The Watch

Bodbe Cathedral

Sighnaghi, Kakheti Region, Georgia

2002 World Monuments Watch

Enclosed in Bodbe Cathedral is the grave of St. Nino, a most remarkable female figure in the early history of Christianity. According to Georgian, Armenian, and Greek authors, in the early fourth century, Nino, a Cappadocian woman, was brought as a slave to Georgia, where she soon gained fame for healing people in the name of Jesus Christ, including the Georgian queen. The king asked Nino to teach him the Christian religion, and, directed by Nino, a church was built, winning many converts and resulting in the Emperor Constantine sending clergy to Georgia. Bodbe Cathedral is therefore sacred to all Christendom as well as to the diocese formed in the fifth century, which is still active today. The present cathedral was built ca. 850, on the original site of St. Nino’s church, which has not survived. Bodbe Cathedral is a three-nave basilica with a truncated long axis, typical of Georgian churches, therefore fewer supporting piers. The cathedral is constructed wholly of brick, uncommon in ninth-century Georgia. The interior is adorned with nineteenth-century murals and fragments of paintings dating from the twelfth to seventeenth centuries. Despite wars, earthquakes, and alterations, Bodbe Cathedral has survived. However, a coating of cement applied in a 1980s conservation effort has led to condensation and damp, affecting the murals. Also, a seventeenth-century wall running around three sides of the church threatens the building’s stability and spoils its actual proportions. Proper conservation of this still functioning church will require research into all periods of the site.

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