Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral
|Cathedral of Saint Mary of Zion
სიონის ღვთისმშობლის მიძინების ტაძარი
The Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral at night.
|Location||Sionis Kucha, Tbilisi, Georgia|
|Affiliation||Georgian Orthodox Church|
|Completed||Church: 6th-7th century,
renovated 13th century and
The Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition (Georgian: სიონის ღვთისმშობლის მიძინების ტაძარი) is a Georgian Orthodox cathedral in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Following a medieval Georgian tradition of naming churches after particular places in the Holy Land, the Sioni Cathedral bears the name of Mount Zion at Jerusalem. It is commonly known as the "Tbilisi Sioni" to distinguish it from several other churches across Georgia bearing the name Sioni.
The Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral is situated in historic Sionis Kucha (Sioni Street) in downtown Tbilisi, with its eastern façade fronting the right embankment of the Mtkvari River. It was initially built in the 6th and 7th centuries. Since then, it has been destroyed by foreign invaders and reconstructed several times. The current church is based on a 13th-century version with some changes from the 17th to 19th centuries. The Sioni Cathedral was the main Georgian Orthodox Cathedral and the seat of Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia until the Holy Trinity Cathedral was consecrated in 2004.
According to medieval Georgian annals, the construction of the original church on this site was initiated by King Vakhtang Gorgasali in the 5th century. A hundred years later, Guaram, the presiding prince of Iberia (Kartli), in c. 575 began building a new structure, which was completed by his successor Adarnase in circa 639. According to legend, both princes were buried in this church, but no trace of their raves has been found. This early church was completely destroyed by Arabs, and was subsequently built de novo.
The cathedral was completely rebuilt by King David the Builder in 1112. The basic elements of the existing structure date from this period. It was heavily damaged in 1226, when its dome was ruined at the order of Jalal ad Din Mingburnu. It was subsequently repaired, but damaged again by Timur in 1386 and repaired by King Alexander I. It was again damaged during the Persian invasion in the 17th century.
In 1657, the Metropolitan of Tbilisi, Elise Saginashvili (d.1670), substantially restored the cupola and added the southern chapel, but the structure was again devastated in 1668, this time by earthquake.
The regent of Kartli, batonishvili (prince) Vakhtang, carried out restorations of the cupola and cathedral walls in 1710. However, the church was again damaged by the invasion of the Persians in 1795.
The cathedral's interior took a different look between 1850 and 1860 when the Russian artist and general Knyaz Grigory Gagarin (1810 – 1893) composed an interesting series of the murals, though the older Georgian frescoes were lost in the process. A portion of the murals on the western wall were executed by the Georgian artist Levan Tsutskiridze in the 1980s.
The stone iconostasis dates to the 1850s. It replaced the wooden iconostasis burned during the Persian invasion in 1795. To the left of the altar is the venerated Grapevine cross which, according to a tradition, was forged by Saint Nino, a Cappadocian woman who preached Christianity in Georgia in the early 4th century. King Vakhtang III gave the reliquary itself in the early 14th century.
The Sioni Cathedral also entered history as the place where the Russian Imperial manifesto on the annexation of Georgia was first published. It occurred on April 12, 1802, when the Russian commander-in-chief in Georgia, General Karl von Knorring, assembled the Georgian nobles in the Cathedral, which was then surrounded by Russian troops. The nobles were forced to take an oath to the Russian Imperial crown. Any who disagreed were taken into custody.
Sioni Cathedral remained functional through Soviet times, and was partially renovated from 1980-1983.
The Sioni Cathedral is a typical example of medieval Georgian church architecture of an inscribed cross design with projecting polygonal apses in the east façade. The yellow tuff from which the cathedral was built comes from Bolnisi, a town southwest of Tbilisi. The facades are simple, with few decorations, although there are bas-relief carvings of a cross and a chained lion on the western side and an angel and saints on the north. All sixteen windows have carved ornamental frames.
North of the cathedral, within the courtyard, is a freestanding three-story bell tower dating from the 1425 reconstruction by King Alexander I. Largely destroyed by the Persians in 1795, it was restored to its present condition in 1939. Just across the street stands another three-story bell tower of particular architectural interest. Built in 1812 in commemoration of the Russian victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-1812 over the Ottoman Empire, it is one of the oldest examples of Russian Neoclassical architecture in South Caucasus.
The Sioni Cathedral serves as a burial ground for several notable churchmen, including the 20th-century Catholicoi-Patriarchs of Georgia:
- Kyrion II,
- Christophorus III,
- Melchizedek III,
- Ephraim II,
- Patriarch David V of Georgia
- Klaproth, J. (2005), Travels in the Caucasus and Georgia. Performed in the years 1807 and 1808, by command of the Russian government, Adamant Media Corporation, ISBN 1-4021-8908-7, p. 220 (Replica of 1814 edition by Henry Colburn, London)
- Villari, L. (1906), Fire and Sword in the Caucasus, T. F. Unwin, London, p. 32 (Online version )
- Lang, DM. (1957), The Last Years of the Georgian Monarchy: 1658-1832, New York: Columbia University Press, p. 247
- Rosen, Roger. Georgia: A Sovereign Country of the Caucasus. Odyssey Publications: Hong Kong, 1999. ISBN 962-217-748-4
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