My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Friday, 27 June 2014

Holy Georgia: in the Steps of St Nino and the Syrian Fathers - Pilgrimage Day 1

We are a party of 36 pilgrims from the Anglican Diocese of Southwark in the city of London, visiting many of the ancient churches and monasteries of Caucasian Georgia, following in the steps of St Nino and the Syrian Fathers.

View of Tbilisi
We arrive weary at our first hotel, in Tbilisi, on the Friday night, after two long flights with a transfer in Kiev in the Ukraine. Descending into Kiev airport at the end of the first leg of the journey we see the Dnieper River spread out below us. This is one of the major rivers of Europe, rising near Smolensk and flowing through Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to the Black Sea. It is Ukraine's longest river. As we take off again for Tbilisi in Georgia there is the most wonderful red sunset.

covering trousers with skirts 
Our Georgian guide Maka meets us at the airport on arrival and we are introduced also to our driver who will safely look after us on all our journeys over the next nine days. It will be hot tomorrow we are told, with the slight possibility of a little rain, so we should dress accordingly, and bring comfortable shoes and water, for a walking tour of the Old Town of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and dating back 1500 years in parts.

headscarves for the ladies before entering churches
Also essential for the ladies throughout the trip are headscarves, as we must always show respect by covering our heads when entering the churches and monasteries on our itinerary. Some places will even require skirts to be worn rather than trousers for the ladies, and the men are advised not to wear shorts. Fortunately the strictest churches and monasteries on the route invariably have a supply of wrap-around skirts and head scarves at the entrances for us to use as necessary.

As we speed along from the airport to our hotel I notice that the lower trunks of the many trees lining the roads seem to be covered with white paint. An initial thought is that the paint renders the trees more visible to motorists at night but I don't think so, as the pattern is repeated across the country. Someone says this may be to protect from animal damage. Perhaps, but a brief scan of the internet tells me that this is more likely to be to avoid scorching damage and the harmful effect of extreme changes in temperature between night and day from the force of the sun's rays, exaggerated in snow, particularly as the sun is at a much lower angle in the winter. Otherwise the trunks are prone to cracking and disease. It's apparently a latex paint, not oil based. (If any one has any more information on this, the botanist in me would love to hear!)

We also see many of the grim blocks of flats from the country's communist days. These are in stark contrast to the fantastic looking all glass modern building for the Ministry of Internal Affairs. We are told it has been a new policy since 2003 that all government buildings are thus designed, as a symbol of total transparency with regard to all government affairs.

George slaying the Dragon, Tbilisi
There seems to be plenty of life around at 1.30am - there are even cars being washed at car wash centres! The Old Town is beautifully illuminated, as we drive past the old city wall and Freedom Square or Liberty Square with the Liberty Monument depicting St George slaying the Dragon high up on a column. During the Soviet period, this square had a large statue to Lenin but this was symbolically torn down in August 1991. On November 23, 2006, the current monument, created by Zurab Tsereteli, was unveiled in the same place. Very striking at night is the floodlit TV broadcasting tower on the top of the hill above the town, and at nearly 275 meters clearly visible from all around. The Georgians seem to have some affection for this tower. 1.4 million of the 4.5 million population live in Tbilisi, and Maka tells us that like every lady, the town is striving to appear ever younger and more beautiful!

There is much scholarly debate as to the origins of the name Georgia, which contrary to popular assumptions may not be derived from St George, its patron saint.

Metekhi Church
We have barely five hours of sleep before we have to be up and breakfasted to commence our first day walking tour of the Old Town of Tbilisi.

We are reminded by our Dean who is leading our group that we are on a pilgrimage not a holiday! 

This is something we have to remind ourselves about quite often during the coming days; there is so much to see and experience in addition to the churches and monasteries which are to be our main focus.

Vakhtang Gorgasali
one of Georgia's most popular historic figures 

We start at Metekhi Church, perched high above the town on its crag looking down on the Mtkvari river below…


  1. I look forward to reading more of your trip.
    BTW, I just read a blog post on ecology and religion that has a message very similar to that of your book, "Why Religions Work." He claims that environmentalists have to bring religious organizations to the table if there is to be the leverage and consistency to actually accomplish something. The link is:

    1. Very many thanks for that link Jo Anne and for your other comments. This is proving to be a very popular blog all round. I have been off line for 8 frustrating days and now catching up!