|Jvari Monastery or “Great Church of Jvari”|
|Affiliation||Georgian Orthodox Christianity|
|Year completed||586-605 AD, by King Stephen I of Kartli (Iberia)|
Jvari or Jvari Monastery (Georgian: ჯვარი, ჯვრის მონასტერი) is a Georgian Orthodox monastery of the 6th century near Mtskheta (World Heritage site), Mtskheta-Mtianeti region, eastern Georgia. The name is translated as the Monastery of the Cross. For another, Jerusalem-located Georgian monastery with the same name, see Monastery of the Cross.
According to traditional accounts, on this location in the early 4th century Saint Nino, a female evangelist credited with converting King Mirian III of Iberia to Christianity, erected a large wooden cross on the site of a pagan temple. The cross was reportedly able to work miracles and therefore drew pilgrims from all over Caucasus. A small church was erected over the remnants of the wooden cross in c.545 named the “Small Church of Jvari”.
The present building, or “Great Church of Jvari”, was built between 586 and 605 by Ersimtavari Stepanoz I. The importance of Jvari complex increased over time and attracted many pilgrims. In the late Middle Ages, the complex was fortified by a stone wall and gate, remnants of which still survive. During the Soviet period, the structure was largely ignored, with access rendered difficult by tight security at a nearby military base. After the independence of Georgia, the building was restored to active religious use. Jvari was listed together with other monuments of Mtskheta in 1996 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
However, over the centuries the structures suffered damage from rain and wind erosion and inadequate maintenance, and Jvari was listed by the World Monuments Fund as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world in 2004. After considerable restoration work, it was removed from the list in 2007.
The Jvari church is a very early tetraconch (i.e. a four-apse domed building) structure. Between the apses there are three-quarter circular niches used as side chapels, which communicate with the central space. The transition from the square bay to the dome circle is effected through three rows of squinches. This design had a great impact on the further development of Georgian architecture and served as a model for many other churches not only in Georgia, but the whole region of South Caucasus.
Varied bas-relief sculptures with Hellenistic and Sasanian influences decorate its external façades, some of which are accompanied by explanatory inscriptions in old Georgian uncial script. The entrance’s tympanum on the southern façade, is adorned with a relief of the Glorification of the Cross, and the same façade also shows an Ascension of Christ.
Erosion is playing its part to deteriorate the monastery, with its stone blocks being degraded by wind and acidic rain.
- Abashidze, Irakli. Ed. Georgian Encyclopedia. Vol. IX. Tbilisi, Georgia: 1985.
- Amiranashvili, Shalva. History of Georgian Art. Khelovneba: Tbilisi, Georgia: 1961.
- Grigol Khantsteli. Chronicles of Georgia.
- Rosen, Roger. Georgia: A Sovereign Country of the Caucasus. Odyssey Publications: Hong Kong, 1999. ISBN 9622177484
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