Bulgaria has been a traditionally Christian state since the
adoption of Christianity in 865, with the dominant confession
being Eastern Orthodoxy of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
During the Ottoman rule of the Balkans Islam established itself
in Bulgaria, while Roman Catholicism has roots in the country
since the Middle Ages, and Protestantism arrived in the 19th
Despite this plurality of religions, unlike the Western
Balkans Bulgaria has not experienced any significant-scale
confrotation between Christianity and Islam (as was the
case in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia
in the 1990s and 2000s). The religious communities in the
country coexist peacefully. The freedom of religion and
the religious equality are included in the Constitution
of Bulgaria as inalienable rights of every citizen.
In fact, the capital Sofia is known for its so-called "Triangle
of Religious Tolerance": the St Nedelya Church, Banya
Bashi Mosque and Sofia Synagogue are located within metres
of each other in the real centre of the city.
|The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia is among the
largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world and the
cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria
The Rila Monastery has been a centre
of Bulgarian Orthodoxy since its establishment in the
The 15th-century Banya Bashi Mosque,
the last remaining active mosque in Sofia
Rousse's Roman Catholic Cathedral
of St Paul
The Evangelical church in Varna
The Sofia Synagogue
By far the dominant religion in Bulgaria is the Orthodox Christianity,
professed by the prevalent ethnic group, the Bulgarians, who
are adherents of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Other Orthodox
churches represented in the country by minorities are the
Russian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Romanian
Orthodox Church and Greek Orthodox Church.
Christianity was established
in the First Bulgarian Empire under Boris I in the middle
of the 9th century, although it has had its roots in the Balkans
since the 1st century and the mission of Apostle Paul. The
rise of the Bulgarian Empire made the Bulgarian Orthodox Church
autocephalous in 919, becoming the first new Patriarchate
to join the initial Pentarchy. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church
is the oldest among the Slavic Orthodox churches and has considerably
influenced the rest of the Slavic Orthodox world by means
of its rich literary and cultural activity in the Middle Ages,
as well as by the invention of the Cyrillic alphabet in Bulgaria.
Islam is the largest minority religion in Bulgaria. It is
professed by the Turkish minority, the Muslim Bulgarians (Pomaks)
and most of the Roma. The former two are concentrated in the
Rhodopes, a massif in southern Bulgaria, but are present in
clusters in other parts of the country, e.g. the Turks in
the Ludogorie region and the Pomaks in Pirin and some villages
in northern Bulgaria.
Islam arrived with the Ottoman
Turkish invasion of the Balkans in the 14th-15th century.
Turkish notables settled in the larger cities (Plovdiv, Sofia,
Varna, etc.), while peasants from Anatolia arrived in the
Ludogorie and the Rhodopes. Many Orthodox Christians and Paulicians
converted to Islam, often voluntarily due to the peculiarities
of the Ottoman millet system, but sometimes forcefully. After
the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878 many of the Muslims left
Bulgaria, but others chose to remain.
Today, Muslims form the majority
in Kardzhali Province and Razgrad Province (mainly Turks)
and Smolyan Province (mainly Pomaks).
Roman Catholicism has its roots in Bulgaria and the Middle
Ages. It was spread among the Bulgarians by Bulgarianized
Saxon ore miners in northwestern Bulgaria (around Chiprovtsi)
and by missionaries among the Paulician and Bogomil sectarians,
as well as by Ragusan merchants in the larger cities.
Today the bulk of the Roman
Catholic population of Bulgaria lives in Plovdiv Province,
centred around Rakovski, as well as in some villages in northern
Bulgaria. The Banat Bulgarians are a Bulgarian minority in
Romania and Serbia adhering to Roman Catholicism. Besides
Bulgarians, among the Roman Catholics are also many foreigners.
The Bulgarian Greek Catholic
Church, a Byzantine Rite church united with Rome, was formed
in the 19th century as part of the Bulgarian church struggle
in order to counter the influence of the Patriarch of Constantinople,
and has some 10,000 members today.
Protestantism in its various forms only arrived in the 19th
century thanks to missionaries, mainly from the United States.
Today it is a quickly growing confession, with membership
having doubled from 1991 to 2001. Half of the Protestants
in Bulgaria are newly-converted Roma, while the other half
are for the most part Bulgarians.
Armenian Apostolic Christianity
The majority of the 10,832 Armenians in Bulgaria are members
of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which has an eparchy in
the country based in Sofia. Most Armenian Apostolics live
in Plovdiv, Sofia, Varna or Burgas.
Despite its low number today (1,363), Bulgaria's Jewish population
has exerted considerable cultural influence on the country
in the past and is still of importance today. The Jews in
Bulgaria are concentrated in the larger cities, mostly in
the capital Sofia.