During the 13th – 14th centuries Sofia (then known as Sredets) were gilded with a “necklace” of monasteries, referred to as the “minor Holy Mount” of Sofia, with deference to Holy Mount Athos. Today it is assumed that it originally consisted of fourteen hierarchically administered monasteries, among which the major one was that of St George in the village Bistritsa, while the others were subordinated to it. Today nothing remains of the original mediaeval Bistritsa monastery, except the name of the locality – “Obrochishte”, meaning “consecrated ground”. The parish church of the village of Bistritsa now stands there, having been built much later, at the end of the 19th century.
The others are thought to be: Dragalevtsi Monastery of the Holy Virgin of Vitosha Mountain; German Monastery of St John of Rila, founded in 10th century and to which a privilege was granted by the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus; Osenovlag Monastery of the Seven Altars; Lozen Monastery of The Lord Our Savior; Kokalyane Monastery of St Archangel Michael, which was closely connected to the mediaeval Bulgarian fortress town of Urvich; Kremikovtsi Monastery of St George; Seslavtsi Monastery of St Nicholas of Myra; Kourilo Monastery of St John the Precursor; Eleshnitsa Monastery of the Assumption of the Most Holy Virgin; Alino Monastery of the Lord Our Savior; Ilientsi Monastery of St Prophet Elijah; Bilintsi Monastery of St John of Rila in the town of Sredets, which was mentioned in 1108 by Theophilactus, Archbishop of Ohrid. According to some researchers the eminent Boyana Church is the only surviving part of a mediaeval monastery that once belonged to the congregation of the Holy Mount of Sofia. All of these monasteries maintained active relationships with Holy Mount Athos, and German Monastery was already a convent of the Zograph Monastery there in the early middle ages.
The heyday of the Minor Holy Mount came at the end of 16th and the early 17th century thanks to the dedication of Pimen of Zograf, a highly educated and devoted monk and painter who came from Mount Athos. Following tradition, he built and decorated with sacred murals nearly forty cloisters in the region, and trained a group of local people to form the so called “Sofia literally and artistic school”, consisting of his adherents and assistants. Pimen of Zograf, who was later canonized by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, was among the most distinguished religious on the Balkans in the early 17th century, and throughout the history of Orthodox art. The jewel of his heritage is the Church of St Nicholas of Myra of the Seslavtsi Monastery.
The number of cloisters and hermitages that originated in the vicinity of Sofia during the 10th – 13th centuries grew to nearly 140 by the middle of the 19th century. Many of them are no longer in existence, and the only clue that anything holy ever existed in a particular locality is its name, such as “Manastirishte” (meaning monastic ground) and “Tsarkvishte” (church ground), or the scant remains of a building. But several surviving monasteries still safeguard the spiritual glory of the Holy Mount Sofia.