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

Rating

4.8/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Alexander Lortkipanidze (29 days 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 (31 days 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 (35 days 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 months 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 (3 months 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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Notre-Dame de Reims (Our Lady of Reims) is the seat of the Archdiocese of Reims, where the kings of France were crowned. The cathedral replaced an older church, destroyed by fire in 1211, that was built on the site of the basilica where Clovis was baptized by Saint Remi, bishop of Reims, in AD 496. That original structure had itself been erected on the site of some Roman baths. A major tourism destination, the cathedral receives about one million visitors annually.

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Excavations have shown that the present building occupies roughly the same site as the original cathedral, founded c. 400 under the episcopacy of St Nicaise. That church was rebuilt during the Carolingian period and further extended in the 12th century. On 19 May 1051, King Henry I of France and Anne of Kiev were married in the cathedral.

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Exterior

The three portals are laden with statues and statuettes; among European cathedrals, only Chartres has more sculpted figures. The central portal, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is surmounted by a rose window framed in an arch itself decorated with statuary, in place of the usual sculptured tympanum. The 'gallery of the kings' above shows the baptism of Clovis in the centre flanked by statues of his successors.

The facades of the transepts are also decorated with sculptures. That on the North has statues of bishops of Reims, a representation of the Last Judgment and a figure of Jesus (le Beau Dieu), while that on the south side has a modern rose window with the prophets and apostles. Fire destroyed the roof and the spires in 1481: of the four towers that flanked the transepts, nothing remains above the height of the roof. Above the choir rises an elegant lead-covered timber bell tower that is 18 m tall, reconstructed in the 15th century and in the 1920s.

Interior

The interior comprises a nave with aisles, transepts with aisles, a choir with double aisles, and an apse with ambulatory and radiating chapels. It has interesting stained glass ranging from the 13th to the 20th century. The rose window over the main portal and the gallery beneath are of rare magnificence.

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The treasury, kept in the Palace of Tau, includes many precious objects, among which is the Sainte Ampoule, or holy flask, the successor of the ancient one that contained the oil with which French kings were anointed, which was broken during the French Revolution, a fragment of which the present Ampoule contains.

Notre-Dame de Reims cathedral, the former Abbey of Saint-Remi, and the Palace of Tau were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1991.