Written By Tinatin Bujiashvili
Martvili Monastery is a Georgian monastic complex located in the village of Martvili in the Martvili District of the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti province of Georgia. The site upon the hill where the monastery stands today was used in ancient times as a pagan cultural center and was a sacred site. There once stood an ancient and enormous oak tree that was worshipped as an idol of fertility and prosperity. Infants were once sacrificed here as well. After the conversion of the native population to Christianity, the ancient tree was cut down so as not to worship it anymore. A church was originally constructed in the late 7th century upon the roots of the old oak tree and was named in honor of Saint Andrew who preached Christianity and converted the pagans across the Samegrelo region.
During the 10th century, King of Abkhazia Giorgi II, designated Martvili-Chkhondidi Monastery as episcopal center. Cathedral retained its name.
Martvili Monastery was considered a major educational center. It is the final resting place of King Bagrat IV, whose contributions to the cultural and educational development of Georgia are immense.
As a cultural and educational center for the entire western Georgia, this center not only created original literary works, but also translated many pieces to and from Georgian. Some of the most famous Georgian religious philosophers and educators worked and lived at the Martvili Monastery. They are: Stephane Chkhondideli-10th century, Johan Chkhondideli – 11th Century, Svimon Chkhondideli – 12th Century, Anton Chkhondideli – 13th Century, Arsen Chkhondideli – 13th Century, Anton Chkhondideli – 15th Century, Romanoz Mesvete – 19th Century. Among them the most famous was Giorgi Chkhondideli, who was a mentor and trusted advisor to King David the Builder.
Martvili Monastery Complex has a strategic geographic location from where most of western Georgia can be seen. The main Cathedral is named “Blessed Virgin Repose Cathedral”. During the Turkish-Arabic invasions it was almost completely destroyed, but in the 10th century Giorgi II rebuilt it.
Some of 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th century murals are still preserved in the main Cathedral and they represent some of the highest quality craftsmanship in the Georgian history.
To the north of the Cathedral there is a miniature stone church which is called Holy Christmas Cathedral or Church of Chikvanebi.
Off to the west there is a tall tower which was place of prayer and worship for many receive blessings from the monks as late as the beginning of the 20th century. It was built in the X century, but was rebuilt during feudal era. It is a three- storey church. There is an exit on the ground floor, which also plays the role of eukterion, there is a dome church on the second floor. Ekvtime Takaishvili was writing that this church was charming and it worse to go to Martvili, just to see it.
Martvili Monastery remained active until Soviet Union annexed Georgia. After several decades of inactivity, in 1998 Georgian Patriarch Ilia II reopened Martvili.
In 2007, with the prayer of Leading Bishop Peter of Chkhondidi, Matrivili became a monastery complex again. Patriarchial residence was built on the Cathedral grounds. Monastery established St. Andrew’s Monastery of Fathers and St. Nino’s Monastery of Mothers. Leaders revived monastic community living for both the monks and mothers. Parts of the monasteryl complex are still undergoing construction – including brand new buildings and restorative works on existing buildings.Ekaterine Dadiani, who was a prominent 19th century Georgian aristocrat and last rulling princess of the Western Georgian, was interred in the Monastery of Martvili. She played an important role in resisting Ottoman influence in her principality and was at the center of Georgian high society, both inside the country and abroad.
On the right side of the church you will notice a mural of Jesus Christ. As the monk told us, once the church was visited by tourists. After leaving the guide ruined the eyes of the mural. Later, it was found that the man committed a crime and was sent to prison, where he died. Many years passed and his wife visited the church, told the story and paid money for the restoration of the mural.
The cable way is available to Martvili Monastery from the city centre, though during our visit it didn’t work.