Svetitskhoveli, the Cathedral of the Patriarchal Church of the Georgian Orthodox Church, is a place where relics are kept: The Chiton of Jesus Christ, and the graces of the prophet Elijah.
The monumental Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is located on the territory of Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia. It is a symbol of the spirit of Georgian Orthodoxy, the place of baptism, the burial place of the Georgian kings.
History of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral
Cathedral was chosen as a place of baptism of the first Christian Georgian king Mirian thanks to the legend of the presence under the temple of the Heaton of Jesus Christ.
Here is an interesting fact. Legend has it that the Jews of Mtskheta, Rabbi Elioz and his brother Longinus protested against the injustice of the Sanhedrin. At the time of Christ’s crucifixion, they took his chiton with them. When they brought the chiton to Georgia, they deposited it with their deeply religious sister Sidonia. Shocked by the news of Christ’s death, she foretold the destruction of Israel and then died. No one was able to take the chiton clutched in her hands. Sidonia was buried with the holy relic.
The mighty cedar tree that grew on her grave had healing properties and was revered as a divine miracle. After 300 years there came to Iberia the holy educator Nino of Cappadocia to worship the life-giving relic. Nino interceded to build a temple on that site. King Mirian ordered several wooden columns to be cut out of cedar wood.
One pillar began to exude fragrant myrrh and was named the “Life-Giving Pillar,” which in Georgian sounds “Svetitskhoveli.” Human strength was not enough to erect it. Miraculously, it mounted itself in the center of the structure.
As for the question in what century the stone version of the basilica was built, historians agree, naming the 10th century. King Vakhtang Gorgosal erected the Temple of the Twelve Apostles.
Relatively modern appearance of the temple building was acquired during the years of thorough construction: 1010-1029. The Catholicos of Georgia Melkisedek erected a cathedral of 3 naves with a cross on top of the dome. The name of the architect Arsakidze is inscribed on the facade.
An interesting fact. According to one of the legends, Arsakidze’s pupil, being jealous of the talent of the architect who had raised the masterpiece of the temple, slandered him. The slandered person was punished by having his right hand chopped off. Above the central arch of the northern facade there is a relief of this hand with an inscription that it belongs to the servant of God Arsakidze.
The end of the 14th century. Tamerlane’s troops destroyed the temple.
First half of the XV century. Alexander the Great of Georgia restored the temple structure on the basis of the old plan.
For 1000 years Svetitskhoveli receives believers for the rite of baptism.
The shrines and frescoes of Svetitskhoveli
Those who study the architectural structure of the temple note some randomness and asymmetry, which is explained by the reconstructions of the building. There are three entrances from the west, north and south. Usually the western entrance is open.
Important. At the entrance is a basket with capes for visiting tourists. Compliance with the dress code is required. Shorts on men, pants on women are not allowed.
The wooden doors are decorated with images of the 12 apostles and angels. The central nave has 8 supporting columns of different shapes.
The center of the temple is occupied by the Life-Giving Pillar, the stone canopy above which is painted with frescos illustrating historical facts about the Heaton of Jesus. The base of the northern part has a niche from which the life-giving substance was formerly taken during the myrrh flow. The marble railing is covered with asomtauruli writings.
An interesting fact. Many note on the fresco of the western part of the pillar some objects that look like unidentified flying objects or jellyfish. These drawings cause a lot of controversy and speculation.
All the interior decoration is painted with frescoes. At the moment the best preserved is the south wall with the image of the 12 apostles, the zodiacal signs. Before the visit of Nicholas the First in 1830, many of the wall works were barbarously painted over.
The frescoes depict various subjects:
- Events of the Last Judgment,
- The Savior of the Almighty,
- The Savior of the Good Silence,
- The Holy Equal Apostles King Constantine and his mother Helen,
- The Myrrh-bearing women,
- Christ and the Samaritan Woman, etc.
A stone patriarchal throne is considered to be an example of late period Georgian painting. Up to the 15th century a characteristic feature of Georgian patterns was the presence of grape leaves. Here already present abstract ornamentation of golden color, inspired by Persian influence.
Since the 12th century, the cathedral served as the necropolis of the Georgian kings of the Bagration family. Many of the tombstones that have survived are embedded in the floor covering. The remains of Heraclius II, Princess Tekle, Vakhtang Gorgasal, Demetrius the Self-Sacrificer, and Eustathios of Mtskheta rest here.
According to historical chronicles originally Svetitskhoveli was the tomb of Queen Tamara of Georgia, but then her remains were sent to Gelati. Here is buried the first Georgian president, a descendant of the noble family Zviad Gamsakhurdia.
Among the relics of the cathedral two religious values stand out, which are more historical assumptions or facts rather than visual exhibits:
- The Chiton of Christ, buried with Sidonia in the tomb, now under the building;
- The milot (cloak) of the biblical prophet Elijah, located beneath the altar of Svetitskhoveli.
Around the tower structure over Sidonia’s burial place, worshippers and pilgrims are constantly praying.
The right side-chapel holds part of the relics of one of the 12 Apostles Andrew, who preached in the 1st century.
The left side chapel has a holy spring. Everyone can draw water, but only from the vessel standing nearby (from the well itself you can only by permission).
All the ancient icons and icons of modern origin are made with the technique typical of the Georgian school of icon painting:
- The Trinity,
- The central iconostasis,
- The Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles,
- A modern icon of the Trinity,
- The Venerable St. Mary of Egypt,
- St. John the Baptist,
- List of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, etc.
Since 2015, according to the decision announced at the Sunday sermon by the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia, His Holiness Ilia II, the celebration of Thanksgiving was approved. For the first time the festive divine service and thanksgiving prayers dedicated to this religious event, were carried out under the arches of Svetitskhoveli Temple.
The territory of the temple monumental building is separated by the fortress wall, built under King Irakli II (1787).
It is important. The main holiday of Mtskheta is Mtskheta-Svetitskhoveli celebrated on October, 14.
How to get to Svetitskhoveli in Mtskheta
The location address of the sight is Narekvavi-Mtskheta-Railway Station, Mtskheta, Georgia. The distance between Tbilisi and Mtskheta is 21 kilometers.
There are several ways to get from the city of Tbilisi.
- From the Didube metro station, shuttle buses circulate regularly, every 15-20 minutes, to Mtskheta. From the cab stop it is easy to find the Cathedral, as it is visible from many points of the city. The travel time takes about 25 minutes. The cost of 1 GEL is 1,5 GEL.
- A cab ride from the center of Tbilisi to the temple will cost approximately 20 GEL to 25 GEL. Cab drivers charge 50 GEL per round-trip, including waiting during the tour.
- From the railway station you can take a suburban electric train for 1 GEL. The distance from Mtskheta station to the center is 1.5 km.
The cathedral is open for visitors every day (8.00-19.00). The entrance is free.
Professional Russian-speaking guides offer a variety of tours, the program of which includes a visit to Svetitskhoveli.
|Name of the excursion program||Time (hour)||Features||Cost|
|“Mtskheta – the ancient capital of Georgia”||2||Walking, sightseeing||50 USD – 70 USD|
|“Mtskheta – the charm of soul”||4||Walking + auto, sightseeing||70 USD|
|“Mtskheta – Uplistsikhe cave city”||5||Walking + auto, pilgrimage||130 USD|
|“Mysteries of the Ancient Capital of Georgia – Mtskheta”||4||Walking + auto, sightseeing, historical||50 USD|
Most tourists visiting Mtskheta and its main attraction live in Tbilisi.
The most popular hotels:
|Hotel Name||Price for 2-bedroom per 1 night|
|2-Bedroom Apartment Guramishvili||2238 RUR|
|11A. Beliashvili Street Flat||2355 RUR|
|Ana’s Apartment on Belashvili 40||3533 RUR|
|Aisi Hall||3655 RUR|
|74 Arkanjelo Lamberti Villa||8948 RUR|
All hotels provide free Wi-Fi and free parking.
A visit to Svetitskhoveli makes you want to read Konstantin Gamsakhurdia’s classic novel “The Great Master’s Hand” which describes in detail the historical process of church building, the formation of Christianity and Georgian statehood.
Svetitskhoveli – ancient shrine and spiritual center of Georgia
Every nation has its main shrine – the most famous temple. For Georgia it is Svetitskhoveli . Many legends and stories are associated with this religious structure. Svetitskhoveli, Mtskheta are the main and significant attractions of Georgia. A trip to Mtskheta is always at number one in Georgia’s travel agencies.
Legends and history of Svetitskhoveli
The very first legend that can be associated with Svetitskhoveli Cathedral dates back to 33 AD. Such accuracy of date is certainly related to the crucifixion of Christ.
A resident of Georgia, Rabbi Elioz, upon learning of Christ’s trial, was sent by his mother to Jerusalem. His sister Sidonia asked him to bring her some remembrance of the Messiah. Elioz managed to become the owner of the chiton in which Jesus was dressed. It was this chiton that Elios brought to his sister. Sidonia pressed the holy artifact to her breast, and after the story of the crucifixion she passed away.
All attempts to separate the chiton from Sidonia were unsuccessful. This is how she was buried along with the Risa of Christ. A cedar tree grew up on the site of Chiton’s burial.
Another legend follows that is directly related to the first.
Over time, the inhabitants of Mtskheta forgot about the chiton and Sidonia, but they noticed that sick (wounded) animals and birds came to the cedar tree and left it healthy. Pagans began to venerate the tree that could heal. St. Nino, who found herself in Mtskheta, asked King Mirian to build a Christian temple on the burial site of the Khiton. Seven pillars were cut out of cedar, which served as the base of the wooden temple. One of the pillars, however, could not be moved, and the myrrh began to flow out of it. It was called the life-giving pillar “Svetitskhoveli”. The pillar was moved from its place by an angel, and was set over the burial place of the chiton. The first temple was built around it and later rebuilt several times. In the center of the temple Svetitskhoveli and now stands a column only around a stone tent decorated with frescoes.
The modern cathedral of Svetitskhoveli was built at the beginning of XI century (1010-1029). The temple was based on the basilica, built in V century by King Vakhtang Gorgasal. The idea to rebuild the basilica into a dome temple belonged to Catholicos Melchizedek at the beginning of the Golden Epoch of Georgia. The construction was entrusted to the architect Arsakidze. He increased the length of the basilica and added the remaining walls to it, creating a poem in stone called Svetitskhoveli. The temple has an imprint of the hand of the master, and an inscription, thanks to which the name of the architect is known. The next legend, or rather, two versions are told about the hand.
According to one of them, the master had his hand cut off so he would never build anything like that again. The other version says the young master’s hand was cut off by order of the tsar because the young man fell in love with a girl the tsar had his eye on.
About the construction of Svetitskhoveli temple there is a magnificent historical novel by Konstantin Gamsakhurdia “The Great Master’s Hand”.
Description of the temple
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta is a unique temple. It is impossible to define symmetry in it. It was built on the site of previous churches, the walls of which were not completely destroyed and are preserved as elements of architecture. What is also surprising is the lack of symmetry and order within the temple: the supporting columns are not only of different shapes, but also are not set in a line.
The doors of the central entrance to the temple are noteworthy. The scene of angels installing the life-giving pillar is engraved on them.
There are religious and historical artifacts in the temple. Among them:
- a baptismal font, there is speculation that King Mirian, the first Christian king of Georgia, was baptized in it;
- supporting pillars of the temple, there are 8 of them now, one of the pillars (Life-giving) is surrounded by a stone tent, it stopped myotonia after the invasion of Shah Abbas I;
- Frescoes of Svetitskhoveli – there are a huge number of them in the temple, the subjects of many tell the story of the column, there are also mysterious frescoes, which are a strange visualization of some biblical phrases;
- burials – the Svetitskhoveli Temple in Mtskheta was a necropolis where Georgian kings were buried, some of which have not survived;
- the cloak of the prophet Elijah – it is believed to be kept behind the altar;
- A piece of the “True Cross,” the one on which Christ was crucified.
Some historians and theologians believe that the location of the Svetitskhoveli monastic complex conceals a coded message from the ancestors.
To Svetitskhoveli with Viva-Georgia
Viva-Georgia organizes excursions to Mtskheta and Svetitskhoveli. During the trip you must visit the Jvari Temple, built on the site of a bowed cross, once erected by Nina the Illuminator, and the Shiomghvime Mountain Monastery, which is one of the oldest functioning monasteries for men in Georgia.
How to get there?
Svetitskhoveli is located in Mtskheta, it’s not hard to find – it’s visible from anywhere in the town.
If you get from Tbilisi, take a bus at Didube metro station, after buying a ticket at the ticket office. The buses run from 7:30 to 20:30 every 15 to 25 minutes (the last bus from Mtskheta is at 20:00).
You can also get to Mtskheta by train, which leaves from Tbilisi station and costs 1 lari. Ride to Mtskheta station. In this case, prepare for a one and a half kilometer walk along the shore towards the center of Mtskheta.
Peculiarities of the visit
You can visit Svetitskhoveli on your own, but it is better, of course, to do it as part of a tour group – the guide will tell you a lot of details, secrets and legends of the temple, from which the visit will be remembered more brightly.
Temple opening time: from 08:00 to 19:00 without days off. Entrance is free. Requirements for appearance here are very strict. For men shorts are not allowed, for women – pants and open shoulders.
Svetitskhoveli is a Georgian shrine, just a must visit if you want to know at least a little bit about Georgia. Here is its ancient history, high spirituality and centuries-old traditions.
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