This is one of the most iconic churches in Veliko Tarnovo. Being situated at the foothills of the Tsarevets Castle, it has played its part in the history of Bulgaria.
It was built and frescoed during the rule of Tsar Ivan Asen II over the remains of a smaller church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is widely believed that the ruler had it built in honour of his victory against the Theodore Comnius in the Battle of Klokotnitsa on March 9, 1230 (which the Orthodox Church recognizes as the day of the Holy 40 Martyrs of Sevastia).
This church consists of two parts – the oblong basilica with six columns and one outhouse built later to the west side. It is assumed that at the end of the 12th century, the Assens (Bulgarian royal dynasty between 1187 – 1280) built a monastery around the church. According to sources dating back to 12-14 centuries, the monastery was known as the Great Lavra or the Royal Monastery and was one of the most significant monasteries around Veliko Tarnovo.
The conquest of Sofia by the Ottomans led to the decline of the monastery and it was turned into a mosque in the 17th century. After the Liberation in 1878, the temple became was restored to being a Church.
Here on September 22, 1908, Prince Ferdinand declared Bulgaria’s Independence.
The church now serves as a museum as well, where you can see some of the most significant Bulgaria epigraphic monuments, like Khan Omurtag’s Column, the border column from the Fortress of Rhodes from the reign of Khan Krum, and the famous Tsar Ivan Asen II column, which tells of the great deeds of Bulgarian kings. Here lie the tombs of Tsar Kaloyan, Tsaritsas Anna Maria and Irina, Saint Sava the Serbian and other royalty.