, in-camera flash is pretty useless for anything other than a record shot. It flattens the light, distorts colours and destroys atmosphere.

Wherever there is light, one can photograph.

Alfred Stieglitz

I make it a rule always to use natural, available light in churches and other places of worship even if flash is permitted, however dark they may be. My photos may sometimes be grainy, may sometimes not be pin sharp; but I hope they convey the experience of being there better than a brighter lit shot might do.

Available light is any damn light that is available!

W. Eugene Smith

As always, you can simply scroll through the montage below, or click on any image for a slideshow of larger shots.

Amy has invited us to focus on natural light for this week’s Lens-Artists Challenge.

I visited Sofia in 2019 for a Virtual Tourist Euromeet

24 Comments

  • Christina

    Glad you liked the cathedral, great photos too. I love the building and I can see it from our balcony, it is especially beautiful at dusk or in snow. A

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Christina, I’m glad you like the photos of ‘your’ cathedral 🙂 It must be lovely to be able to see it from your balcony and I can imagine that it would really look good in the snow! But when (I hope) I come back to Sofia I would prefer to do so in warmer weather again, to enjoy another drink in the pretty garden of the Thirsty Dragon 😆

  • starship VT

    I remember this beautiful cathedral and how impressive it was both inside and out. I also paid the fee to be able to photograph inside and was so glad I did. I thought some of my shots turned out quite well given the dim visibility in some of the church’s niches and ceiling areas. But, I think your photos are remarkable, Sarah!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Sylvia 🙂 I was so glad we went inside the cathedral that afternoon. At the time I thought we’d see it again on the walking tour the next day but we only saw the exterior. It was really worth paying to take photos, I agree, although I wasn’t sure at first when I saw how dimly it was lit!

  • thebeerwanderer

    I don’t find a flash works well inside large rooms anyway and with the new ISO limits on cameras, it’s not as hard as in the old days. Some churches are so dark, there’s not much you can do but enjoy the moment. Sofia’s still on my list but it sure seems like a harder to get to place than once upon a time. Thanks for a glimpse of it and its history.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      You’re right Richie, this space couldn’t have been lit with a simple in-camera flash, although it would have worked for the details such as paintings and icons, had I wanted to use it. I hope you make it to Sofia. Before we went I was told there wasn’t a lot to see there but I disagreed. I really liked the city and would love to go back one day and show Chris around 🙂 Plus, there are some lovely VT members living there whom I’d love to see again 🙂 It’s not difficult to get to from London (in normal times) – there are direct flights from Heathrow!

  • Tina Schell

    Absolutely love that Smith quote Sarah – really bummed I hadn’t seen it before LOL! Beautiful images of a beautiful place. While I love all of your images this week, the simple light of the candles really captured my imagination. Well done!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      LOL 😆 yes, it’s a great quote, and perfect for this week’s theme! Thank you for the kind words about the photos. That candle shot is one of my favourites too 🙂

  • wetanddustyroads

    I love it that you’ve given us the history about this Cathedral. And your photo’s portrayed the sacred atmosphere that one would expect to find in such a place 👍🏻.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Corna ☺ That is just the atmosphere I was hoping to convey – impossible to achieve if you use flash. I hate it when I see other people doing that in any place of worship, even if it is permitted.

  • Amy

    Thank you, Sarah for the tour and the history info of this magnificent cathedral. All are beautiful captured under the light. I love the angle you took of the last image.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      And thank you Amy for suggesting such a good theme (as always!) It’s funny though that you picked out that final photo. I nearly didn’t include it because the beautiful paintings are so hard to see in that dim light! I have some photos of other Bulgarian churches we visited that were much better lit, which I’ll share some time soo so you can see how glorious they are 🙂

Do let me know what you think - I'd love to hear from you

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