On the fourteenth day of the month of October, when autumn is already the colour of gold, and summer and winter are still in combat with each other, Mtskheta - the ancient capital of Georgia is crowded with the people of Millet. Mtskhetoba (Mtskheta day) and Svetitskhovloba (Svetitskhoveli day) is a festivity that brings together believers and non-believers alike. Once a year the town hosts more guests than on any other day of the year and everything looks like it used to in the early ages. The Mtkvari and the Aragvi rivers still flow into one another, the Sarkineti mountains and the Jvari monastery still overlook Mtskheta and the Svetitskhoveli cathedral still stands calmly. The believers who come for this day are plentiful as are the candles that they light in celebration of this day. Thousands of entreaties reach the Lord just as they used to right in the very beginning when the foundation of the first Christian wooden church was laid at this very spot and for the first time the words “The holy temple, the life-giving pillar, the tunic of the Lord” were heard as a prayer.
Svetitskhoveli - a separate world with thousands of marvels, mysteries, noblemen, and a unique play of colours; an illustration of the pureness and the history of Georgia’s Christianity and a reminder of the place of Christianity in our nation. And who knows, perhaps it is true that the “radiance and light” of our epoch end at the wall surrounding the cathedral? Maybe it really is true that it changes at dawn and at sunset and in Konstantine Gamsakhurdia’s words: “In the morning it is of a lizard-like colour, lit up by the untiring sun. By dawn it is gold-embroidered and by the mournful fall of night when the star-lit sky sets eyes upon it, you will see the sky become coloured by the richness of its harmonious lines”... It seems that it is possible to imbue stone with soul - it is true that the Svetitskhoveli has proved to be even more immortal than “the souls of the hundreds of thousands of mortals”.
Perhaps it is true that the miraculous good must protect you and help you to overcome time, withstand earthquakes, combat your enemies again and again and stand proudly in silence, having so much to say and having such a great past... The people will never be short of parish and you will always let the needy find comfort within your walls, ordinary people dedicating their verses to you. How many of such poems, legends, unbelievable stories has the time preserved for the Svetitskhoveli temple erected in the name of the twelve apostles, the temple that has retained the name of the miraculous from the very first day of its construction. “The diseased would come and get healed in it until the king made a wall around the live column and separated it from sorrow”, so said “Moktsevai Kartlisai” (Conversion of Kartli).
Legends are always created about something extraordinary, something
mysterious. Usually, these are unbelievable beautiful stories that appeal
to you so much that you want to believe in them. You memorise them as such
and pass them on to next generations... This is how the legend about Svetitskhoveli
has reached us today.
It happened that part of the Lord’s tunic fell into the hands of a Mtskheta dweller, Eliazar, who had witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Eliazar brought the tunic to Georgia. In Mtskheta he was met by his sister, Sidonia, an ardent martyr and believer in Jesus. Crying she strained the tunic to her breast and gave her soul to God. No one could take the precious thing from Sidonia’s hands and therefore she was buried holding the tunic close to her breast. On her grave a miraculous tree grew under which “colourful, sweet-smelling flowers bloomed throughout summer and winter” (“Moktsevai Kartlisai”). This is not the end of the story. Miracles happened not only in Christ’s time but also after his crucifixion: then they were more numerous and occurred in more places and led to the number of Jesus’ followers increasing day by day.
Time elapsed and in 337 Christianity was declared the state religion of Georgia. The first Christian king Mirian asked St. Nino: “Where shall I build the house of God?”
And Nino replied: “There, where the mind of the king is firm”.
And, thus, the construction of the cathedral commenced on the very spot
where the Lord’s tunic had been buried. Seven columns were made from a
that grew on the grave. Six of them were planted in the ground but the seventh did not touch the ground but hung shining in the air emitting a wonderful smell. This is what was known as the life-giving pillar which was the name given to the cathedral which began its life as a wooden church. Scholars of the subject suggest that King Mirian later brought in masons from Greece to build the stone church the construction of which lasted 20 years. The second Svetitskhoveli building collapsed in the first half of the 5th century during the reign of King Archil and it was King Vakhtang Gorgasali who built the first actual cathedral. During the reign of King Giorgi I, Svetitskhoveli was fundamentally renovated under the auspices of Kathalikos Melkisedet.
Traditionally however scholars claim that the first construction on the site of Svetitskhoveli began only in the 9th century.
Time passed and in the 15th century an almost completely demolished cathedral was renovated by Alexander the First. Svetitskhoveli reached our time bearing the ornamentation and paintings of those days. The fresco of Eustate of the Antioch is still preserved on Svetitskhoveli’s walls. The fresco shows the High Priest handing over the Bible to King Mirian and blessing the temple of Svetitskhoveli. There is also a well-known zodiac circle: this fresco is the only one of its kind in the whole of Georgia. However, experts believe that the paintings on the walls belong to the 16th and 17th centuries. The faces and the clothing of the saints are Georgian and the inscriptions are Georgian and Greek. They used to tell the time here as well using the sun clock depicted on the wall of the cathedral.
With time even more new legends were born... It seems that the Georgians were not satisfied with the ancient tales and by the 11th century Arsakidze, the architect of Svetitskhoveli, was made to fall in love with the woman chosen by the King. The young master had surpassed his teacher and his hand was cut off for his impudence. “They seized me and cut my hand off because I have built such a temple”, Arsakidze later uttered in the verses that were created in memory of this legend. The right hand portrayed on the northern fa?ade of the Svetitskhoveli really does bear the following inscription: “The hand of thy slave Arsakidze, God forgive him.” Ordinary visitors believed in this beautiful legend for centuries, contemporary scientists, however, have a different theory.
The right hand portrayed on the wall of Svetitskhoveli is holding a small axe - a construction tool. Scientists assume that the hand which was cut off would not have been made to hold a tool. The right hand holding an axe is more likely to be a token of the builder’s input, his workmanship.
Today the parish of Svetitskhoveli exists. King Vakhtang Gorgasali, Erekle II, Giorgi XII are among the Kings that found peace and rest within the sacred walls of the temple. In 1787 King Erekle ordered a wall to be built around the cathedral.
Those who enter the cathedral believe in all the legends that exist
today. When you are in Svetitskhoveli, many poems come to your mind, here
nobody will dispute the firmness of your belief because this belief is
truth and since you have decided to get married here, in the cathedral,
in this world among these icons...
Like your most ancient roots, your most ancient language, the power that will protect you.