Thursday, April 19, 2007

Patron Saint Comes Bearing Grapevines

The Grapevine Cross ("Jvari Vazisa" or ჯვარი ვაზისა in Georgian), also known as Saint Nino's cross, is a major symbol of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and dates back to the 4th century AD, when Christianity became the official religion of the ancient Georgian kingdom of Iberia, thanks to the missionary work of St. Nino.

Legend has it that Nino received the Grapevine Cross from the Virgin Mary and bound it together with her own hair. This was the cross Nino brought with her when she came to evangelize the Georgians. The Grapevine Cross is recognizable by its slightly drooping horizontal arms.

Tradition holds that the original cross of St. Nino was kept at the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (see right) in Mtskheta until 541. During the Persian invasions, it was taken to Armenia and stayed there until David the Builder recovered the Armenian city of Ani from the Muslims in 1124 and returned the cross to Mtskheta. In the 14th century King Vakhtang III enshrined the cross in a special reliquary, decorated with scenes from the life of St. Nino. During subsequent Persian and Ottoman invasion, the cross was taken to the Gergeti Trinity Church, then to Ananuri (seen below) in highland Georgia, and eventually to Moscow. In 1801, the Georgian emigre prince George Bagration presented it to Tsar Alexander I who returned it to Georgia in 1802 after Georgia's incorporation into the Russian Empire. Since then, the cross has been kept in the Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi.

No comments: