Monday, March 21, 2011

Saint Nino, Saint George and the Dragon.

Literally every church in Georgia has paintings and or statures of two venerated saints. They seem to be as Georgian as the bad driving. To understand why, you have to know a little about Georgian history.

St. Nino, converted Georgia to Christianity in 347 AD:


Then there is St. George, the patron saint of Georgia, from which Georgia derives its name.

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Every church and even the statue at the center of Tbilisi's Freedom Square, celebrates St. George. No one is exactly sure if there really was a St. George because the myths about his origins as a powerful figure who protects earthly domains and controls the forces of nature predate Christianity. Those forces (which by the way are often referred to as mother earth) are represented by the green dragon with which St. George is usually portrayed. Stories of St. George are more ancient than our written language, dating to the Summerian civilization 5,000 years ago. Never mind. Georgian's don't care.

Note that the letters “GE”: repeat twice in the name “George”. There's a reason for that. The ancient meaning of “GE” is that which pertains to the earth. That's why you see these letters used in modern words like geography, and geophysics. Now remember that creation myth that Georgians love to tell visitors to their country about? The one about how God saved this special place for himself and ended up giving it to the Georgians? You begin to understand how Georgians feel about their land, their place on this earth and why they like their name!

So if St. George pre-dates Christianity, how did Christianity arrive?

A woman named St Nino (sometimes called St. Nune), converted Georgia to Christianity, arriving from the Roman province of Cappadocia in what is now central south Turkey in 347 AD. In Christian myth, she is reported to have been a relative of Saint George, as well related to the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Known as the “enlightener,” she was both a healer and a healer who preached the Gospel. Notice the droop of her cross? There's a reason for that. Apparently she grabbed the first thing at hand to form a cross and in Georgia, vineyard that it it is, that would be grape vines. Every since that time, you can tell an icon painting from Georgia by the tell-tale shape of the cross.

In a time before England and the Britons were Christian, St. Nino crossed Turkey to what was then called Iberia (today's Armenia and Georgia) and spread the gospel first to Armenia and then into modern-day Georgia. Not a shabby undertaking today, let alone in her day. And we had been standing at the very spot in the cathedral of Svetitskhoveli where she made her first convert and in front of her glass and golden tomb.

After that dive into history, we were hungry......

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