The Betania Monastery of the Nativity of the Mother of God is a remarkable piece of architecture of the 'Golden Age' of the Kingdom of Georgia, at the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries, and is notable for its wall paintings which include a group portrait of the contemporary Georgian monarchs.
The history of the monastery is poorly recorded in Georgian historical tradition. It was a familial abbey of the House of Orbeli. A series of conflicts and foreign invasions that fill the history of Georgia left the monastery depopulated and half-ruined. It was restored, in the latter half of the 19th century. Betania remained the only operating Georgian monastery, though unofficially, until 1963 when it also became defunct for the next 15 years. In 1978, the energetic Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II succeeded in obtaining permission from the Soviet authorities to reopen a monastery at Betania. In the 1990s, the cloister was refurnished and the local monastic community grew in size and influence.
The monastery’s territory seems to have been surrounded by a massive wall, but only dismembered stones scattered in the adjacent forest have survived of it. The extant edifices are a principal domed church of the Nativity of the Mother of God (constructed at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries), a smaller hall church of St. George (1196), and a ruined tower.
The church of the Nativity of the Mother of God is a cross-in-square design with a dome and built of stone, with some external carved decoration in the eastern façade where traditional niches have multifoil or scalloped tops connected to the frame of the middle window. Its high dome, slightly shifted to the east, rests upon the two westerly located freely standing pillars and ledges of the altar. The southern entrance portal is fronted by the gate roofed with a star-shaped vault. Modern scholars have surmised that the church is actually an expanded, domed and decorated version of an earlier basilica probably dating from the 10th century.
The interior is adorned with significantly damaged murals which mark one of the high points of medieval Georgian wall painting. The conch of the altar contains a scene of Supplication of which only the fragments of the figure of an enthroned Christ have survived. The walls of the apses behind the altar are decorated with the frescos of Prophets holding scrolls with Georgian inscriptions. The northern wall is occupied by a cycle of the Passion of the Christ while the southern wall contains the scenes from the Old Testament and the western – those of the Last Judgment.
The north transept of the monastery is notable for the depiction of the Georgian monarchs dating from c. 1207. These are the portraits of George III (r. 1156–1184), his daughter Queen Tamar (r. 1184–1213), and the son of the latter George IV (r. 1213–1223). The Russian prince Grigory Gagarin discovered and cleaned the image of Tamar in 1851, and published his drawings and reports the same year. George IV is shown as a beardless young man in Georgian court robes, but he wears a crown and sword. These attributes suggest that George is depicted as a young king after his co-coronation with his mother, which took place after the death of his father, David Soslan, in 1207. The painting, therefore, helps to determine the approximate date of the Betania church. An important irregularity observed by modern scholars is that none of the secular figures at Betania has a halo, an attribute that was normally used in Georgian imagery to distinguish a royal person from the rest of society.References:
The original Cochem Castle, perched prominently on a hill above the Moselle River, served to collect tolls from passing ships. Modern research dates its origins to around 1100. Before its destruction by the French in 1689, the castle had a long and fascinating history. It changed hands numerous times and, like most castles, also changed its form over the centuries.
In 1151 King Konrad III ended a dispute over who should inherit Cochem Castle by laying siege to it and taking possession of it himself. That same year it became an official Imperial Castle (Reichsburg) subject to imperial authority. In 1282 it was Habsburg King Rudolf’s turn, when he conquered the Reichsburg Cochem and took it over. But just 12 years later, in 1294, the newest owner, King Adolf of Nassau pawned the castle, the town of Cochem and the surrounding region in order to finance his coronation. Adolf’s successor, Albrecht I, was unable to redeem the pledge and was forced to grant the castle to the archbishop in nearby Trier and the Electorate of Trier, which then administered the Reichsburg continuously, except for a brief interruption when Trier’s Archbishop Balduin of Luxembourg had to pawn the castle to a countess. But he got it back a year later.
The Electorate of Trier and its nobility became wealthy and powerful in large part due to the income from Cochem Castle and the rights to shipping tolls on the Moselle. Not until 1419 did the castle and its tolls come under the administration of civil bailiffs (Amtsmänner). While under the control of the bishops and electors in Trier from the 14th to the 16th century, the castle was expanded several times.
In 1688 the French invaded the Rhine and Moselle regions of the Palatinate, which included Cochem and its castle. French troops conquered the Reichsburg and then laid waste not only to the castle but also to Cochem and most of the other surrounding towns in a scorched-earth campaign. Between that time and the Congress of Vienna, the Palatinate and Cochem went back and forth between France and Prussia. In 1815 the western Palatinate and Cochem finally became part of Prussia once and for all.
Louis Jacques Ravené (1823-1879) did not live to see the completion of his renovated castle, but it was completed by his son Louis Auguste Ravené (1866-1944). Louis Auguste was only two years old when construction work at the old ruins above Cochem began in 1868, but most of the new castle took shape from 1874 to 1877, based on designs by Berlin architects. After the death of his father in 1879, Louis Auguste supervised the final stages of construction, mostly involving work on the castle’s interior. The castle was finally completed in 1890. Louis Auguste, like his father, a lover of art, filled the castle with an extensive art collection, most of which was lost during the Second World War.
In 1942, during the Nazi years, Ravené was forced to sell the family castle to the Prussian Ministry of Justice, which turned it into a law school run by the Nazi government. Following the end of the war, the castle became the property of the new state of Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate). In 1978 the city of Cochem bought the castle for 664,000 marks.