Georgia, the most popular country among the Caucasian lines, enchants the visitors from the Middle East for almost a decade.
Our travel to Georgia was in June 2018, during the Eid vacation in Bahrain, and I heard the term ‘tetra conch’ for the first time during the travel. The Greek word implying “four shells” is a building with four equal apses in four sides and this is how I would describe my travel at Georgia too. The country presented the travelers with diverse experiences as Cathedrals and monasteries that dated back to 4th century and before, scenaries that varied from green valleys to snowcapped mountains, historical locations and the city bustling with metro life.
Georgian Cathedrals and Monasteries
Georgia was under the influence of many cultures and religions. Currently, it is under the religious influence of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, where Eastern and Western cultures meet alike. Cathedrals and monasteries in Georgia attract tourists from diverse countries with religious, archeological, and historical significances.
The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral at Tbilsi, was the first cathedral that we had visited. A world heritage site, it is believed to house the mantle of Jesus Christ under a 17th century ciborium. We arrived at the Cathedral on a hot afternoon, and the first thing that captured my attention was the graves at the church floor. The engraved graves are part of the culture as the cathedral is famous for the grave of Sidonia, who had died with the Christ’s mantle in her hand. I struggled to move forward without stepping on them in the crowd. Candles were available for the worshippers at the rate of 5 Lari (700 Fills) to lit across the altar. The heat emanated from the crowd and the candles soon forced us out of the cathedral.
Bodbe monastery at the Sighnaghi, was recovering after the monsoon showers as we reached. I quickly passed the crowd at the grave of St. Nino, one of the 4th century female evangelist of Georgians, around whom the monastery came into structure. I was more pacified by the tall Cypress trees surrounding the monastery, and the enchanting view of Al Zani Valley. The rain soaked flowers and the distant view of Caucasus Mountains set perfect aura for a meditation.
The Jvari Monastery, also associated with St. Nino and was built in the 6th century. Located at the rocky mountaintop, the Monastery offers the panoramic view of Mtshketa, and the union of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. Jvari means ‘Monastery of Cross’ and it is believed that the large wooden cross at the monastery is able to work miracles. The monastery is surrounded with wild flowers and butterflies in all hues, adding charm to minds of visitors.
We tasted ‘Churchkhela’, the Georgian candle shaped candy for the first time in one of the shops near Jvari monastery. This popular candy is made with the almonds, walnuts, hazelnut, raisins and chocolate stringed and dipped into a mixture of grape juice or fruit juices and flour.
Gregeti Trinity Church was the last cathedral that we had visited and for me it was just a scene out of Le Miserables. The wind howled and the winter chill seeped into the spine as we climbed the steep path to the church. Located on top of a mountain and surrounded by the vastness of nature, the 14th century church is trekkers’ paradise.
Gregeti Trinity Church was the only place where we were instructed to abide to the religious rules. There weren’t many worshippers and the silence intensified the heavenly spirit of the sanctum. The only light inside the church was from the glowing candles and a priest stood at the entrance with his pensive glance to the horizon.
“He pondered on the greatness and the living presence of God, on the mystery of eternity in the future and, even stranger, eternity in the past, on all the infinity manifest to his eyes and to his senses; and without seeking to comprehend the incomprehensible he contemplated these things.” (Victor Hugo, Les Misérables)
Prayers uttered, visions received, and knowledge perceived at these places for many centuries. Those were our destined moments in that expanse.