"Holy Mother of God" church

Leshnikovo village

IMG_20201230_152312594_HDR.jpg

In 2020 our team made an on-site study and a report on the current condition of the “Holy Mother of God” church in the village of Leshnikovo, Harmanli region.

The church, although listed as regional heritage, was unfortunately in an advanced state of deterioration; moreover, there were very few odds for any restoration to be undertaken in the foreseeable future.

Winter weather did not dampen our spirits and our resolve to thoroughly investigate every inch of the building, in order to understand the stages of its evolution and the many interventions it had undergone. We noticed atypical features, such as the absence of an apse for the altar, the ordinary rectangular shape of the windows and the ordinary wooden joinery, more characteristic for mundane architecture.

Combined with the unusual orientation of the church, all these observations led us to formulate the hypothesis that this building had originally not been built as a church at all.

It had served as a church for about a century and a half, and after that it was transformed into a dairy farm in the 1950s.

The building’s condition deteriorated critically at the beginning of the 21st century, especially after the flood of 2012.

After the original roof and part of the northern wall collapsed, the locals decided – without consulting an architect or an engineer – to cover the church with a reinforced concrete “cap”, which brought such an overload on the masonry walls that they started collapsing as well.

Together with fellow architects Stefan Stoyanov and George Tsapkov, we devised an emergency structural reinforcement, in order to quickly and easily alleviate the load on the masonry walls and preserve the original structure as much as possible. However, given the advanced state of deterioration and the impossibility for local authorities to undertake any immediate action, it is very probable that this reinforcement will not be put in place in time to save the building.

The attitude towards an item of architectural heritage is a direct reflection of the society that has come to consider the building in question as having heritage value. Society’s attitude often changes with time.

An architect can be instrumental for preserving a valuable building for next generations, but this preservation cannot be a personal act by the architect alone – it depends on many factors and protagonists. In the case of the church in Leshnikovo village, we were called upon too late. Soon, all that will remain from this building will probably be the intangible traces it left in collective memory… as well as a few preserved icons.