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, 22 August 2014

Ninotsminda Cathedral, Sagarejo - as our pilgrimage draws to an end

Someone sitting behind me on the coach groans - oh no not another church today! We are on the last full day of our pilgrimage to Holy Caucasian Georgia and we have just had a fantastic trip to the David Garedzha monastery complex in the desert close to the Azerbaijan border. It's fair to say we are all exhausted. It has been very hot and those of us who took the strenuous climb up to the higher Udabno (desert) monastery are truly whacked! We have seen amazing frescoes and a glimpse into the lives of the many monks who once lived and worshiped in this incredible setting. We have marveled at the dedication of the few monks who still occupy the Davitis Lavra monastery, founded by St David, one of the Holy Syrian Fathers, in the 6th century.
poppies in pretty gardens at Ninotsminda

We fondly believe that we are now heading back to Tbilisi and our final night before heading for home tomorrow. So imagine our dismay to be told that there is another sight on the itinerary for today before we can have that welcome shower and drink at the hotel!
I guess it is the relative familiarity of a return journey that always makes it feel shorter than the outward trip. It therefore seems but a short time before we arrive back in Sagarejo, and somewhat rested after the coach journey, we do somehow find the energy and enthusiasm to explore Ninotsminda Cathedral, (not to be confused with the Bodbe convent also sometimes known as Ninotsminda near Signaghi).
within the chapel at Ninotsminda

This is now ruined as a result of earthquakes in 1824 and 1848, but it is very impressive for all that. It was built in AD 575 but there was a church used here for Christian worship from the 5th century. It is an interesting building because it is built in the cruciform style, predating the Jvari Church in Mtskheta which we visited earlier in our week.

There are the remains in the eastern apse of a fresco of the Virgin and Child, vandalized with bullet holes by bandits in the 18th and 19th century. The defensive walls were built around the cathedral in the 16th and 17th centuries and are well preserved.
There is further detailed information online at eurasia travel for example.
Mid 16th century Bell Tower Ninotsminda
Just 3 or 4 nuns now live here, and they are the friendliest nuns we have met on the whole pilgrimage! They maintain beautiful gardens which enhance the ruin, and we are told that it is possible to take a retreat here, at the nuns' discretion. A small chapel is built into the walls and there is a service in progress as we arrive. The chapel is quite busy, and even very young children stand quietly with their parents, aunts, friends; the girls wearing neat little headscarves like the adult women. There is an equally friendly monk welcoming everyone who enters, and the whole atmosphere is relaxed and peaceful (As I stand their alongside these families I wonder to myself why in the UK do we think we need special "all-age" services which often fail to please either the young or the old?)
Many of us take advantage of this opportunity for some Orthodox liturgy and spirituality, standing quietly and discretely at the back, and we soon find we have been given far too little time there before we have to hurry back to the coach for the final stretch of the journey back to Tbilisi. We agree that we are so glad with hindsight that we paused for a while here.

the Ministry of Internal Affairs building
posters in Tbilisi for 15 June local elections
It is now clouded over and considerably cooler - and as we journey on towards Tbilisi the sun becomes murky in the sky and the atmosphere becomes sultry and humid. It feels like a storm may be brewing. The main road here is attractively undulating and scenic, with smallholdings dotted along the route. We cross the river Iori again (further back we saw people paddling in this same river). There are small calves tethered in the fields - presumably destined for the veal market. At least their short life is a happy one, grazing the lush pastures. Further over in the middle distance I had already spied long low sheds and feared that these may be for intensive pig farming, as pork is very much on the Georgian menu and I had seen no pigs at all outside in the fields during the whole week. Several little streams flow down through these meadows from the mountain range to our north, and beautiful yellow broom once more covers the roadside slope. But still, sadly, there is always that unsightly litter. Soon we enter Tbilisi, past the all-glass building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. We are told that normally at this time of day, between 6 and 7pm, there would be bad traffic jams, but today, Saturday, many families go out of town or stay at home for rest and relaxation. It is election day tomorrow, June 15th, in Tbilisi, and there are posters everywhere!
the Virgin and Child Fresco in the apse
We all enjoy a group supper at a local restaurant before returning to the hotel and our final packing! This for many of us has been the highlight day of the pilgrimage, but our tour is not quite at an end. Tomorrow we will celebrate a final Eucharist all together in the hotel…

1 comment:

  1. The photo at the top looks more like a farm house complex with silos than a cathedral! Amazing stonework.