Sounds like the beginning of a non-PC joke but I assure you it isn’t. We passed the Leselidze Street Synagogue every day, considered going in but didn’t, lured by the opportunity to have coffee from George’s coffee pot stand. Though this synagogue was built in 1910, a Jewish presence in Georgia dates from the times of Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BC.
Similarly, with the Tbilisi mosque which serves both the Sunni and Shia Muslims, we didn’t go in but found ourselves in the midst of the faithful pouring out after Friday noon prayer. We’d just finished our wander through the botanical gardens and physiological matters like food and drink were on our minds.
We probably could have spent all of our time visiting churches. We tried but failed to locate the one and only Roman Catholic Church. However, we couldn’t miss the Kashveti Church of St George which is opposite the Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue. Time drifted as we admired the frescoes and observed the rituals of the faithful.
With our last morning falling on a Sunday, it seemed only fitting to go to mass. We trekked across the Metekhi bridge, and up the cobbled streets, to the Metekhi church under (or so it seemed) the watchful presence of King Vakhtang Gorgasali, founder of Tbilisi. There were people spilling onto the porches but other worshippers squeezed in so we followed. Inside, there was standing room only, as there were no pews. The priest called out and the choir and sometimes the congregation responded. I didn’t understand a word, so no different from going to mass in the desert then. Yet wrapped in a blanket of incense, the dim light of the spaghetti-like candles and the potent faith of my fellow worshippers, I felt the Divine.
The Metekhi church dates from the 13th century and is currently being repaired so scaffolding mars its façade but does not detract from the beauty of its compact garden where we sat admiring the hibiscus flowers. The same hibiscus flowers can be found in the grounds of Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral which we visited the day before.
Even God has to air out his carpets as we found several basking in the sun on the side steps of the Cathedral. Once you entered there were no pews, just a lot of open space, a barred off throne area in the middle and hundreds of icons of Jesus, the apostles, saints especially St George. People milled around, repeatedly making the sign of the cross, kneeling and lighting candles. The difference to a Catholic or Protestant cathedral was at first overwhelming but I soon settled into looking at the icons and one of Jesus drew me as the light made his eyes twinkle. I gave thanks for my good fortune and prayed for my parents, husband and sons. I lit my candles including one for Val, the recently deceased aunt of a friend. She wasn’t religious but I remembered her all the same.
This is the second of three posts about our visit to Tblisi, Georgia.