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The holy, glorious and right-victorious Martyr Ilia the Righteous was a Georgian writer, poet, journalist, and lawyer who spearheaded the revival of the Georgian national movement in the second half of the nineteenth century, during the Russian rule of Georgia, and called for autocephaly for the Church of Georgia. He is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of modern Georgia. He was glorified as a saint by the Church of Georgia in 1987. The Georgian people revere Ilia as the Father of the Fatherland of Georgia. His feast day is commemorated on July 20.
Ilia Chavchavadze was born on October 27, 1837, the third son of Grigol and Mariam Chavchavadze. Ilia was descended from a military family of famous ancestors. He was born in Kvareli, a village in the Alazani Valley. The village was located in the Kakheti province of Georgia, which at the time was part of the Russian Empire. His family had gained the status of Princes, with the last name of Chavchavadze, in 1726, during the reign of King Constantine I in recognition of the valor of his ancestors in the defense of the nation.
Ilia's parents were well-educated in classical literature, Georgian history, and poetry. Ilia, in his autobiography, noted the influence of his parents, and especially his mother the princess Mariam, who exposed him to the stories of Georgian heroism in the classical Georgian historical novels and poems. When he was eight years old he began his elementary education under the Archdeacon Nikolas Sepashvili of Kvareli.
His mother died on May 4, 1848, when Ilia was ten years old. His father asked his sister Macrine to help in raising his children. This was to have a significant impact on Ilia's life, as Ilia's father died in 1852, leaving Macrine as the only caretaker of Grigol's family. Upon the death of his mother, Ilia was sent by his father to Tbilisi to begin his secondary education. After starting in a private school, Ilia entered the First Classical Gymnasium of Tbilisi in 1851, graduating in 1857. These years were very stressful for Ilia. In 1852, Ilia's father died, followed by the death of his brother Constantine, who was killed during an attack by the Dagestani on Kakheti. His stress and grief led to the first of his poems, the "Sorrow of the Poor."
Ilia continued his education at St. Petersburg University in Russia after he completed his secondary education in Georgia. While attending the university in St. Petersburg, Ilia watched the development of the revolutions in Europe. The events in Italy as Giuseppe Garibaldi struggled for years to gain national recognition attracted his attention the most. He attended the Faculty of Law in St. Petersburg, but left in 1861 and returned to Georgia.
Ilia's political life centered around Georgian patriotism. He advocated the revival of the language, literature, and culture of Georgia, as well as the renewal of autocephaly for the Church of Georgia. His agenda for national action differed greatly from the aims of the Social-Democrat and Marxist revolutionaries in Georgia who attacked the Tsarist autocracy and did not include revival of the Georgian state, and Georgian self-identity. The poetry he produced during these years emphasized the Georgian culture and nation building. He participated in many public, cultural, and educational organizations that advocated literacy among Georgians. His literary works were widely translated into the languages of Europe.
His interests expanded such that he gained membership in many intellectual organizations in Russia and other parts of Europe. In 1906, he gained membership in the Russian State Council, the Duma. Upon returning to Georgia after the first Duma, Ilia was assassinated on August 28, 1907, near Mtskheta, while traveling with his wife Olga from Tbilisi to Saguramo. His passing was mourned by all Georgian society.
His assassination has remained controversial. During the Soviet period, investigations by Soviet authorities concluded that the assassination involved the Tsarist secret police and administration.
Recent discoveries in archives and documents point to a cooperative plot between the Social-Democrats and Bolsheviks to stop his condemnation of their revolutionary aims, as well as due to his great popularity and trust among the Georgian people. His portrait was selected for the twenty-lari note.
Ilia was glorified as Ilia the Righteous by the Church of Georgia in 1987.
Son of the Georgian people and martyr for thy nation, most glorious Ilia the Righteous, pray to Christ God to have mercy on our souls.
- In Georgian Money, a Reflection of Nation’s History by Youngsook H.Mangum