Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, 20 km from Tbilisi, is the second largest church in Georgia. It is believed to be the burial site of Christ's robe, bought from a Roman soldier after the Crucifixion by a Georgian Jew who returned home with it in the first century AD.
Georgia – Fact Check

For Georgians, there's more to piety than faith

Photo by Luis Dafos

Georgia – Fact Check For Georgians, there's more to piety than faith

Take any taxi in Tbilisi, Georgia. Inevitably, while you’re speeding Mad-Max-style toward what seems like certain death, you’ll spy one of the city’s many churches. That’s when the driver takes his hands off the wheel. He’ll cross himself. Believer or not, you might, too.

Tara Isabella Burton
Tara Isabella Burton Travel Writer

“Ten years ago,” says my friend Tamar, “Nobody did that.” Under the secular Soviet Union, religion – particularly when it came to national churches – was discouraged, if not repressed.

But Georgian independence brought with it a resurgence in Georgian piety: a piety as rooted in cultural identity as in dogma. Regular fasting, the kissing of icons, crossing oneself at the sight of a church – all these are necessary components of public life.

Today, Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II is the most popular man in Georgia; his views – on Westernization, gay rights, and Russia – are hugely influential. When he visits the province of Svaneti during my visit in 2013, thousands of Georgians – mounted on horses, clad in national dress, waving flags – take to the streets for a glimpse of his car going past.

“Fascists,” my friend Gio, a Tbilisi bohemian and a passionate leftist, rolls his eyes. But when we stop at Kutaisi’s Gelati Monastery later that day, I see Gio kneel.

He, too, kisses the icon.

Real friendship – share your travel tips and your commission!

5-mg-9209

Recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, the Gelati monastery complex was built from the 12th to the 17th century. Noted for its mosaics and wall paintings, the complex and the nearby Bagrati Cathedral are supreme examples of Georgia's medieval architecture. Photo by Luis Dafos

Luis Dafos

Luis Dafos

Aperture
ƒ/7.1
Exposure
1/125
ISO
200
Focal
53 mm

Recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, the Gelati monastery complex was built from the 12th to the 17th century. Noted for its mosaics and wall paintings, the complex and the nearby Bagrati Cathedral are supreme examples of Georgia's medieval architecture.

Other stories about Georgia