Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (Georgian: სვეტიცხოვლის საკათედრო ტაძარი, literally, “the Living Pillar Cathedral”) is a Georgian Orthodox cathedral located in the historical town of Mtskheta, Georgia, 20 km (12 mi) northwest of the nation’s capital of Tbilisi. It is the second largest church building in the country, after the recently consecrated Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, and is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site along with other historical monuments of Mtskheta.
Svetitskhoveli, known as the burial site of Christ‘s mantle, has long been the principal Georgian church and remains one of the most venerated places of worship to this day. The current cathedral was built in the eleventh century by the architect Arsukisdze, though the site itself is even older dating back to the early fourth century and is surrounded by a number of legends associated primarily with the early Christian traditions.
The original church was built in 4th century A.D. during the reign of Mirian IIIof Kartli (Iberia). St. Nino is said to have chosen the confluence of the Mtkvari(Kura) and Aragvi rivers as the place of the first Georgian Church.
According to Georgian hagiography, in the 1st century AD a Georgian Jewfrom Mtskheta named Elias was in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified. Elias bought Jesus’ robe from a Roman soldier at Golgotha and brought it back to Georgia. Returning to his native city, he was met by his sister Sidonia who upon touching the robe immediately died from the emotions engendered by the sacred object. The robe could not be removed from her grasp, so she was buried with it.The place where Sidonia is buried with Christ‘s robe is preserved in the Cathedral. Later, from her grave grew an enormous cedar tree. Ordering the cedar chopped down to build the church, St. Nino had seven columns made from it for the church’s foundation. The seventh column, however, had magical properties and rose by itself into the air. It returned to earth after St. Nino prayed the whole night. It was further said that from the magical seventh column a sacred liquid flowed that cured people of all diseases. In Georgian sveti means “pillar” and tskhoveli means “life-giving” or “living”, hence the name of the cathedral. Anicon portraying this event can be seen on the second column on the right-hand from the entrance. Reproduced widely throughout Georgia, it shows Sidonia with an angel lifting the column in heaven. Saint Nino is in the foreground: King Mirian and his wife, Queen Nana, are to the right and left. Georgia officially adopted Christianity as its state religion in 337.
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, originally built in the 4th century, has been damaged several times during history, notably by the invasions of Arabs,Persians, and Timur and latterly during Russian subjugation and the Sovietperiod. The building has also been damaged by earthquakes.
During the restoration of 1970-71 which was presided over by V. Tsintsadze, the base of the basilica built in the late 5th century by KingVakhtang Gorgasali after St. Nino’s original church was found. During the early years of Georgian church building, the basilica was the dominant type of the Georgian church architecture before the cross-dome style emerged.
In the 11th century, the present Svetitskhoveli Cathedral was rebuilt (from 1010 to 1029) in the Cross-Dome style by the architect Arsakidze, at the invitation of the Catholicos Melkisedek of Georgia. The king of Georgia for that time was Giorgi I (George I).
The cathedral is surrounded by a defensive wall, built of stone and brick during the reign of King Erekle II (Heraclius) in 1787. The top storey was designed for military purposes and has gun emplacements. The entrance to the Cathedral from the wall is located to the west. The wall has eight towers: six of them are cylindrical and two of them are square. Archaeological expeditions in 1963 found the house of Patriarch of the 11th century at the southern part of the wall. Inside the church yard, the remains of the two-story castle of Patriarch Anton II were found.