Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

sights / Religious

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral information

Location
Mtskheta , Georgia
Address
Arsukidze
Opening hours
8am-8pm
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This grand (and for its time, enormous) building dates from the 11th century, early in the golden age of Georgian church architecture. It has an elongated cross plan and is adorned with beautiful stone carving outside and in.

According to tradition, Christ’s robe lies buried beneath the cathedral. Apparently a Mtskheta Jew, Elioz, was in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion and returned with the robe to Mtskheta. His sister Sidonia took it from him and immediately died in a passion of faith. The robe was buried with her and as years passed, people forgot the exact site. When King Mirian decided to build the first church at Mtskheta in the 4th century, the wooden column designed to stand in its centre could not be raised from the ground. But after an all-night prayer vigil by St Nino, the column miraculously moved of its own accord to the burial site of Sidonia and the robe. The column subsequently worked many miracles and Svetitskhoveli means ‘Life-Giving Column’.

In the 5th century Vakhtang Gorgasali replaced Mirian’s original church with a stone one, whose modest remains are visible to the left of the cathedral today. The present building was constructed between 1010 and 1029 under Patriarch Melqisedek, and is still one of the most beautiful churches in the country. The defensive wall around it was built in 1787.

Christ’s robe is believed to lie in the nave beneath a square, towerlike pillar that is decorated with colourful if faded frescoes of the conversion of Kartli. The tomb of Erekle II, king of Kartli and Kakheti from 1762 to 1798, lies before the icon screen (marked with his birth and death dates, 1720 and 1798). Vakhtang Gorgasali’s tomb is behind this, with a raised flagstone and carved stone sword.