Unlike many European countries, Bulgaria is seeing a resurgence in religious faith. Many churches have recently been restored or rebuilt, and alters and frescoes are being polished up.
Freedom of Religion in Bulgaria
The Bulgarian constitution, as well as supplemental laws, protect the freedom of religion in Bulgaria – although the constitution also names Eastern Orthodoxy as the “traditional” religion of the country, and offers it certain advantages (for example, not having to register with the government).
Although the government has, as a rule, respected the religious freedom of its citizens, there have definitely been problems for minority religions.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, for example, have repeatedly highlighted issues with being granted permits for the construction of religious buildings. On a societal level, there have been rising reports of discriminatory action against the Jewish and Muslim communities, with synagogues and mosques being vandalised.
Demographics of religion in Bulgaria
The statistics below are from the 2011 census in Bulgaria. The question on religion was not a compulsory one. The numbers are the percentages of the total population, not the percentage of the people who answered.
Even so, it is evident that Bulgaria is an Eastern Orthodox country. Some calculations have 84% of the population as Orthodox Christians.
Judaism is a tiny minority in Bulgaria, mainly because of the mass exodus to Israel after World War II. The Jewish population was nearly 48,565 in 1934. By 1956 it was 6,027. In 2011 the Jewish population was calculated as 706 (although it’s worth noting that, as you can see from the chart below, around a fifth of census respondents chose not to list their religion).
|Religion||Number||Percentage of those who declared religion||Percentage of total population|
Eastern Orthodoxy in Bulgaria
Eastern Orthodoxy was adopted as the state religion of Bulgaria in 864AD (CE). It is, by far, the dominant religion in Bulgaria, although it is no longer a state religion.
Eastern Orthodoxy is separate from Greek, Russian and all the other Orthodox churches. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has been an independent church since 927AD. It has around 7million members – mostly in Bulgaria, with some in other European countries and even in America and Australia.
There are a lot of Orthodox churches in Bulgaria – even tiny villages will often have a church. To get an idea, look at the list of churches in Sofia.
The traditional Christian holidays are celebrated in Bulgaria (see our Guide to Public Holidays in Bulgaria, as well as the Catholic ‘name days’: if someone is named after a saint, they can expect a celebration on the saint’s day as well as on their birthday!
Islam in Bulgaria
According to the census above, there were 577,139 Muslims in Bulgaria in 2011.
Islam is the only minority faith with any large presence, and the anti-Islamic sentiment being seen across much of Europe is, sadly, also present in Bulgaria. Most Bulgarians are tolerant and welcoming but the vocal minority are getting louder.
The Muslim population is made up mainly of Turks ( 444,434 – 420,816 Sunni and 21,610 Shi’a), Bulgarians (67,350) and Roma/Gypsies (42,201). Muslim Bulgarians are thought to be descendents of Slavs who were converted to Islam during the Ottoman rule.
Mosques in Bulgaria
Bulgaria has the highest number of mosques per capita in Europe, totalling over 1200. The largest mosque in Bulgaria is the Tumbul Mosque in Shumen, built in 1744.
Burqa ban in Bulgaria
Bulgaria passed a ‘burqa and niqab ban’ in 2016, prohibiting women from wearing the religious garments in public. Women who break the rules can face fines of up to 1,500 levs (around €760) and the suspension of social security benefits.