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A European kingdom in the northeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula, bounded by the Black Sea, the Rhodope Mountains, Servia, and the Danube; it embraces an area of 37,200 sq. m. The population according to the census of 1900 numbers 3,744,283, divided according to religion into 3,019,296 Greek Orthodox, 28,579 Catholics of the Latin Rite and Uniat Greeks, 4524 Protestants, 13,809 Gregorian Armenians, 33,663 Jews, 643,300 Mohammedans, and 1112 of other creeds; according to nationality into 2,887,860 Bulgarians, 539,656 Turks, 89,549 Gypsies, 75,223 Rumanians, 70,887 Greeks, 32,753 Jews, 18,856 Tatars, 13,926 Armenians, and 15,741 of other nationalities. The number of inhabitants in 1905 was 4,028,239.


At the beginning of the Christian Era, what is now Bulgaria constituted the Roman provinces of Moesia and Thrace, a territory in which Christianity was preached at a very early period, as proved by the Council of Sardica in 343. During the migratory period Slavic races pushed forward into this region. Some time after the middle of the seventh century, the Bulgars, a people of Hunnic and Finnic stock, who had been driven from their habitations on the Volga as far as the Lower Danube, began to make incursions into Moesia and Thrace. Completing their conquest of the country in a war with the Byzantine Empire, they founded an independent kingdom about 680. The Bulgars gradually became amalgamated with the former inhabitants, adopting the nationality and language of the latter, but giving their own name to the ethnographic mixture. The new State often came into conflict with the neighbouring Byzantine Empire, to which, however, in 718, it lent its support against the Arabs. Prince Boris, or Bogoris (844-845 or 852-888), d. 907), accepted Christianity for political reasons and was baptized in 864 or the beginning of 865; he first negotiated with Pope Nicholas I for the creation of a Bulgarian hierarchy, but in the end joined the Byzantine Church. During the reign of his younger son Symeon (893-927) the ancient Bulgarian State reached the zenith of its prosperity; its territories extended from the Danube to the Rhodope Mountains and from the Black Sea to the Ionian Sea. In 917 Symeon assumed the title of Tsar, and in 924 compelled Byzantium to recognize the Bulgarian Church as an autocephalous patriarchate, with its seat at Ochrida or Achrida. Under his son Peter (927-969) the kingdom began to decline; during the reign of Shishman I the western part proclaimed its independence; two years after Peter's death the eastern section was pledged to the Eastern Empire. The western part, not able to preserve its autonomy, went to pieces in 1018 under the repeated attacks of the Emperor Basil II, surnamed Bulgaroktonos (the slayer of the Bulgarians). Though Basil left the Bulgarian Church its autonomy, the Metropolitans of Achrida were no longer styled Patriarchs, but Archbishops, and after 1025 were chosen from the Greek clergy, instead of the Bulgarian.

After several futile uprisings against the oppressive Byzantine rule, a fresh Bulgarian insurrection took place about 1185. Two brothers, Peter and Ivan Asen, assumed the leadership, threw off the Byzantine yoke and re-established Symeon's empire. On their death (1197) their youngest brother Kaloyan, or Ivanitza, ruled alone until 1207; he entered into negotiations with the Holy See, promised to recognize the spiritual supremacy of the pope, and in November, 1204, was crowned with the royal diadem by Cardinal Leo, legate of Pope Innocent III. At the same time Archbishop Basil of Tirnovo was consecrated Primate of Bulgaria. This new Bulgarian Church embraced eight dioceses, Tirnovo being the primatial see, but the union with Rome was not of long duration. The new empire soon came into conflict with the recently founded Latin Empire (1204) of Constantinople; the Greeks fanned the dissensions in order to gain the Bulgarians over to their side. King Ivan Asen II (1218-41) formed an alliance with Emperor Vatatzes against the Latin Empire (1234), and again joined the Greek Church, which thereupon solemnly recognized the autonomy of the Church of Tirnovo (1235). Since that time, with the exception of brief intervals, the Bulgarian Church has persisted in schism. In 1236 Pope Gregory IX pronounced sentence of excommunication on Asen II, and in 1238 had a Crusade preached against Bulgaria. The history of the following period shows a succession of struggles with the Greeks, the Servians, and the Hungarians, of internal wars for the possession of the throne, and of religious disturbances, as, for instance, those consequent on the spread of the Bogomili and the Hesychasts, all of which weakened the State.

During the fourteenth century, the Turks, flushed with victory, invaded the Balkan Peninsula, and under Amurath I overthrew the Servian kingdom in the battle of Kossovo (Field of Blackbirds, 1389), captured Tirnovo, and imprisoned Ivan III Shishman, the last Bulgarian Tsar, thus destroying the Bulgarian hegemony. The Church shared the fate of the State, and the last Bulgarian patriarch, Euthymius (1375-93), was driven into exile. Only the Patriarchate of Achrida continued as a Graeco-Bulgarian metropolitan see, with Greek or hellenized occupants, until it was suppressed by the Porte in 1767 in consequence of the intrigues of the oecumenical patriarchs. The Greek language prevailed everywhere in schools and churches, and the remains of ancient Bulgarian literature were destroyed to a large extent by the Greeks. For almost five centuries the Bulgarian people groaned under the political yoke of the Turks and the ecclesiastical domination of the Greeks, yet continuous persecution did not avail to obliterate the memory of the nation's former greatness. The nineteenth century was destined to bring liberty to the Bulgarians, as well as to other Christian peoples of the Balkan Peninsula. The self-sacrificing generosity of wealthy Bulgarians made it possible to establish Bulgarian schools (the first at Gabrovo, 1835) and printing presses (at Saloniki, 1839, Smyrna, 1840, Constantinope., 1843), by which the national culture and patriotic sentiment were elevated. The reawakened national feeling first manifested itself in the ecclesiastical order.

In 1860 a representative body of the Bulgarian nation requested the Greek patriarch at Constantinople to recognize their national church, to accord them freedom in the selection of their bishops, and to appoint Bulgarian, rather than Greek prelates to Bulgarian sees. The Patriarch of Constantinople refused these concessions. This act inflamed the national feeling and was followed by the expulsion of the Greek bishops and finally insurrections against Turkish authority. To ensure its supremacy, the Porte sought to mediate between the parties, but fresh negotiations were productive of no further result, and the Sultan by a firman of 11 March, 1870, granted the Bulgarians an exarchate of their own, independent of the Greek patriarchate. In 1872, the first Bulgarian exarch was chosen by an assembly of Bulgarian bishops and laymen. In a council at which only twenty-nine orthodox bishops assisted the oecumenical patriarch solemnly excommunicated the Bulgarian Church and declared it schismatical.

National autonomy followed close upon ecclesiastical independence. On May, 1876, the Turkish Government perpetrated unspeakable atrocities in the suppression of a Bulgarian insurrection. These horrors might never have touched the conscience of the civilized world had it not been for the courage and enterprise of Januarius Aloysius MacGahan, an American Catholic (b. in Perry County, Ohio, 12 June, 1844, d. at Constantinople, 9 June, 1878). As correspondent of the London "Daily News", and accompanied by Eugene Schuyler, Commissioner of the United States Government, MacGahan was the only journalist to visit the devastated districts; he obtained the evidence of eyewitnesses and, supplementing this with his own observation, published a mass of facts which enabled Mr. Gladstone to arouse among the English-speaking peoples a lively sympathy for the Bulgarian Christians. A conference of the European powers demanded of Turkey the erection of an autonomous Bulgarian province. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, however, and the Peace of San Stefano created an autonomous Bulgarian principality, tributary to the Porte. The Berlin Congress of 1878 abrogated some of the provisions of the Peace of San Stefano and divided Greater Bulgaria into an autonomous Bulgarian principality and a province of Eastern Rumelia under a Christian governor-general, to be appointed by the Porte every five years, but subject to the approval of the Powers. On 22 February, 1879, the first Bulgarian assembly of notables convened in the principality; on 28 April the new constitution was signed; and on 29 April Prince Alexander of Battenberg was chosen as sovereign by the first national assembly. In Eastern Rumelia, from the very first the trend of events pointed to union with the Bulgarian principality. In September, 1885, an insurrection broke out, and a provisional regency proclaimed the union with Bulgaria. In September, Alexander announced from Philippopolis the union of the two countries and, after repelling a Servian invasion, received recognition as Governor-General of Eastern Rumelia (5 April, 1886). The unexpected independence which Alexander had shown in the face of Russia, brought him into disfavour with that power, and a military conspiracy, secretly supported by Russia, was successful in having him transported across the frontier (20 August, 1886). He was recalled, it is true, by the popular voice, after ten days, but, not wishing to rule without Russia's favour, which Bulgaria found indispensable, and yet not being able to gain the Tsar's friendship., he abdicated, 7 September, 1886. A regency, under Stambuloff, administered the national affairs until a new sovereign was elected by the National Assembly. The choice fell on the Catholic prince, Ferdinand of Saxe-Koburg-Kohary, 7 July, 1887. As Ferdinand at first left the national policy in the hands of Russia's enemy, Stambuloff, Russia, as well as the Porte, refused to recognize the new king. Only after the assassination of Stambuloff (1895) was a reconciliation with Russia effected. The Sultan then recognized Ferdinand as prince and governor-general, in view of the fact that Ferdinand had his son Boris, heir to the throne, baptized in the Greek orthodox faith (1896). The economic and intellectual progress of the country is retarded by financial complications, by partisanship in politics, and by the unrest incident to the so-called Macedonian question.


Catholics (Latin Rite)

The Catholics of Bulgaria are for the most part descendants of the Bogomili or Paulicians converted by the Franciscans during the sixteenth century, and are directly subject to the Diocese of Nicopolis with its seat at Rustchuk, and the Vicariate Apostolic of Sofia and Philippopolis, with the seat at Philippopolis. The Diocese of Nicopolis (Diocecesis Nicopolitana) contains, according to the Missiones Cattolicae (Rome, 1907), about 13,000 Latin Catholics, 14 parishes, 3 stations, 5 secular and 18 regular priests, a great seminary in Rustchuk, 3 parish schools for boys and 3 for girls, 3 notaries of male religious orders (Passionists, Marists, and Assumptionists); there are also houses of the Sisters of the Assumption, with a boarding school at Varna; Dames de Sion, with day school at Rustchuk, and Dominican Sisters from Cette, France. The Vicariate Apostolic of Sofia a Philippopolis (Sofiae et Philippolis), established in 1759, contains 11,880 Latin Catholics, 1000 Greek Catholics, 13 parishes, 23 secular and 27 regular priests, 31 Capuchin Fathers, almost all engaged in parochial work; 20 Assumptionists, Fathers and lay brothers, with 4 foundations, one a college at Philippopolis, the only Catholic college in Bulgaria; 2 Resurrectionists, 10 Brothers of the Christian Schools, with a boarding and a day school at Sofia; 40 French sisters of St. Joseph de l'Apparition, with 6 houses, a boarding school, orphan asylum and hospital at Sofia; a boarding school and day school at Philippopolis, and a boarding school and a day school at Burgas; 13 Austrian Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul, with a hospital at Philippopolis; 22 Bulgarian Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis; and 7 Sisters of the Assumption. There are also 2 colleges for boys, 3 for girls, 2 hospitals, 3 orphanages and 3 asylums for girls.

Eastern Catholics

While the Bulgarians were contending with the Greek patriarchate for ecclesiastical autonomy, and the patriarch refused to make any concession, a movement was set on foot among the Bulgarians which pointed towards union with Rome. On 30 December, 1860, 120 deputies of the people petitioned the Apostolic Delegate to receive them into the Roman Church on condition of the recognition of their language and liturgy, and the appointment of a bishop of their own nationality; almost 60,000 of their fellow-countrymen joined in the request. Pius IX himself, 21 January, 1861, consecrated a priest named Solkolski its first Vicar Apostolic of Uniat Bulgaria. This movement, however, did not win the support of Catholic Europe, while the greatest obstacles were placed in its way by Russia and the patriarchate of Constantntinople. Sokolski lapsed back into schism in June, 1861, and embarked for Odessa on a Russian vessel; the majority of the Bulgarian priests and laymen attached themselves to the recently founded national exarchate. Only about 13,000 Bulgarians remained true to the Roman Church, and they live for the most part outside of Bulgaria in the Turkish provinces of Macedonia and Thrace. For these, two Vicariates Apostolic have been erected. The Vicariate Apostolic of Thrace, with seat at Adrianople, contains 3,000 Catholics 14 parishes and stations, 20 churches and chapels, 16 native secular priests, 25 Resurrectionists in 3 houses and 10 Assumptionists in 3 houses, 36 Sisters of the Assumption, with a boarding school, 3 Sisters of the Resurrection, 2 colleges, one in Kara-Agasch near Adrianopolis under the Assumptionists and the other at Adrianople under the Resurrectionists. The Vicariate Apostolic of Macedonia, with its see at Saloniki, contains 5,950 Graeco-Bulgarian Catholics, 21 churches, 33 Bulgarian priests of the Slavonic Rite, a seminary at Zeitenlink near Saloniki, 17 schools for boys and 10 for girls, 4 houses of the Congregation of the Mission, with 15 priests, 6 houses of the Sisters of Mercy, 4 of the Eucharistines, 3 orphan asylums.

Other Oriental Churches

The Greek Orthodox church of Bulgaria is divided into 5 eparchies or provinces. The Bulgarians under the exarch (or supreme lead of the Bulgarian National Church) are divided into 11 eparchies, 3 in Eastern Rumelia, with 2123 parishes, 78 monasteries for men, 15 for women, 1800 churches and 1906 clergy.


VAILHE in "Dict. de theol. Cath., II, 1174-1236, containing an extensive bibliography; MIKLOSICH, "Monumenta Serbica" (Vienna, 1858); HILFERDING, "Geschichte der Serben un Bulgaren, tr. From Russian (2 parts, Bautzen, 1856, 1864); D'AVRIL, "La Bulgarie chretienne (Paris, 1861); L. DUCHESNE, "Les eglises separees" (Paris, 1869); DUMONT, "Les Bulgares" (2nd ed., Paris, 1872); JIRECEK, "Geschichte der Bulgaren" (Germ. Tr., Prague, 1876); KANITZ, "Donau-Bulgarien und der Balkan" (2nd ed., 3 vols., Leipzig, 1882); BALAN, Delle relazioni fra la chiesa Catolica e gli Slavi" (Rome, 1880); FERMENDZIN, "Acta Bulgariae ecclesiastica ab anno 1565 usque ad annum 1799" (Agram, 1887); JIRECZEK in "Kirchenlexikon," II, 1459-67; SAMUELSON, "Bulgaria, Past and Present" (London, 1888); DICEY, "The Peasant State: an account of Bulgaria in 1894" (London, 1894); JIRECEK, "Das Furstentum Bulgarien" (Prague, 1891); LAMOUCHE, "La Bulgarie dans le passe et le present" (Paris, 1892), with bibliography; RATTINGER, "Die Bulgaren und die griech. schismat. Kirchen", in "Stimmen aus Maria Laach" (1873), IV, 45-57, 252-655; DRANDAR, "Les evenements politiques en Bulgarie depuis 1876 jusqu'a nos jours" (Paris, 1896); MARKOVICH, "Gli Slavi ed i papa" (Agram, 1897); STRAUSS, "Die Bulgaren" (Leipzig, 1898); DURASTEL, "Annuaire international de la Bulgarie" (Sofia, 1898----); FALKENEGG, "Aus Bulgariens Vergangenheit und Gegenwart" (Berlin, 1900); GELZER, "Der Patriarchat von Achrida" (Leipzig, 1902); BOJAN, "Les Bulgares et le patriarche oecumenique" (Paris, 1905); VON MACH, "Der Machtbereich des bulgarischen Exarchats in der Turkei" (Leipzig and Neuchatel, 1906); "Echos d'Orient" (Paris, 1898----), I-X, passim; HERBERT, "By-Paths in the Balkans" (London, (1906); MACGAHAN, "Turkish Atrocities in Bulgaria" (London, 1876).

About this page

APA citation. Lins, J. (1908). Bulgaria. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Lins, Joseph. "Bulgaria." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by John Looby.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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