Around Tbilisi: Jvari, Mtskheta, and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

Every inch of our map of Georgia seemed to covered with little icons marking churches, monasteries, ancient settlements, caves, mountains, towns, villages, and vineyards. We spent close to a month in Tbilisi, and here are a few of the nearby sights we experienced in that time.

Jvari and Mtskheta

It’s worth a day-trip outside of Tbilisi to visit the simple 6th-7th century monastery of Jvari, perched high on a hill and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta (dangerously difficult to prounounce) in the valley below.

Girl Lighting Candles at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral - Mtskheta, Georgia
Prayers at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Georgia

We enjoy churches, but as we’ve seen hundreds of them during our travels in Europe we tend to reach church saturation very quickly. Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is different. It’s one of the most moving religious sites we’ve visited. Yes, it’s beautiful with old frescos , 11th century architecture, two-dimensional iconography typical of the Georgian Orthodox style, but there’s a pleasant emotional heft to the place, as if it stands on truly hallowed ground.

The church is not at all a museum, but an active, living church that people still use and love. The environment inside is welcoming and warm, even for more intimate ceremonies held inside its small chapels.

For example, in a mystical candlelit chapel, we witnessed a renewing of vows between a couple that had been legally together for 30 years, but had never had a church wedding (religion was restricted during Soviet times). A thickly bearded priest harkening back to the ancients held the couple arm-in-arm and repeatedly walked around the chapel in prayer. The gravity and emotion was like nothing we’ve ever seen or felt before.

Video: Renewal of Marriage Vows in Mtskheta

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