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

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Holy Georgia: towards St Nino's tomb via Ananuri

view from our hotel of the Caucasian mountain range
hats for sale at Ananuri!
fine exterior of the Assumption of the
Mother of God Church, Ananuri
This is the story of our pilgrimage to Holy Georgia back in May this year, with Southwark Diocese and McCabe Pilgrimages. It is Ascension Day, Thursday 29th May, and we have our usual morning prayer on the bus as we set off south from our hotel high in the Caucasus mountains and then eastwards towards Bodbe Monastery, one of the major pilgrimage spots for Christian Georgians, where St Nino is buried. St Nino was a slave from Cappadocia. She so impressed the Georgian Queen Nana and later her husband King Mirian with her miracles that they both converted from paganism to Christianity, and this became the official state religion in AD 337, making Georgia the world's second Christian nation. St Nino's tomb is a sacred place for many Georgians. But it wasn't until the arrival in the sixth century of the so-called Syrian Fathers, missionaries from Antioch, who worked to found several monasteries here, that the religion became firmly established in Georgia. We will visit a few of these monasteries in the next day or so.

Old Georgian script? What does it say?
Our first important stop today is at the 17th century Ananuri fortress, already closed for the day when we came by in the evening two days before, on the Georgian Military Highway. We saw its stunning setting then, but up close it really is very beautiful indeed. As we climb out of the coach the warmth of the sun is welcome after the bitter chill we experienced yesterday up in the mountains. Within the protection of the crenellated stone walls here are two churches, a 12th century watch tower, a 17th century bell turret looking out over the lake, and at the top of the slope a solid tower known as "The Intrepid".

Our guide Maka has the Dean's attention!

Bell tower overlooking the reservoir

The lower of the two churches is really the jewel. It was built in 1689 and is dedicated to the Assumption of the Mother of God. Our attention is immediately drawn to the fantastic external carved decorations, particularly those on the south wall. Inside, and also on the south wall are frescoes of the Last Judgment and of various saints, including thirteen Syrian Fathers, other fine frescoes having been destroyed by fire in the 18th century during the church's turbulent history. By the bell turret I see some steps going down to what I learn was a hiding place for soldiers to lurk and take intruders by surprise in the turbulent past.
the hiding place for soldiers
The smaller of the two churches, the Hvtaeba church, is early 17th century, with frescoes badly damaged, sadly, by graffiti, mainly Russian. It is dark in there but with someone's torch we are able to make out some of that dreadful graffiti on the underside of a frescoed arch.

sad graffiti over frescoes

The tranquil setting belies the history of this site, involved as it was in many past wars. It is hugely photogenic here and we become tourists as we are anxious to take the ultimate beautiful shot!
We meet an English couple in the car park here. They have a motor home and have spent a couple of months exploring Turkey before coming into Georgia and will eventually drive back to London to see their son. I mention the shame of the litter. He shrugs; it's a fact of life, he says. Why do we all have to be so defeatist? Let's stem the flow of litter and not accept the trashing of God's beautiful planet, in Georgia or anywhere else!
view over the reservoir
It is time to say goodbye to Ananuri and move on, towards the fortified town of Sighnaghi and the Church of St Nino at the Bodbe convent


  1. Shared one of your photos on Pinterest. Hope that's OK with you.

    1. I'm delighted for you to do that! Thanks so much for your interest and comments always appreciated. You will see on my post today that I am about to write up the results of my pilgrimage to the churches of Adelaide South Australia!