The Bulgarian Communist Party, demonstrating that relentless lack of imagination that seems common to communist parties everywhere, erected a massive statue of Lenin in the centre of Sofia. Following the collapse of the regime this Lenin went the way of many others and disappeared in 1991. Nine years later Lenin’s spot was taken by this eight metre tall statue atop a sixteen metre column.
Most of the information I have read refers to the work as a statue of Saint Sofia, but as far as I can tell it was never intended as a representation of that particular saint. Saint Sofia has nothing to do with the city of Sofia. She was born and died in Italy and her relics are in France. The city is, in fact, named for the Hagia Sophia church which stands near the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and dates from the 4th to 6th centuries. Yet the influence of Saint Sofia is such that a lot of websites I have visited, including official Sofia government websites, have started referring to this church as the Saint Sofia church.
Some of the confusion might date back to a decision by the city council in 1992 to change the city’s official day from 3 April, which commemorated Sofia becoming the capital of the Third Bulgarian state following the defeat of the Ottomans, to 17 September, the day of Saint Sofia’s veneration in the Orthodox Church calendar.
As well as the tenuous connection between Saint Sofia and the city of Sofia, the statue was also criticised for not being sufficiently ‘saintly’. Sofia is crowned, holds a laurel wreath in her right hand and has an owl perched on her left arm. These were perceived by some as pagan symbols, rather than Christian ones. She’s also wearing a somewhat figure hugging outfit complete with significant cleavage and pronounced nipples – not at all saintly.
Still, she’s been there for eighteen years now so it seems that she’s been accepted despite the initial controversy.