Travelling throughout Georgia, I found myself drawn to the ancient churches for the spiritual experience to study these ancient masterpieces. Before I describe this experience for you, I want to put in historical perspective how icons in Georgia have come to be so revered and what lengths Georgians have gone through to preserve and protect this highly respected part of their culture.
It begins about 320 AD. Saint Nino - revered in Georgia – is believed to have travelled to Georgia (Iberia) from her home in Cappadocia (Turkey) bringing Christianity to Georgia. Nino reached the borders of the ancient Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the south about 320. There she placed a Christian cross in the small town of Akhalkalaki and started preaching the Christian faith in Urbnis, finally reaching Mtskheta (the capital of Iberia). Nino, having witnessed the conversion of Iberia to Christianity, withdrew to the mountain pass in Bodbe, Kakheti. St Nino died soon after c. 338-340; immediately after her death, King Mirian commenced with the building of monastery in Bodbe, where she is entombed. The monastery of Saint Nino at Bodbe is a must stop when touring ancient churches and monasteries. It is here that I said a prayer for a special intention to St. Nino and one year later, my prayer was answered.
Now on to the icons…
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting either on wood or painted on inside church structures as is the case in Georgia. Icons represent a holy being or object. Color plays an important role as well. Gold represents the radiance of Heaven; red, divine life. Blue is the color of human life, white is the Uncreated Light of God, only used for resurrection and transfiguration of Christ
One memorable visit to a monastery was in Kakheti province in eastern Georgia, we visited the Alaverdi Monastery. Parts of the monastery date back to the sixth century. As was the case with many of the churches we visited, we saw the remnants of Soviet suppression of religion and desecration of Orthodox churches. The beautifully painted icons of the saints, the Blessed Virgin, and Christ on the walls inside the churches were whitewashed under Soviet orders. Today, painstaking efforts to restore the icons are underway, and many of the ancient churches are designated as UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage sites. The thousands of hours of delicate restoration of these icons throughout Georgia is a labor of love to preserve these ancient and spiritually moving works of art.