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

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Holy Georgia - Bagrat Cathedral of the Assumption, Kutaisi

As usual McCabe have found us an excellent local venue for lunch, the Old Imereti, in Kutaisi. It seems as if we have arrived for a wedding feast, the tables already laid out for us with a plentiful variety of vegetarian dishes to start with, meat dishes to follow. Some have Turkish coffee here, Georgian style, but it seems it is very much an acquired taste, appearing to be something like black sludge to the uninitiated. I play safe and stick to my tea, served without milk and quite refreshing, not unlike the Turkish Cay I enjoyed so much in the monasteries of South East Turkey last October.
Because of the Independence Day celebrations, our coach cannot drive straight through the center of town to our next destination, the Cathedral of King Bagrat. There seems to be quite an argument between our guide, the driver and the local police controlling the traffic. After much gesticulating and angry exchanges, we lose, and have to drive a very long way round! Our driver is amazing, negotiating the narrowest of streets, seemingly passing perilously close to overhead power lines and managing to get us safely to the Cathedral.

inside the cathedral
This indeed was the building we saw so clearly this morning from the hills on the other side of the valley. Set high on the Ukimerioni Hill across the river from the city center, it is an incredibly prominent landmark with its emerald and azure roof.  A notice board tells us that "The cathedral was roofed with copper and covered with a special patina finish. The color of the patina is the same azure and emerald as the fragment of the roofing discovered during the excavations. According to Christian tradition, azure symbolizes Heaven and the Kingdom of God, while emerald embodies and glorifies the splendor of Creation. Emerald green symbolizes Resurrection, Paradise, the Holy Spirit and Spring."   Following its recent restoration, it is stunning.

There was a fortress here from at least the 1st century AD, and we can see remains from the 5th and 6th centuries and some medieval fortifications as well as the prominent bell tower, as usual separate from the church itself.

This Cathedral of the Assumption, commissioned in 1003 by King Bagrat III, is a huge triconch (with three apses or semi circular recesses) and cruciform church with a massive central dome, symbolizing the heavenly sphere.

The Turks destroyed this wonderful building in the late 17th century and it remained roofless and in a sorry state until UNESCO put it on the World Heritage list and it has been restored. Fortunately the unsightly scaffolding mentioned in the guide books has now been taken down so we can enjoy the building in all its glory. Unfortunately the nature of the restoration is controversial and has upset UNESCO. At their 37th conference session on World Heritage sites they reported (see item 32 - and incidentally item 33 re Mtskheta) regret that Bagrat had been altered to such an extent that its authenticity has been irreversibly compromised - but for the moment they recommended to retain it on the list subject to additional information requested to enable them to modify the boundary of the World Heritage site, seemingly to enable Gelati to be retained without the inclusion of Bagrat cathedral…at least that is my interpretation of the sometimes conflicting information on the internet.  

Our guide shows us an icon associated with a poem about the wine grape and the Virgin Mary - this was a 12th century hymn dedicated by King Demetrius I, (1093–1156 AD) son of David the builder, to his new kingdom.

She tells us that the hymn was forgotten in the Soviet period but at the time of Georgia's independence in 1991 it was resurrected… "you are a vineyard newly blossomed, young, beautiful, growing in Eden …" it begins...

See for example and  for more information on this and on Georgia's wine making tradition, which began around 6000 years ago.

from a notice board at Bagrat
After spending some time at the Bagrati Cathedral we walk back down into town through the street markets towards the enormous main square where we will meet the coach later, before going back to the hotel. This square is closed to traffic for the independence celebrations - hence our coach driver's earlier arguments with the police - and there is plenty of lively activity. The Georgian army are taking the opportunity to show off their tanks and guns much to the enjoyment of lots of little boys, and some not so little, who mill around with obvious enjoyment and interest. I shrink away from displays of military strength. The street markets are noisy and crowded and I don't enjoy them much more. I see two poor little rabbits squashed together into a small box, panting and in obvious distress, destined for tonight's supper I suspect.

wall mural in Kutaisi

the impressive fountain in central square, Kutaisi

Independence Day celebrations Kutaisi 2014
Some of us have little appetite for the recommended Farmers' Market and make our way straight to the central gardens near the meeting point, where we find a cafĂ© and some welcome tea, coffee and ice-cream to suit our various tastes! The service there is very friendly although little English is spoken. The day has been pleasantly warm, with none of the forecast rain. We have a welcome hour and a half back at the hotel before supper and the evening service of Compline, before most of us opt for an early night. We are off again in the morning with a long day ahead of us, and many interesting stops along the way. We will drive via Gori and Tbilisi up into the Caucasus Mountains in the North of the country, up to Gudairi, the highest village on the Georgian Military Highway, where we will stay for two nights…there is still so much to see and enjoy on this wonderful pilgrimage trip.


  1. I'm enjoying your journey, again. I've been out of the blogosphere for a while, but hope to get back into things. Did I ever give you the link to my travel blog?

    1. Thank you yes - I have tried to subscribe to it but for some reason cannot seem to do this at present - just comes up with gobbledygook - frustrating! Will keep track of it some other way!
      In some ways Georgia reminds me of Korea - as portrayed in your excellent book Korea Are You at Peace - not in religion of course but in scenery and people. I have just finished for second time and made notes to write review very soon. Sorry for delay.