Sofia, Feb 14 (AFP) “Grandpa” Dobri, a beggar hailed as a living saint in Bulgaria for donating thousands to Orthodox Christian churches, died today at the age of 103, church leaders said.

For over 25 years, the hunched figure in a threadbare coat and peasant sandals holding a cup for donations was a regular sight at the entrance to Sofias Seven Saints church or the Alexander Nevski cathedral in the city centre.

Dobri Dobrev became the golden-domed cathedrals largest private donor with his gift of 35,700 leva (18,200 euros, USD 22,500) in 2009.

He went on to help a number of monasteries and smaller churches by donating the alms he collected through the years, which added up to considerable sums in Bulgaria, the European Unions poorest country.

“Grandpa” Dobri, as he was commonly known, led an ascetic life, lodging in a small hut furnished with just a bed and a table in a church courtyard in Baylovo, his native village near Sofia.

Although he shied away from popular culture, he became an internet star as fans set up several Facebook pages dedicated to him, garnering thousands of followers.

Street artists painted a huge image of the white-haired man holding a candle on the facade of an apartment building in Sofia, while media dubbed him “The Living Saint from Baylovo”.

His name, which comes from the Bulgarian word for “good”, has also become a symbol of goodness for many disillusioned Bulgarians in a country rife with corruption and where many live in poverty.

Surprisingly, neither the Alexander Nevski cathedral nor any other of the Sofia churches that he frequented hosted a vigil for him.

Instead, he was honoured Wednesday by his small church in Baylovo. (AFP) 14021942

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.