Friday, November 13, 2009

Mtskheta, the heart of Georgia

Just up river from Tbilisi is the spiritual heart of Georgia, the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in the old town of Mtskheta.

This was one of the earliest Christian churches in the world, founded in about 327 AD. The story is that a Jew from Mtskheta was in Jerusalem at the time of the crucification and returned with the robe. On his return his sister Sidonia took the robe from him and immediately died from the strength of her faith. Her grasp on the robe was so strong it had to be buried with her where it remains to this day under the Cathedral.

For a time Mtskheta was the capital of eastern Georgia until about the 5th Century AD when it was transferred to Tbilisi. But it remains important, a bit like Canterbury is the centre of the Church of England.

It certainly is a lovely building and contains these great frescos:

My guide told me all about this - she was very well informed despite her mispronunciation of invasion - but I can only remember a little. At the centre are the twelve apostles and unusually for a Christian symbolism also the zodiac. To the left is hell and to the right used to be heaven before it got erased sometime in the past.

The weather was as you can see wonderful but the great building almost empty on this, a mid week day in November. It felt very relaxed with the monk below seen cleaning the carpets.

On the sky above Mtskeheta, on one of those amazing, haunting positions that the Georgians seem so clever at placing their holy sites, is the Jvari Church. This is, if possible, even more sacred than the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and was where St Nino erected a sacred wooden cross in the 4th century.

St Nino is the most venerated of Georgia's saints and is credited with the conversion of Georgia.

There are a number of stories of her early years from slave girl, to relation of St George, to daughter of a Roman General, but her defining symbol was the vine cross that she got from the Virgin Mary and then bound with her own hair.

The vine cross is kept in the Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi but despite many attempts I never got to see it.

However as you can see from the photos had a very clear day to view both the Church and Cathedral. If you look carefully at the top picture you'll see it just has both in it.


O Docker said...

It's so easy to just sit here, slack-jawed, and watch your travelogue unfold, JP, but this really is some wonderful stuff - both the photos and the commentary.

This inspires me to write up a log of my business travels, too. Expect a post on the various cattle feed lots along central California's picturesque highway 99.

JP said...

I look forward to hearing all about highway 99 - I'm sure you've some good stories to tell!

Thanks - but most of the credit goes to Baku and Georgia which are both fascinating and photogenic.

And without wanting to blow my own trumpet or anything but there's some corking good stuff to come....

Will post tomorrow

Ralph Hälbig said...


see more about Georgia:


all the best in Georgia!!