The next day we go to Mtshketa, 15 kilometers north of Tbilisi. The city holds great significance among Georgians as the spiritual heart of the country. It was here that Georgia adopted Christianity in 334 AD, becoming the second country in history to do so, after Armenia. Mtshketa also was the capital of the Georgian kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD.
UNESCO recognizes the importance of Mtshketa that it included the whole city in its World Heritage list.
Our first stop is the Jvari Cathedral on a hilltop at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. According to traditional accounts, in the 4th century Saint Nino (the female evangelist who was responsible for bringing Christianity in Georgia) erected a large wooden cross on the site of a pagan temple. The cross drew pilgrims from all over the Caucasus due to its ability to work miracles. A small church was then erected over the remnants of the cross. The present building is believed held to have been constructed between 590 and 605.
Another principal Orthodox church in the city is the Svetitskhoveli Church, one of the most venerated churches in the Caucasus. It’s believed to contain Jesus’ robe underneath. Based on Georgian tradition, in the 1st century AD a Mteshketan Jew named Elias was in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified, and then brought Jesus’ robe back to Georgia. Upon his return, his sister touched the robe and instantly died from a passion of faith. The robe was then buried with her.
Throughout the centuries, the Svetitskhoveli served as the coronation venue and burial site of numerous Georgian monarchs, including Erekle II, who was king of Kakheti from 1744 to 1762.