Ge­or­gia a gift from God

The cross­roads of con­ti­nents and re­li­gions where the guest is revered

Irish Daily Mail - - Travel - BY IS­ABEL CON­WAY

ASTERN- FACED black bearded young monk ap­proaches. With­out look­ing at any of us di­rectly he silently points at a bas­ket in an or­a­tory, ges­tur­ing at women to make our­selves de­cent be­fore en­ter­ing his church on the edge of the world. My jeans, caked in mud and dust from a bone-shak­ing jour­ney through a gorge in the re­mote Greater Cau­ca­sus moun­tains and the steep trek on the last stage to 2,200m, van­ish in­side a black com­mu­nal wrap around long skirt.

We stoop to en­ter a me­dieval mir­a­cle of ma­sonry on a lofty iso­lated perch, its an­cient stones dec­o­rated with in­trigu­ing carv­ings, some old enough to be pa­gan in ori­gin, met by daz­zling icons and vi­brant painted fres­cos that glow in the gloom.

The spec­tac­u­lar lo­ca­tion of the Ger­geti Trin­ity Church about ten km as the crow flies from the Rus­sian border, perched high on the Kazbek moun­tain range, the tow­er­ing snowy peak of Mt Kazbek ris­ing be­hind it has made this place a sym­bol of Ge­or­gia.

Chris­tian­ity came to Ge­or­gia in the 4th cen­tury and over 80% of the pop­u­la­tion of 4 mil­lion are Ortho­dox Chris­tian, many of them reg­u­lar church­go­ers.

Ge­or­gia is of­ten com­pared in size to Ire­land sit­ting be­tween the sub­trop­i­cal Black sea coast and the snowy peaks of the Cau­ca­sus, bor­dered by Azer­bai­jan, Ar­me­nia, Turkey and Rus­sia.

In times of dan­ger – and there were nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions for a coun­try on the Silk Route, sand­wiched be­tween en­emy nations – trea­sures and relics from the an­cient re­li­gious and com­mer­cial cap­i­tal of Mt­skheta were brought up here for

safety. You can see how the church be­came a Fort Knox, only ac­ces­si­ble via a rough steep cir­cuitous track.

Back in the Eight­ies, when the area was a pop­u­lar hol­i­day get­away for se­nior Rus­sian of­fi­cials, the Soviet au­thor­i­ties con­structed a ca­ble car line to the church. Be­liev­ing their sa­cred place, whose beloved monks ‘of­fer an open door to trou­bled souls who go up there de­sir­ing to break bad habits like drug and al­co­hol ad­dic­tion’ would be des­e­crated the peo­ple of Kazbegi in the val­ley pulled it down.

But the times are a changin’. Here in Kazbegi, now of­fi­cially named Stepants­minda, a cou­ple of hours drive from Tbil­isi, in­trepid back­pack­ers, trekkers and moun­taineers ex­plor­ing the Cau­ca­sus re­gion are in­creas­ingly joined by main­stream trav­ellers.

Closer to heaven: Ge­or­gia’s Ger­geti Trin­ity Church

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