About Sights – Svetitskhoveli (The Life Giving Pillar) Cathedral
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (Georgian: სვეტიცხოველი) in the old capital of Mtskheta (Georgian: მცხეთა) stands on the site chosen by St. Nino as the place for the first church in Georgia.
Situated at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers, the cathedral was built by architect Arsukidze in the early 11th century and is the place where Georgian kings were crowned and buried.
The cathedral is one of the most sacred places in Georgia and the place where Christ’s robe is said to be buried.
According to Georgian tradition, a Georgian Jew from Mtskheta named Elias was in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified. He bought Jesus’ robe from a Roman soldier at Golgotha and brought it back to Georgia.
Upon his return to Mtskheta, he was met by his sister Sidonia who upon touching the robe immediately died from the emotions engendered by the holy object. The robe could not be removed from her grasp, so she was buried with it.
The place where Sidonia is buried, with Christ’s robe, is preserved in the Cathedral.
From the cedar tree she had seven columns made for the church foundations.
The seventh column, however, had magical properties and rose by itself into the air.
After St. Nino prayed the whole night it returned to earth.
In Georgian sveti means “pillar” and tskhoveli means “life-giving” or “living”, hence the name of the cathedral.
An icon portraying this event can be seen in the cathedral.
It depicts Sidonia with an angel lifting the column in heaven.
St. Nino is in the foreground while King Mirian and his wife, Queen Nana, are presented to the right and left.
A small stone church was built inside the Cathedral at the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th century..
The church is a symbolic copy of the Chapel of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
It marks Svetitskhoveli as the second most sacred Christian place in the world (after the Church of Jerusalem).
In front of this stone chapel, the most westerly structure aligned with the columns between the aisle and the nave marks the place where St. Sidonia is buried.
The structure represents the Holy Life-giving Pillar above St. Sidonia’s grave.
The interior of the cathedral was originally covered with wall paintings but these were whitewashed over in the 1830s, when Czar Nicholas I was scheduled to visit Mtskheta.
In the end the Czar never came.
Today, after much careful restoration, fragments of a 13th-century Beast of the Apocalypse and figures of the Zodiac can be seen.
Ten Georgian kings are known to have been buried in the cathedral, although only six tombs have been found, all placed before the altar.
Svetitskhoveli is the second largest church building in Georgia, after the Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with other historical monuments of Mtskheta.
Admission to the cathedral and the other historical monuments in Mtskheta is free. We will be posting articles about Mtskheta’s other sights, including the 6th century monastery of Jvari and also Samtavro (Place of the Ruler), which, according to legend, is where St. Nino lived.
How to get there? Mtskheta is about 20 km from Tbilisi. Mini buses run regularly every day of the week between Tbilisi’s Didube market and the main street in Mtskheta.
Georgia About recommends a visit to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral