Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition (Tbilisi, Georgia)

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The Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition (Georgian: სიონი (ტაძარი)) in Tbilisi, Georgia was the main cathedral of the Church of Georgia until the completion of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in 2004. Sioni Cathedral traces its origins to the sixth and seventh centuries. The cathedral was the seat of the ruling Catholicos-Patriarchs and is commonly referred to as the “Tbilisi Sioni”, following an old Georgian custom of naming churches after places in the Holy Land.

The cathedral is situated on the right bank of the Mtkvari River with its the western entrance located on Sioni Street in upper Kala, one of the oldest parts of Tbilisi. The cathedral crypt has also been the final resting place for many of the deceased Catholicos-Patriarchs of the Church of Georgia.

History

The site of the cathedral on Sioni Street has seen a series of buildings dating from the late fifth century. Construction of the original church was begun by King Vakhtang Gorgasali in the late fifth century. During the period 570 to 580, this church was replaced by a church built under the Erismtavari of Iberia (Kartli), Guaram Kurapalati. This structure was completed by Erismtavari Adarnase, his successor, around 620. During an invasion by Arabs, this church was leveled and a new structure was built.

During the following years the cathedral suffered severe damage from foreign raiders and was restored each time. In 1112, King David IV the Builder completely re-built the church that became the basic design for the existing cathedral. During an attack by Mongols in 1226, the church was damaged again, with the destruction of the dome being ordered by Jalal Ed Din’s order. The church was restored by King Alexander I.

Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition in Tbilisi, Georgia circa 1890.

The seventeenth century brought attacks on Tbilisi by the Persians that devastated the Sioni church. The damage to the church from these attacks was restored by Archbishop Elise Saginashvili, Metropolitan of Tbilisi, in 1657. The renovations included replacing the dome and added a chapel to the south side of the church. In 1668, the Tbilisi area of Georgia was struck by an earthquake that again damaged the Sioni church. In 1670, Abp. Elise Saginashvili reposed and was buried in the church’s St. Michael the Archangel crypt. During the eighteenth century this crypt was completely renovated.

In 1710, Batonishvili Vakhtang VI, the regent of Kartli, made changes to the dome, roof, and inscriptions on the building. Since the twelfth century, the plan of Sioni church has not changed significantly. Late in the eighteenth century, in 1795, the Aga Makhmad Khan raided Tbilisi during which the Sioni church was again damaged. This time the repairs included the replacement of the burned wooden iconostasis with one made of stone.

On April 12, 1802, Sioni cathedral became the scene of where the annexation of Georgia into the Russian Empire was announced. On that date, General Karl von Knorring, Russian commander in chief in Georgia, presented the manifesto to the assembled Georgian nobility and required the nobles to take an oath to the Russian Imperial crown. Those who refused were arrested. [1][2][3]

There are two bell towers that compliment the cathedral. In 1425, King Alexander I built a free standing three story bell tower next to the church. However, in 1795, this tower was largely destroyed during an attack by Persian forces. In 1812, another three story bell tower was built across the street from the cathedral that commemorates the Russia victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1806 to 1812

During the nineteenth century significant changes were made to the interior of the church. Between 1850 and 1860, the Russian artist and general Gregory Gagarin painted a number of murals that over painted older Georgian frescos. The much venerated Grapevine cross is located to the left of the altar. The cross, according to tradition, was forged by St. Nino, who brought Christianity to Georgia in the fourth century.

Sioni Cathedral remained open during the Soviet period. Some restoration work was accomplished during this time. The work included, in 1939, restoration of the three story bell tower built in 1425 by King Alexander I. Additionally, many of the facing tiles on the cathedral were restored between 1980 and 1983 and a Vakhtang Corgasali crypt was added to the north end of the church. Also, in the 1980s, the Georgian artist Levan Tsutskiridze painted murals on the western wall of the cathedral.

References

  1. 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)
  2. Villari, L. (1906), Fire and Sword in the Caucasus, T. F. Unwin, London, p. 32 (Online version [1])
  3. Lang, DM. (1957), The Last Years of the Georgian Monarchy: 1658-1832, New York: Columbia University Press, p. 247

Sources

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