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

Monday, 4 August 2014

Sighnaghi, Bodbe convent and Kvelatsminda - our pilgrimage to Georgia continues...

Snickerse for sale in Sighnaghi
This is the sixth full day of our pilgrimage to the Holy Christian sites of Caucasian Georgia. We are now heading towards the fortified town of Sighnaghi, situated towards the south eastern end of the fertile 170km long valley of the River Alazani, a major wheat and grape growing part of the country. We have quite a journey ahead of us again, and I take up my usual position pressed to the window, camera at the ready, anxious to take in as much detail as possible from the passing scenery. I find it hard to understand those who have paid quite a bit of money to come all this way to see this lovely country, only to spend each leg of the coach journey buried in their kindles and watching films on their tablets. It takes all sorts, I guess.
St Nino church at Bodbe Convent

Again we see all the huge trucks lined up along the roadside with nowhere to go - the road north into Russia blocked by landslides. It reminds me of Operation Stack in Kent, when the ports at Dover or the Channel Tunnel are not functioning properly and our "truckies" have to moor up alongside the M20 motorway while they wait for the back log to clear.

There are skeins of sheep's wool hanging out, presumably to dry before being spun. I continue to be fascinated by the resourcefulness of the country people here who manage to make fencing out of pretty much anything they can lay their hands on: old bedspreads, bed heads, the railings out of old cemeteries, branches from bushes and trees, corrugated iron, what look alarmingly like corrugated asbestos sheets, and I even saw old concrete railway sleepers set on their ends and used as a wall around a garden in Gori the other day.
New church being built at Bodbe
Not far from Ananuri I see that a farmer has controlled the flow of the stream to create a small pond in his garden, presumably to breed trout for food. I would imagine that garden aesthetics must have a practical purpose in such a poor area of such a poor country. Gardens here have to be productive and not necessarily beautiful. Many people are growing their own potatoes, and there are plenty of free range chickens around, supplying eggs and meat.
A view of the Bodbe Convent grounds
As we arrive in Tblisi and take the road out and east towards Sighnaghi there is a road sign to Tehran - 1239 km! We have lunch in the center of Sighnaghi and afterwards have time to explore this delightful place. There is opportunity for a little souvenir shopping. There are plenty of snickerse for sale at several stalls, the strings of nut and grape sweet meats. I love them but they are not everyone's taste. There are also many of the colorful felt goods for which the country is so well known. I really regret not buying one of the lovely little felt dolls.
within Kvelatsminda church
Leaving Sighnaghi behind and heading south we soon arrive at Bodbe convent, our next destination, where 20 - 25 nuns live and work. In the grounds is the Church of St Nino, the Enlightener or Illuminator of Georgia, built over the site of her grave. This is a very beautiful and quiet place, set within manicured and very colorful gardens. Inside the church there are attractive frescoes including Adam and Eve, and the Last Judgment, and also an elaborate golden iconostasis. No photos are allowed inside the church so after savoring its spirituality and beauty I go to the shop looking for a guide in English. None are on show, but after quite a while of hunting, my persistence pays off and the nun eventually produces quite a few from below the counter. Nino prayed here, and where locals come to collect the holy water, said to have healing qualities.
icon within the church

Kvelatsminda church
They are beautifully produced and very informative and at only 5 GEL are great value. She would have sold so many if she had only had them on view earlier. As it is she has largely lost her chance; the coach is soon on its way again, leaving us no time to make the trek down a path to the holy spring, said to burst into life after

Kvelatsminda church

Scarves to cover the ladies' heads

Some 35 minutes later we arrive in the village of Gurjaani, and walk to the Kvelatsminda church nestled among trees some 200m down a shady lane, not visible from the road. This is the only two cupola church in Georgia. There is a mulberry tree in the grounds loaded with a fantastic crop of juicy ripe berries. On our way there from the convent we snatch an incredible view of the 170 km valley stretched out below us. Here there is some of the best housing we have seen so far, reflection presumably of the value of the wine industry to the country's economy. By contrast many of the farm implements seem very old and well battered.
Mulberry tree
The church is beautiful. We are thrilled to meet a monk there who unlocks for us a gallery above the main body of the church, accessed by an outdoor flight of stone steps. Here there are two chapels; one dedicated to Saint Barbara, a special saint in Georgia for children, the other dedicated to St George. Inside above the altar the apse is painted blue, an undercoat we are advised, ready for the painting of some modern frescoes. 

Soon we must climb into the coach again for our drive to our hotel for the next two nights, near Telavi - the Kvareli Royal Batoni Hotel, quite an experience in itself - more about that in my next post!


  1. Quite a pilgrimage you're on! I'm enjoying your observations and reflections (and photos).

    1. Thanks - I'm so pleased you are enjoying the read - and the photos!