The current Church of the Virgin dates back to 1278-89, built by King Demetre II the Self Sacrificer. He was so called because he gave himself up for execution, hoping by doing so that he would spare his nation the ruin which was the fate of others who resisted the Mongolian rule of that time. He is said to have participated in a plot to overthrow the Mongol regional ruler Arghun Khan and as a result was tortured and beheaded. He was canonized as a martyr and saint by the Georgian Orthodox church.
This church has had a varied and turbulent history, suffering damage and subsequent restoration several times, before finally becoming the venue for a youth theater until it was restored for worship again in the late 1980s.
This is our first taste of the many interesting religious sites we are to experience in the days ahead. The impression we gain right from the start is of living buildings used regularly by the Christian people of Georgia, devout and committed to their faith and ready to publicly demonstrate this within their daily lives.
|Inside Sioni Cathedral|
The white neoclassical bell tower across the street also catches my eye, and I learn later that this is indeed of architectural interest. It was built by the Russians in 1812 to commemorate their victory over the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish war. It is the oldest example of its kind in south Caucasus.
|Russian Neoclassical bell tower|
|Anchiskhati Church entrance|
We have luckily arrived in Tbilisi at the time of the annual Independence Day celebrations.
Given a short while to wander around the Old Town our limited sleep last night catches up with a few of us who cannot resist a tempting coffee house. We are soon joined by the rest of the group and soon swamp the cafe with our orders! This somewhat delays our progress and is something we have to avoid in the future if we are to keep to our packed pilgrimage schedule. This will not be the only occasion when our long suffering guide has to juggle the time table to accommodate our digressions.
After lunch we are meant to take the cable car up to the top of Sololaki hill, but it is not operating so our coach takes us part of the way and we walk the rest.
We have to hurry a little as at 4pm we are due at the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary for a group Eucharist, the first of three we will celebrate during our pilgrimage....
To be contd...