The “St Atanasii” monastery is considered to be the oldest cloister not only in Bulgaria, but also in the whole of Europe. Moreover, it is believed that St Atanasii himself established the monastery in 344 AC. Shortly afterwards, the Candida Casa monastery was founded in Scotland in 360 and two more monasteries were built between 373 and 375 in present-day France by St Martin.
In 344 the Alexandria Patriarch Atanasii visited Bulgaria’s lands in connection to the Ecumenical Council held in the city of Serdika (343-344). He established the monastery close to Beroe (present-day Stara Zagora). The choice of the place by the saint was not accidental; it was connected to his zealous support for the purity of the Orthodox religion in the context of struggles against the then-popular heresy of Arianism. It was exactly during that period that Mizia and Thrace represented one of the main “battlefields” in the struggle between the two main currents of Christianity then. The strategic location of the place (on the main road connecting Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) and Serdica), the proximity to an important fortress (its remains can still be seen) and the nearby Thracian holy spring must have also played their part. It is believed that most likely St Atanasii himself transformed the Thracian holy spring into a Christian one – a practice quite common at that time of transition to the new Christian religion. About 50m. away from the monastery, visitors can see the rock hermitage of the saint and his followers. The small cave was used for praying and isolation by monks during fasting periods.
As many other cloisters, the Chirpan monastery has been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt. There is undisputed archeological evidence about its existence in the Middle Ages, while according to legends the famous Bulgarian revolutionary Vassil Levski and other rebels found shelter there during the struggle for liberation from Ottoman rule. During the socialist regime the monastery was initially transformed into a shepherds’ house but later it was restored as a monks’ cloister. In the early 80s of the 20th c., the daughter of Bulgaria’s socialist dictator herself, Lyudmila Zhivkova, supported the construction of a new spacious building within the monastery complex. One of the more recent valuable acquisitions of the monastery is an Egyptian icon of St Atanasii, gifted during the visit of the Alexandria Patriarch Petros VII in 2003.