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, 20 August 2014

The Davit-Gareja Monasteries - the highlight of our pilgrimage to Georgia

the entrance to Davitis Lavra

This visit to the David Gareja complex of monasteries is for me the highlight of our pilgrimage, organised by McCabe Pilgrimages and led by Southwark Diocese.
dramatic monks' cells in the rock face!
Bronze Age tombs and pottery found in this area show that it was populated at least 4 millennia ago. In the 1st millennium BC iron smelting led to the eventual deforestation of the area and its gradual desertification. When we are there in May the area is transformed by the bursting into bloom of the many wild flowers which are simply wonderful, and often covered with clouds of beautiful butterflies. We are warned to watch out for the poisonous vipers, on the walk to the top caves and within the caves themselves, but fortunately we see none. The heat is intense and bottles of water are an essential part of the kit. But we are rewarded for our strenuous climb by the most stunning views and some very beautiful frescoes in the various cave churches and other cave chambers at the top.
inside the Church of Transfiguration at Lavra
The Lonely Planet website has a very good description of the two main sites which we visited, the lower Davitis Lavra monastery, founded by one of the Syrian Fathers, St David, in the 6th century, and the Udabno or Desert Monastery constructed between the 8th and 10th centuries, to which we climbed. As with much that we have seen in Georgia, these monasteries have had a turbulent history, their worst moment being when the Persian Shah Abbas' soldiers killed 6000 monks and destroyed the artistic treasures, which they had amassed in their role as an important center for the development and teaching of the techniques of fresco painting.
the lower courtyard, looking up to
church of St Nicholas
In the Lavra Monastery we visit the Church of the Transfiguration or Rock Church, where David and Lukian are buried. In the lower court here there is a spring of water known as the Tears of David.

looking down on the Lavra monastery 

gazing out at the top towards Azerbaijan
Tragically this whole area was used as a Soviet artillery training range in the late 20th century, and the monasteries often became the direct targets for their firing, sustaining bad damage. The practice ceased after the end of the Soviet war with Afghanistan in 1989, and after nationalist protests, but ironically the Georgians themselves used the area for similar training in the late 1990's until this was stopped after protests from civilians in Tbilisi.
This is now one of Georgia's most popular tourist and pilgrim sites and we are told that there will be many Russian, Ukrainian and local tourists here. There are certainly many people, and the car park is soon full of dozens of coaches and minibuses. But the climb to the top gets us away from the crowds!!
the monastery is now a long way below us!!
note the deer - reflecting how close the
monks were to nature

butterflies on bush

fresco within cave church at Udabno (Desert)
monastery - note icons left by visitors/pilgrims

more beautiful cave frescoes
beautiful cactus

the trek up with Azerbaijan below us

the Last Supper fresco in the refectory in the Ubadno
monastery complex

note the indented individual places for
each monk in the refectory 
We meet and chat with a young German couple right at the top of the climb to the cave churches, looking out over towards Azerbaijan, under the half hearted gaze of a Georgian border soldier and his dog. The couple share my horror at the quantity of unsightly and polluting litter everywhere. In Germany, they tell me, there is a 25c deposit on bottles, which helps to prevent a litter problem. When life is harsh and involves a struggle for survival from day to day, then it is easy to see why litter is of no consequence to most people. But with the arrival of independence, peace and relative prosperity perhaps this wonderful country with its hospitable citizens will wake up to the importance of keeping its beautiful countryside and its towns and villages free from the ravages of litter pollution. Many tourists from overseas will come to expect this and may well be deterred unless there is a clean up. I was pleased to observe a few small indications that some citizens care about their environment - elderly women sweeping the pavements in front of their own houses, an old man picking up litter in a lay-by, for example. May this continue and develop into a wider civic pride so that Georgia may capitalize on its natural beauty and its many cultural treasures.

1 comment:

  1. All of these historic sites seem to have such a sad history.