by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

Does old fresco in Bulgarian village church depict God in space rocket?

jesus christ ufo bulgaria.jpg

Christ was an alien. Or if He was not, then four centuries ago there were UFOs hovering over what is now southwestern Bulgaria.

If you believe the hype, evidence that aliens visited us in the past, probably inspiring Christianity, exists hidden in plain sight. In a church. In Bulgaria. A fresco in a 17th century church in the Dobarsko village is said to represent Christ in a space rocket, in the Transfiguration scene.

The fresco of Christ as an astronaut is the main reason why tourists, mostly those staying in Bansko, visit Dobarsko, a small village at the foot of the Rila mountains.

The murals are a fine example of Bulgarian ecclesiastical art from the times when the Medieval artistic traditions were still alive and remembered, but were getting closer to folk art

Dobarsko was not always so small and quiet. In the 14th century, when it was known by the curious name of Gnidobradsko, or Nit-Bearded, it was rich enough for Bulgarian King Ivan Shishman to include it in a large donation of lands and settlements to Rila Monastery. Under the Ottomans, the village prospered through animal husbandry, while its name gradually transformed into Nedobarsko and then Dobarsko (the latter became official in 1912).

The people of Dobarsko were so prosperous that in 1614 six of them had enough wealth to commission the construction of a brand new church for the community, the Ss Theodore Tyron and Theodore Stratelates.

On the outside, the church does not strike you as being particularly interesting or ornate. Built in the times when Christians had to observe the regulations of the Ottoman Empire, it is small, low and squat, but what the builders were not allowed to do on the outside they made up for inside.

The floor was dug out to allow for a higher ceiling, and the interior was divided into several parts. Every square centimetre of the walls and arches was covered with vivid frescoes to a dizzying extent.

The painter of the church has managed to cram about 450 scenes on the interior walls 

The frescoes abound with real or alleged peculiarities. Different sources claim that the church boasts the largest number of depictions of donors, or of saints, or of women in a Bulgarian Christian building of the period. Another peculiarity is the preference either the donors, or the anonymous artists had for soldier saints, including not only the patron saints Theodore Tyron and Theodore Stratelates, but also St George and St Demetrius. This might be explained by a legend. After the Byzantine Emperor Basil II won a decisive battle against the Bulgarian King Samuil, in 1014, he blinded the captured Bulgarian soldiers and, so the legend goes, some of them got lost on their way home and found themselves in Dobarsko. They washed their empty eye sockets in the spring by the local church, and their sight was miraculously restored. They then settled there and established a music school for blind children, which existed for centuries.

None of the peculiarities in the church of Dobarsko, however, can surpass the Christ-in-a-Rocket mural.

Here He is: a tall figure surrounded by a halo in the shape of a distorted rhombus. Is this really evidence that aliens were behind Christianity? Were Erich von Däniken and his ilk right all along?


Anyone familiar with Byzantine iconography, which was and still is followed by the Bulgarian church and its icon painters, knows that the strange shapes around Christ in Transfiguration scenes have nothing to do with space ships and UFOs. They represent His divine light and are a part of the canon, although the painter was free to choose whichever shape they wanted. Some preferred lenticular halos, other opted for rhomboid ones. The anonymous artist in the Dobarsko church opted for a more untraditional shape, but he was nevertheless following a canon that even in the 17th century was very old.

Christ resurrects the pious laity

Reportedly, the Christ-in-a-Rocket tale started in the 1970s or the 1980s, when the then Soviet ambassador visited the church and noted that the Transfiguration looked "just" like a rocket with a Russian "cosmonaut" in it. This extravagant idea took off and is still making the rounds, thanks to the Internet.

It is somewhat sad because Ss Theodore Tyron and Theodore Stratelates hardly needs such a type of advertisement. It is beautiful and intriguing enough to warrant a visit without all the fantasies of Christ as an astronaut.

Located at the southern foot of the Rila, Dobarsko has vistas of the nearby Pirin mountain


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