Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

Mtskheta, Georgia

The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is an Eastern Orthodox cathedral located in the historic town of Mtskheta, A masterpiece of the Early Middle Ages, Svetitskhoveli is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is currently the second largest church building in Georgia.

History

The original church was built in 4th century A.D. during the reign of Mirian III of Kartli. According to Georgian hagiography, in the 1st century AD a Georgian Jew from Mtskheta named Elias was in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified. Elias bought Jesus’ robe from a Roman soldier at Golgotha and brought it back to Georgia. Returning to his native city, he was met by his sister Sidonia who upon touching the robe immediately died from the emotions engendered by the sacred object. The robe could not be removed from her grasp, so she was buried with it. The place where Sidonia is buried with Christ's robe is preserved in the Cathedral. Georgia officially adopted Christianity as its state religion in 337.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral has been damaged several times during history, notably by the invasions of Arabs, Persians and Timur, and latterly during Russiansubjugation and the Soviet period. The building has also been damaged by earthquakes.

During the restoration of 1970-71 which was presided over by V. Tsintsadze, the base of the basilica built in the late 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali after St. Nino’s original church was found. During the early years of Georgian church building, the basilica was the dominant type of the Georgian church architecture before the cross-dome style emerged.

The present Svetitskhoveli Cathedral was built between 1010 and 1029 by the architect Arsakidze, at the invitation of the Catholicos Melkisedek of Georgia. The king of Georgia for that time was Giorgi I.

The cathedral is surrounded by a defensive wall, built of stone and brick during the reign of King Erekle II (Heraclius) in 1787. The top storey was designed for military purposes and has gun emplacements. The entrance to the Cathedral from the wall is located to the west. The wall has eight towers: six of them are cylindrical and two of them are square. Archaeological expeditions in 1963 found the house of Patriarch of the 11th century at the southern part of the wall. Inside the church yard, the remains of the two-story castle of Patriarch Anton II were found.

Architecture

The architecture of the present cathedral is based on the cross-dome style of church architecture, which emerged in Georgia in the early Middle Ages and became the principle style after the political unification of Georgia by Bagrat III (978-1014). The characteristic of this style is that the dome is placed across all four sides of church. The structure of the church is intended to ensure good acoustics. The dome of Svetitskhoveli was reconstructed several times over the centuries to keep the church in good condition.

The basic stone used for the Cathedral is a sandy yellow with trimmings, while around the apse window a red stone is used. The green stone used in the drum of the cupola is from the 17th century. The curved blind arcading throughout is unaltered from the 11th century.

A large window occupies most of the western top side of the church. The decoration shows the Christ sitting and two angels at the both sides. The original sculpture on the wall has not survived, but was restored several times, most recently in the 19th century.

Interior

The cathedral interior walls were once fully adorned with medieval frescoes, but many of them did not survive. Today, after much careful restoration, some frescoes survive, including a 13th-century depiction of the 'Beast of the Apocalypse' and figures of the Zodiac.

Two bulls' heads on the east façade, remnants of the 5th-century church, attest to the folk influence on Christian iconography in that early period.

On the right side from the entrance of the Cathedral is a stone baptismal font dating from the 4th century. It is thought to have been used for the baptism of King Mirian and Queen Nana. Immediately behind the font is a reproduction of the relief of Arsukidze’s right hand and bevel found on the north facade.

On the south side there is a small stone church built into the Cathedral. This is a symbolic copy of the Chapel of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Built between the end of the 13th and the beginning the 14th centuries, it was erected here to mark Svetitskhoveli as the second most sacred place in the world (after the church of Jerusalem), thanks to Christ’s robe.

References:

Comments

Your name

Website (optional)



Details

Founded: 1010-1029
Category: Religious sites in Georgia

User Reviews

Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Beersel Castle

The moated castle at Beersel is one of the few exceptionally well-preserved examples of medieval fortifications in Belgium. It remains pretty much as it must have appeared in the 15th century. Remarkably, it was never converted into a fortified mansion. A visitor is able to experience at first-hand how it must have felt to live in a heavily fortified castle in the Middle Ages.

The castle was built in around 1420 as a means of defence on the outer reaches of Brussels. The tall, dense walls and towers were intended to hold any besiegers at bay. The moat and the marshy ground along its eastern, southern and western edges made any attack a formidable proposition. For that reason, any attackers would have chosen its weaker northern defences where the castle adjoins higher lying ground. But the castle was only taken and destroyed on one occasion in 1489, by the inhabitants of Brussels who were in rebellion against Maximilian of Austria.

After being stormed and plundered by the rebels it was partially rebuilt. The pointed roofs and stepped gables are features which have survived this period. The reconstruction explains why two periods can be identified in the fabric of the edifice, particularly on the outside.

The red Brabant sandstone surrounds of the embrasures, now more or less all bricked up, are characteristic of the 15th century. The other embrasures, edged with white sandstone, date from the end of the 15th century. They were intended for setting up the artillery fire. The merlons too are in white sandstone. The year 1617 can be clearly seen in the foundation support on the first tower. This refers to restorations carried out at the time by the Arenberg family.

Nowadays, the castle is dominated by three massive towers. The means of defence follow the classic pattern: a wide, deep moat surrounding the castle, a drawbridge, merlons on the towers, embrasures in the walls and in the towers, at more or less regular intervals, and machiolations. Circular, projecting towers ensured that attacks from the side could be thwarted. If the enemy were to penetrate the outer wall, each tower could be defended from embrasures facing onto the inner courtyard.

The second and third towers are flanked by watchtowers from which shots could be fired directly below. Between the second and third tower are two openings in the walkway on the wall. It is not clear what these were used for. Were these holes used for the disposing of rubbish, or escape routes. The windows on the exterior are narrow and low. All light entering comes from the interior. The few larger windows on the exterior date from a later period. It is most probable that the third tower - the highest - was used as a watchtower.