World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

Article Id: WHEBN0005826601
Reproduction Date:

Title: Svetitskhoveli Cathedral  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Demetrius II of Georgia, David VII of Georgia, Vakhtang I of Iberia, George XII of Georgia, Bagrati Cathedral
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral
Shown within Georgia (country)
Basic information
Location Mtskheta, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Georgia
Geographic coordinates
Affiliation Georgian Orthodox Church
Architectural description
Architect(s) Arsukidze
Architectural type Cathedral
Completed 4th century (by King Mirian III)
5th century AD (during the reign of Vakhtang I)
1010–1029 (during the reign of George I)
Dome(s) 1
Official name: Historical Monuments of Mtskheta
Type Cultural
Criteria iii, iv
Designated 1994 (18th session)
Reference no. 708
Region Europe

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (Tbilisi.

Svetitskhoveli, known as the burial site of Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.

The current cathedral was built in the eleventh century by the architect Arsukisdze, though the site itself is even older dating back to the early fourth century and is surrounded by a number of legends associated primarily with the early Christian traditions.

It is the second largest church building in the country, after the recently consecrated Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, and is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site along with other historical monuments of Mtskheta.


  • History 1
    • Early history 1.1
    • Medieval and modern 1.2
  • Architecture 2
    • Design of the present cathedral 2.1
    • Svetitskhoveli Basilica 2.2
    • Modern Cross-Dome Svetitskhoveli 2.3
    • The architect Arsukidze 2.4
    • Icons and frescoes 2.5
    • Baptismal font 2.6
    • Symbolic copy of the Chapel of Holy Sepulchre 2.7
    • Throne of Catholicos-Patriarch 2.8
  • Burials in the Cathedral 3
  • Other burials 4
  • Threats 5
  • Images 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Early history

The Glory of Iberia (1880s), an icon by Mikhail Sabinin illustrating the legend of Living Pillar.

The original church was built in 4th century A.D. during the reign of Mirian III of Kartli (Iberia). St. Nino is said to have chosen the confluence of the Mtkvari (Kura) and Aragvi rivers as the place of the first Georgian Church.

According to Georgian state religion in 337.

Medieval and modern

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, originally built in the 4th century, has been damaged several times during history, notably by the invasions of Soviet period. The building has also been damaged by earthquakes.

During the restoration of 1970-71 which was presided over by V. Tsintsadze, the base of the basilica built in the late 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali after St. Nino’s original church was found. During the early years of Georgian church building, the basilica was the dominant type of the Georgian church architecture before the cross-dome style emerged.

In the 11th century, the present Svetitskhoveli Cathedral was rebuilt (from 1010 to 1029) in the Cross-Dome style by the architect Arsakidze, at the invitation of the Catholicos Melkisedek of Georgia. The king of Georgia for that time was Giorgi I (George I).

The cathedral is surrounded by a defensive wall, built of stone and brick during the reign of King Erekle II (Heraclius) in 1787. The top storey was designed for military purposes and has gun emplacements. The entrance to the Cathedral from the wall is located to the south. The wall has eight towers: six of them are cylindrical and two of them are square. Archaeological expeditions in 1963 found the house of Patriarch of the 11th century at the southern part of the wall. Inside the church yard, the remains of the two-story castle of Patriarch Anton II were found.


Design of the present cathedral

Svetitskhoveli Basilica

The base of the three-storey St.Nino's original church, has been found by archaeologists during the restoration of 1970-71.

Modern Cross-Dome Svetitskhoveli

The Dome of the Cathedral

The architecture of the present Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, which dates from around 1020, is based on the cross-dome style of church architecture, which emerged in Georgia in the early Middle Ages and became the principle style after the political unification of Georgia by Bagrat III (978-1014). The characteristic of this style is that the dome is placed across all four sides of church. The structure of the church is intended to ensure good acoustics. The dome of Svetitskhoveli was reconstructed several times over the centuries to keep the church in good condition.

The basic stone used for the Cathedral is a sandy yellow with trimmings, while around the apse window a red stone is used. The green stone used in the drum of the cupola is from the 17th century. The curved blind arcading throughout is unaltered from the 11th century.

A large window occupies most of the western top side of the church. The decoration shows the Christ sitting and two angels at the both sides. The original sculpture on the wall has not survived, but was restored several times, most recently in the 19th century.

The architect Arsukidze

A legend surrounds a relief sculpture on the external northern wall. This shows a right arm and hand holding a chisel - symbol of the stonemason – with an inscription reads:

An inscription on the east decade further attests to the fact that Arsukidze did not live to see his masterpiece finished (in 1029):

Konstantine Gamsakhurdia's novel The Hand of the Great Master relates the legend, for which there is no documentary evidence, that a priest who had also been Arsukidze’s patron and teacher was so jealous of Arsukidze's success that he used his influence with the king to have the architect's right hand cut off. According to the novel, King George was also jealous of Arsukidze over his lover, the beautiful Shorena.

Icons and frescoes

One of the frescoes of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral
Bulls' heads, incorporated into the east façade

The interior walls are painted with frescoes, most of which have not survived in their original state. In the 1830s, when Czar Nicholas I was scheduled to visit Mskheta, the frescoes were all whitewashed, although in the end the Czar never came. Today, after much careful restoration, some few remnants survive including fragments of a 13th-century Beast of the Apocalypse and figures of the Zodiac.[3]

The walls are decorated with many Christian Orthodox

  • Location of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral on the city map of Mtskheta
  • Georgian government site
  • Max Planck Institute
  • UNESCO site

External links

  • Натроев А. Мцхет и его собор Свэти-Цховели. Историко-археологическое описание. 1900
  • 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.
  • Bernier, Oliver (30 September 1990). "The Treasures of Tbilisi".  
  • Rosen, Roger. Georgia: A Sovereign Country of the Caucasus. Odyssey Publications: Hong Kong, 1999. ISBN 962-217-748-4


  1. ^ Dowling, T.E. Sketches of Georgian Church History
  2. ^ a b Rosen, Roger. Georgia: A Sovereign Country of the Caucasus. Odyssey Publications: Hong Kong, 1999.
  3. ^ The Treasures of Tbilisi, New York Times. September 30, 1990.
  4. ^ UNESCO Report on the Mission to Historical Monuments of Mtskheta and Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery, Georgia, June 2-10, 2008



A 2010 UNESCO report has found that structural issues threaten the overall stability of the cathedral.[4]


  • Domentius IV of Georgia

Other burials

Svetitskhoveli was not only the site of the coronation of the Georgian kings but also served as their burial place. Ten are known to have been buried here, although only six tombs have been found, all before the altar. The tomb of King Vakhtang Gorgasali can be identified by his the small candle fortress standing before it. King Erekle II's tomb is identifiable by the sword and shield upon it. His son, Asomtavruli) and Arabic script.

Burials in the Cathedral

The second structure aligned with the columns of the southern aisle was also built in the 17th century as the throne of Catholicos Diasamidze. It no longer serves this function, as current tradition requires a throne for the Georgian patriarch to be in the centre of the church.

Throne of Catholicos-Patriarch

On the south side there is a small stone church built into the Cathedral. This is a symbolic copy of the Chapel of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Built between the end of the 13th and the beginning the 14th centuries, it was erected here to mark Svetitskhoveli as the second most sacred place in the world (after the church of Jerusalem), thanks to Christ’s robe. In front of this stone chapel, the most westerly structure aligned with the columns between the aisle and the nave marks Sidonia’s grave. Remains of the original life-giving pillar are also here. It was built in the 17th century. Scenes of the lives of King Mirian and Queen Nana, and portraits of the first Christian Byzantine Emperor, Constantine I, and his mother Helena, were painted by G. Gulzhavarashvili at that time. Traces of the foundations of the 4th-century church have been found here.

Symbolic copy of the Chapel of Holy Sepulchre

On the right side from the entrance of the Cathedral is a stone baptismal font dating from the 4th century. It is thought to have been used for the baptism of King Mirian and Queen Nana. Immediately behind the font is a reproduction of the relief of Arsukidze’s right hand and bevel found on the north facade.

Baptismal font
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.