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.

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Details

Founded: 1010-1029
Category: Religious sites in Georgia

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4.8/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Alexander Lortkipanidze (2 years ago)
Situated in Mtskheta (city of the Kings) this historic monument counts more than 15 centuries. It is one of the main orthodox cathedrals of Georgia. The history beyond this pearl is unique, so it's highly recommended to hire a guide to dig deep into the details. Get ready for the crazy adventure while listening to the story of the cathedral. The must visit place for Pilgrims and tourists. On religious holidays, it is full of locals.
Joseph Jorjoliani (2 years ago)
This historic church is one of the best sites in Georgia. Must see if you are on a short term visit to Georgia. It is only 30 mins away from the capital city Tbilisi. Easily accessible by car and rideshare Bolt. Also a great place to purchase souvenirs.
bassem jaber (2 years ago)
An Eastern Orthodox cathedral located in the historic town of Mtskheta, Georgia. It's also recognized by Unesco as a world heritage site. On the external northern wall shows a right arm and hand holding a chisel .According to some legends, the priest cut off the architect's right hand as type if jealousy and to avoid build such similar unique design.
Anna Linskaja (2 years ago)
One of the biggest cathedrals in Tbilisi in previous capital of Georgia - Mtsheta. Very old. Inside are 4 different churches, what is quite interesting. Inside the Cathedral are very strict rules - if You will be with a baby, then You should be prepared that stroller should be left outside. One of the places, what should be visited 100%.
Donara Demurishvili (2 years ago)
The biggest old church located in first capital of Georgia - Mtskheta. An amazing place with an ancient murals and great history. Must see to feel all it!
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