The Day of Sophia and Sofia

Saint Sophia

Sofia, or Sophia?

17th. September; the day when the Orthodox Church honours the Christian martyr Sophia and her three daughters – Faith, Hope and Love (or Charity, as I understood it from my own biblical upbringing).

St. Sophia the Martyr died in 137 AD. Born in Italy, she bore three children, named after the virtues extolled by St. Paul (Corinthians I, Chapter 13, v. 13):

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

The traditional belief is that her children were beaten and tortured to death in front of their mother. She buried them and remained at their grave for three days, until she herself died.

So, today, as every year, there are Orthodox services across Bulgaria, to commemorate her martyrdom.

The city of Sofia

Meanwhile, this is also the Day of (the city of) Sofia.

Following the declaration of the then city of Sredets as the new capital of Bulgaria on 3rd. April, 1879, it was officially renamed Sofia. This historic event was celebrated on that day from 1979 to 1992, when it was moved to the current, September date.

Why was the observance moved? There seems to be a small confusion, here. The city of Sofia was not, apparently, named directly after the martyr Sophia, but rather in reverence and deference to the C6 church of St. Sophia, itself named after the Ancient Greek term ‘Sophia’ (Σοφíα) meaning ‘wisdom’.

The city’s symbol is therefore not that of the martyr, but the concept of Wisdom. This is, for example, the title and artistic representation (see image) in black and gold of the statue that floats aloft in the centre of Serdika [1]. (Interesting detail: the statue has no eyes; but that’s another story.)

So, there’s a merging of diverse historical facts and attributions (a not uncommon occurrence). I don’t suppose it matters too much, except to historians. But it’s yet another example of one culture ‘hitching a ride’ on another; or is it merely the product of ignorance, I wonder? Another concocted, plausible myth that will eventually become its own reality?

Back to the present

The church holds its services to Sophia the Martyr, and the city of Sofia mounts its own, overlapping, civic activities. As has become customary, several prominent people will be decorated for their contribution to the city. This year, they range from artists to musicians and engineers concerned with the latest metro construction. They also include the religious figure, Maxim, marking his position as Metropolitan Bishop of Sofia for 41 years.

What else?

Today coincides with the opening of the school year. Today, 60,000 new pupils will enter their first class. The school day is marked by pupils presenting their new teachers with gifts and flowers.

The downside? Several main road arteries in Sofia were completely choked with traffic today, as parents got back on the ‘school run’.

And, the good side? Yesterday, as part of the city celebration, a campaign for volunteers to remove hateful graffiti and slogans across the city was launched. Let’s hope it’s a success.


Even if there’s some confusion caused by the names of Sofia and Sophia being marked on the same day, it’s good that a city celebrates its own existence, history, achievements and aspirations.

Conversational ‘fact’: Sofia is the 15th. largest city in Europe, with an official (2011 census) population of 1,204,685.

Image source: ICMS BG

Historical footnote (update):

17th. September also marks the Bulgarian mobilisation of three armies in preparation for war against the Ottoman Empire in 1912, following an ultimatum immediately to enforce the Treaty of Berlin and give autonomy to its European vilayets (provinces or administrative districts).

This was one of the opening moves by the Balkan League (Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro) that led to the First Balkan War (1912-1913).

The Bulgarians mobilised almost 600,000 troops out of a total population of about 4.3 million.

War was declared by the League on 5th. October, and the offensive began 3 days later.

The result: the Ottomans sued for an armistice on – strangely enough, given the C19 history of Bulgaria – 3rd. April, 1913 (according to one source).

Peace was formally concluded at the end of May by the signing of the Treaty of London.

(All this makes my head spin!)


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