Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (Mtskheta)
According to legends, the Jewish priest Elias brought Christ’s robe to Mtskheta and handed it to his sister Sidonia, who clasped the robe hard to her bosom and passed away. St. Sidonia was buried together with Christ’s robe in Mtskheta, on the very spot where later, in the 4th century, the newly converted king of Kartli, Miran, started to build the first church. A miracle occurred while constructing the church, connected to a cedar that grew to the side of the robe’s burial place and that was cut down during the building process: while constructing the church and after having erected six poles, it became impossible to erect the seventh one, but after St. Nino’s prayer it could be settled in its place. Myrrh came out of that pillar, providing numerous people with a cure. The cathedral’s name derives from this miracle – in Georgian language “Svetitskhoveli” means life-giving pillar. In the 420s the wooden church built by King Mirian was destroyed and substituted with a stone basilica built by Vakhtang Gorgasali in the 480s. Between 1010 and 1029 a new cathedral was built by the architect Arsukidze: Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, the burial place of Georgian Kings and the largest church in Georgia. Its donator was Cathalikos Melchisedec I, and it is an inscribed-cross type building with an elongated rectangular ground plan. The Cathedral’s facades are richly decorated with blind arches and ornamented convex frames which surround the windows. On both sides of the Eastern façade’s highest middle arch, triangular deep niches are cut. Furthermore it preserves 5th century reliefs. The Cathedral has been renovated several times. The most extensive renovation was carried out by Alexander I, between 1413 and 1440, and the dome belongs to this restoration period. Sidonia’s grave, where the life-giving pillar had stood, was built between 1678-1688.
Bull's Head, 20th century copy after the original from the 11th century, Entrance Gate (Photo: Dror Maayan)