Bulgarian St. Stephen Church

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Bulgarian St Stephen Church, in Istanbul

Bulgarian St Stephen Church (Bulgarian: Църква „Свети Стефан“; Turkish: Sveti Stefan Kilisesi), also known as the Bulgarian Iron Church, is a Bulgarian Orthodox church in Balat, Istanbul, Turkey. It is famous for being made of prefabricated cast iron elements in the neo-Gothic style. The church belongs to the Bulgarian minority in the city. The Bulgarians of the Ottoman Empire used to pray at the churches of the Phanar Orthodox Patriarchy, but nationalistic movements allowed Bulgarians a national church in the 19th century, the Bulgarian Exarchate.

The richly ornamented church is a three-domed cross-shaped basilica. The altar faces the Golden Horn and a 40 m-high belfry, the six bells of which were cast in Yaroslavl, rises above the narthex. Initially, a small wooden church was erected on the shore of the Golden Horn between Balat and Fener squares (near Eyüp District), where the current church is located. A house was donated by the statesman Stefan Bogoridi, and it was reorganized as a wooden church. It was inaugurated on 9 October 1849 and became an important site of the Bulgarian National Revival. The Ottoman royal decree of 28 February 1870 establishing the Bulgarian Exarchate was first read in the church.

The original wooden church

After the original wooden structure suffered from a fire, the larger current building was constructed at its place. An iron frame was preferred to concrete reinforcement because of the weak ground conditions. The construction plans were prepared by the Istanbul-based Ottoman Armenian architect Hovsep Aznavur.

An international competition was conducted to produce the prefabricated cast iron parts of the church, won by an Austrian company, R. Ph. Waagner. The prefabricated elements, weighing 500 tons, were produced in Vienna in 1893 to 1896 and transported to Istanbul by ship through the Danube and the Black Sea.

An early 20th-century postcard depicting the Bulgarian St Stephen Church

After one-and-a-half years, the church was completed in 1898 and inaugurated by Exarch Joseph on 8 September that year. The main skeleton of the church was made of steel and covered by metal boards. All the pieces were attached together with nuts, bolts, rivets or welding. In terms of architecture, the church combines Neo-Gothic and Neo-Baroque influences.

St. Stephen was the product of 19th-century experimentation with prefabricated iron churches. The British, who invented corrugated iron in 1829, manufactured portable iron churches to send to far-flung colonies like Australia. The Eiffel Tower's creator, French engineer Gustave Eiffel, designed iron churches that were sent as far as the Philippines and Peru. Now, St Stephen is one of the world's few surviving prefabricated cast iron churches.

On December 27, 2010, St Stephen's feast day, a celebratory mass was held at the church in honor of its patron saint. Attending were the Vratsa metropolitan Kalinik, bishop Naum, Chief Secretary of the Bulgarian Holy Synod, and representatives of the "St. Stephen Church" Foundation. Honoring the celebration the dome of the church was gold-plated using funds donated by the Bulgarians of Plovdiv.[1]

The church after renovation in 2018.

The church building underwent a renovation, which started under the Bulgarian-Turkish cooperation in 2011 and cost more than Turkish lira symbol 8x10px.png 15 million. On January 8, 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov were present at the inauguration of the renovated St. Stephen's Orthodox Church in Istanbul, on the occasion of its 120th anniversary.[2][3]

In addition to the St. Stephen Church, there is another Bulgarian Orthodox church in Istanbul, St. Demetrius Church, in Feriköy.




  1. ^ December 27, 2010. "Bulgarian Iron Church Celebrates Patron Day". Sofia News Agency. Retrieved December 27, 2010. 
  2. ^ E.Tsiliopoulos. Erdogan inaugurates renovated Orthodox Church in Constantinople. NewGreekTV.com. January 8, 2018.
  3. ^ "İstanbul'daki Demir Kilise törenle açıldı". Deutsche Welle (in Turkish). 2018-01-07. Retrieved 2018-01-10. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°01′55″N 28°56′59″E / 41.03194°N 28.94972°E / 41.03194; 28.94972

  • Иванова, Бл. Невидимата страна на «желязната» църква в Истанбул. Инженерни науки, 1/2018, с. 45-60./Ivanova, Bl. NONSEEN SIDE OF THE “IRON” CHURCH IN ISTANBUL. - Engineering Sciences, LV, 2018, No. 1,p.45-60 [1] DOI:10.7546/EngSci.LV.18.01.04
  • Ivanova-Tsotsova, Bl. The Architectural Complex at the Golden Horn a Monument of Cultural Heritage of Bulgaria and Turkey. - International Journal of Engineering and Technical Research (IJETR) ISSN: 2321-0869 (O) 2454-4698 (P) Volume-8, Issue-3, March 2018, p.27-35. [2]