Bolnisi Sioni church has the oldest dated inscription in the Georgian language on Georgian soil that states that the church was completed in 493 (the earliest securely dated Georgian inscriptions have been discovered in the Holy Land). The original inscription is now in the National Art Museum in Tbilisi, but a replica has been placed on the church wall. This tells that the building was completed by the end of the C5th and this is particularly notable given the exceptional size of the building. It is referred to as a five-aisled basilica. The central nave is flanked by aisles to the north and south, that end in presbyteries, but in addition doors lead on both the north and south sides to the same kind of semi-open arcades found at Nekresi. The northern aisle terminates in an apse, creating an al fresco chapel and is walled in to the south, east and west, but open to the elements on the north side. To the south, the central element of this arcade is open to the south, but the eastern and western extremities have been closed in to create two chambers at either end of the arcade. In addition there is a C17th belltower in the courtyard of the church. The church has received a new roof and parts of the architecture, particularly on the northern side, have recently been renovated.
Sioni (Zion) was the most important church in Tbilisi until the new Cathedral of the Trinity was built on the other side of the river. Its foundations date back to late antiquity but it has been continuously altered and been almost completely rebuilt since the end of Communism.
Svetiskhoveli is the national cathedral of Georgia and translates as the "Life-giving Pillar". The foundational legend of the church says that a Georgian Jew named Elias bought Christ's cloak from the soldier who had drawn lots for it. On his return to Mtskheta he was met by his sister Sidonia who died on embracing the cloak. She was buried holding the cloak and an oak tree grew out of her grave. When St. Nino evangelised Georgia she had the tree cut down and made into seven columns for a new church but the seventh hovered above the earth and displayed miraculous powers before finally being lowered into its place.
The current cathedral dates from the C11th and is built on the foundations of a series of earlier church buildings. It includes a (stone) pillar associated with the miraculous origins of the church and a medieval replica of the Holy Sepulchre within it.
Tags: Architecture, C11th, Cathedral, Christ, Church, Elias, Fresco, Georgia, Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Jew, Middle Ages, Mtskheta, Sculpture, Shida Kartli, Sidonia, St. Nino, Svetiskhoveli