If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan you’ve probably heard of (or own) the book “The Sherlock Holmes Puzzle Collection: 150 enigmas for you to solve, inspired by the world’s greatest detective”. Well, guess what? It turns out there’s a very similar (but still very different) Bulgarian book by author Nikolai Penchev. It’s called “Старобългарски загадки” (“Bulgar mysteries”) and it’s actually part of a book series by the same name. You can check out the rest of the series here: Старобългарски загадки series.
The book follows the adventures of the royal clerk Clement, whom the readers may already know from the eponymous “Bulgar mysteries” series, as he unravels some very complex cases. Unlike the other books from the series this one feels more like a game as it challenges the reader to solve the mysteries alongside the protagonist. It is by no means a textbook – some of the “facts” are not historically true and are simply a fruit of fiction. Nevertheless, the book is a great way to spark young readers’ interest towards the chronicles of the First Bulgarian Kingdom. A huge contribution to this has the beautiful artwork of illustrator Boyan Yanev and the perfect polygraph execution. The book is hardcover and has 248 pages.
The third part of the new mystery novel deserves a special attention as it is dedicated to the rescuing of the magnificent ceramic icon of St. Theodore Stratilat. Drawn by the talented illustrator Boyan Yanev, it resembles perfectly one of the most valuable artifacts in the collection of the National Archaeological Museum in Sofia. Of course the story of the abduction of the icon is fiction. In the novel the icon is stored in a monastery – a former fortress surrounded by a three-meter ditch in the center of a wiry fence maze. In order to get to St. Theodore Stratilat one must pass through a divided by squares hall where every misstep can trigger some kind of hidden mechanism.
The puzzle-like novel contains over 100 riddles – riddles, brain teasers, puzzles and mazes whose logical reasoning and answers can be found at the end of the book. The characters embark on a search for a missing gospel, a lost treasure, an abducted icon and a murder investigation in a sacred temple. The adventure requires wisdom, insight, resourcefulness and vigilance so as not to destroy their own lives. The solving of the mysteries is key to the development of the plot, so if you cannot solve them alone you can always look at the answers at the back. All of the sketches, maps and drawings help the reader to vividly imagine the world of the novel. Some of the mysteries may sound quite abstract but their purpose is to teach you to ponder beyond stereotypes and beyond the literal condition of the presented tasks.
As the story of St. Theodore Stratilat’s icon is so enticing and exciting here are some facts and conundrums about the original ceramic icon – exhibit at the National Archaeological Museum that inspired the kidnapping story in the third part of “Bulgar mysteries”:
- It was created in the workshop of the Patleina monastery “St. Panteleimon” and 11 centuries later it is still considered one of the highest achievements of Preslav ceramic production, a cultural value of national and global importance.
- The icon is composed of tiles (with 12×12 cm measurements) made of purified clay with multicolored glaze decoration.
- It was discovered in 1909 by Yordan Gospodinov during archaeological studies two kilometers southeast from the inner town of Veliki Preslav.
- The icon was badly damaged when it was found – there were many fragments in “bulk” state. Its founder was the first to assemble the saint’s image from about 20 tiles back in 1911. Still, there are some elements that remain a mystery – much like the characters from the book, the real life scientists are trying to find the right place of all the pieces. The very last addition of fragments was done digitally in 2008 when archaeologist Georgi Maistorski published the name of the saint with Greek letters – by the time it was already positive that the image is of St. Theodore, but there are two saints with very similar characteristics: St. Theodore Tyron and St. Theodore Stratilat, both honored as warriors and martyrs, and (in addition) the second one – as a healer. So far, most researchers tend to agree that the icon of Patleina displays the image of St. Theodore Stratilat whose cult originated in the IX century.
- There is no evidence that the real icon was ever an object of abduction like its counterpart in Nikolay Penchev’s book. The real icon, however, has been repeatedly endangered because of the unprofessional restoration done back in 1912 and then again in the 70s, as well as the numerous exhibition trips outside of the country.
- On the recommendation of experts who evaluated the state of the icon as critical, it was decided, in 2013, that it must be restored and reinforced by all rules of modern science. The process was completed successfully at the end of 2015.
- It is worth noting the original decision of prof. Ivana Eneva who helped the production of ceramic tiles with the same dimensions as the original ones using a technology very similar to the medieval one. Mounted on an aluminum base they repeated the modular rhythm of the original and integrated the preserved fragments. With the returning of the icon in the exposition of the National Archaeological Museum a special glass with UV protection was mounted to the supporting base.
For any Bulgarians who might stumble upon this blog post here’s a short video material about the book from the Bulgarian National Television’s (BNT) archive: VIDEO.
Also, here’s some music to get you in the mood:
P.S. HAPPY EASTER, FOLKS!!!
P.P.S. Long time no see. This was not a very easterly easter post, don’t mind me, I love you, bye.
– Snowanna of 221B