I’m not great at needlework. I can’t paint. I don’t have the patience to bead. Pottery, ceramics, and mosaics are beyond my reach, artistic wise. But I can make a St Brigid’s Cross. Or at least I could … when I was in primary school. But even now I can see in my mind’s eye how it’s done. Not the most complicated thing in the world to make, but a skill I’m somewhat proud of.
I’ve long had a fascination with crosses and the stories behind them and get positively excited when I happen on one I’ve not seen before. Yup it doesn’t take much to rock my world.
I’d never heard of the Georgian Cross, aka St Nino’s Cross or the Grapevine Cross. Apparently, it dates back to the 4th Century and is a major symbol in the Georgian Orthodox Church.
St Nino, a woman from Cappadocia, came to Iberia to preach Christianity. As the story goes, Our Lady appeared to her en route and gave her a cross made from two grapevines. To make it even more secure, St Nino tied it in the middle with strands of her own hair. Now, grapevines, being the flexible beasts that they are, don’t hold their shape very well so in time, the horizontal vine began to droop, giving it its familiar look.
The cross has a long history.
According to traditional accounts, the cross of St Nino was kept at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta until 541. During the Persianinvasions it was taken to Armenia and stayed there until David IV of Georgia recovered the Armenian city of Ani from the Muslims in 1124, and brought the cross to Mtskheta. King Vakhtang III of Georgia (1303-1307) enshrined the cross in a special envelope, decorated with the scenes from St. Nino’s life. During the 1720s, when Georgia was subjected to a Persian and Ottoman invasions, the cross was taken to safer areas, to Ananuri in highland Georgia. From there, the Georgian bishop Timothy brought the cross to the emigre Georgian princeBakar, residing in Moscow and then in Lyskovo. The Georgian king Erekle II tried to recover the relic for Georgia from Bakar’s family, to no avail. In 1801, Bakar’s grandson George presented the cross to the Russian tsar Alexander I who returned it to Georgia in 1802 on the occasion of Georgia’s incorporation within the Russian Empire.
Today it can be seen in Tbilisi’s Sioni Cathedral. A reason to visit Tbilisi, if ever there was one.
I stumbled on two while in Georgia: a simple, more faithful copy of the original in Bagrati Cathedral, and another, more ornate one in Gelati Monastery. And I tried, unsuccessfully, to buy a small replica for myself in silver or wood. But among the mass of religious items on sale everywhere, there wasn’t a cross to be found. Any entrepreneurs out there?