It's Sunday afternoon. Mtskheta faces a ceremonial frenzy.
We walk down the alley that leads to the domain of the Svetitskhoveli cathedral. In the opposite direction, an ex-boyfriend carries his wife on his lap, on an irregular sidewalk.
Finally, the wall that protects the city's great Orthodox temple gives way to a half-open gate. We pass inland.
A group of flower sellers and beggars, seated on a wooden bench, claim a charitable gesture from anyone who enters.
The Ceremonial-Orthodox Bustle of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral
Whoever enters for good is impressed by the grandeur of the cathedral, stacked on four levels, up to the dome blessed with a golden cross that acclaims it.
More faithful emerge from the framed penumbra of the entrance to the nave, among them, two guests, one blonde, the other brunette, dressed in elegant dresses.
Soon, the new bride, aided by what we consider to be a lady d'honor, also shining with whiteness.
As the weekend draws to a close, the ceremonial cycle continues at a brisk pace.
We entered the Pilar of Life Abbey.
Believers light candles, whisper their prayers and read passages from the Bible, in front of an image of the crucified Christ, gilded by the light of the multitude of flames.
After a Marriage, Another Marriage
As we approached the altar, we found a new marriage, formal and sumptuous, in line with the host Christian orthodoxy.
Groomsmen and grooms hold candles. The bride and groom, distinguished and praised by silver crowns, are led in the ceremony by a priest with a long black beard, clad in a blood-red cassock trimmed and adorned with patterns and religious symbols.
The priest leaves his pulpit, holding a shining cross under his chin. He pulls the bride and groom by the hand to the iconostasis.
There, position the bride on the left, the groom on the right.
Then, on the contrary.
According to instructions from their liturgy, the couple kisses both sides of the partition decorated with images of saints. When he returns to the priest, the latter seals their union, congratulated by the waiting relatives who, soon, leave for the atrium.
Arriving at another lugubrious corner, a second priest celebrates a baptism, a child immersed in holy water three times, in a sequence of agile movements.
While the parents are calming and drying the child, the next matchmaking duo is already lined up at the matrimonial departure house, both they and the godparents, in traditional Georgian attire, all waiting for the wedding priest to recover from the previous one and reappear at his post. .
This orthodox bustle in which we roam and which we record has its obvious reason for being. Svetitskhoveli cathedral is not the biggest church in Georgia. This title belongs to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Tbilisi.
Mtskheta and the Genesis of Georgian Christianity
It is, however, one of the important and revered churches in Georgia and the Caucasus, one of the four main churches in the Georgian Orthodox "world".
Over the years, the religious role of the walled cathedral spread to Mtskheta in general.
Mtskheta was the place where, in 337 AD, the monarchs of Iberia proclaimed Christianity the religion of their kingdom. In the following century, Christianity was consolidated.
Iberia was able to elect its first catholicus and to determine that Svetitskhoveli would have as residence, at the time, a fraction of the defensive and religious complex that it would become.
Aware of the importance that the town was gaining, the monarchs dictated its multiple fortification, based on the citadels of Armazi, Tsitsamuri and Sarkine.
The History of the Pioneer Temple of Svetitskhoveli
Svetitskhoveli became known as the burial place of the mantle that Christ used before being crucified, taken from Jerusalem by Jews from this region of the Caucasus and is said to have been guarded under a ciborium erected in the XNUMXth century.
Over time, Svetitskhoveli's pioneering small wooden church from the XNUMXth century ceased to serve the purposes of newly converted Christians.
The XNUMXth century enters. Attentive to the needs of the catholicus and the people, a monarch named Vakhtang Gorgasali (born Kartli) ordered the construction of an open basilica, at the time, the largest church in present-day Georgia.
This basilica lasted, as such, until the XNUMXth century. Until the Christian community grew again too much for the space that the temple offered. O catholicus since then, it has claimed a new, even broader one. The result lives on in today's stunning Svetitskhoveli cathedral.
From the XNUMXth century onwards, Svetitskhoveli was also the place of coronation and the last resting place of a series of kings in the region. That status carried over to the subsequent kingdom of Georgia. It remained until the XNUMXth century, when the Russian Empire incorporated Georgia.
Leaps of Faith, by Svetitskhoveli Mother Cathedral
Even though it is located just 20km from the capital Tbilisi, and with less than eight thousand inhabitants, Mtskheta has become the seat of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
It became a center of pilgrimage and religiosity, which the coexistence of the Jvari monastery and different mystical Orthodox temples only reinforced. We would come to unveil them.
In the meantime, we continued to explore the walled redoubt, which the setting sun turned gilded, of Svetitskhoveli. We see two believers drag a sheep by the back and ears.
They leave her to graze on a patch of grass, next to a priest in an all-black habit who is talking on a cell phone.
We went around a corner of the temple.
Seated on a marble bench, against a stone wall, the two priests we had accompanied to the successive weddings and baptisms, recovering from the wear and tear of their tasks, side by side, both with two large golden crucifixes hanging over their chests.
None spoke a language that allowed us to communicate, just Georgian and Russian. As such, we drafted a request to photograph them, a wish that we see immediately granted.
The priests pose, heavy and proud, of their preponderance in Georgian society. After which we left them to the conversation we had interrupted.
Finally, we leave Svetitskhoveli to the faithful. First, back to the cobbled alley, between carts, overloaded persimmon trees and stores selling religious items and souvenirs, now almost in the shade.
Ascent to the Scenic Heights of Jvari Monastery
Moments later, heading to the panoramic top of the Jvari monastery, located on the outskirts of Mtskheta.
Unexpectedly, we came across newly married couples again, accompanied by their entourage of family and friends, free from orthodox formalities and, as such, spontaneous and fun.
The married duo, in Svetitskhoveli, in traditional Georgian costumes, kiss like there's no tomorrow, filmed by a pal promoted to filmmaker.
Once the scene is complete, they begin the descent back to the city, in a pilgrimage so euphoric that the ex-bride ignores the train of her dress sweeping the floor.
We watched them disappear at the bottom of the hill trail. And the sun does the same for the illuminated side of the world.
Floodlights highlight the twilight monastery of Jvari, once again in gold, on the vertiginous shore where the pioneer Christians of the kingdom of Iberia built it in the XNUMXth century.
The artificial lighting generates silhouettes that we admire, lengthening and shortening, in a whimsical dance of light and pitch.
Thus entertained, we conquered the 656 meters of Mount Jvari. We are dazzled by the grandiose panoramas that it reveals to us.
The Flow of the Great Georgian Rivers between Orthodox and Muslim Countries
Below, the Aragvi River joins the Mtkvari (also known as Kura), in its own fluvial communion, from there, destined for the Caspian Sea, with a winding passage through Tbilisi and much of the neighboring Azerbaijan.
By a quirk of history, Azerbaijan became a Muslim nation, as did Dagestan and Chechnya to the north. Turkey to the west and Iran to the south.
Despite the Islamic spread around it, Georgia and Armenia maintains millennial stamps of Christianity, bastions and propagators of faith in Christ, since shortly after his Resurrection.
In Armenia, the seat of Orthodox Christianity and seat of Catholicos is in Etchmiadzin.
In Georgia, the equivalent seat remains in Mtskheta for all masses, weddings, confirmations and baptisms, the holy city of the Caucasus and one of the longest continuously inhabited cities in the world. face of the earth.