Living an art history lover’s fantasy in Svaneti, Georgia

Over dinner at our guest house in Kashveti I asked our host Vaktang about the village church.  “We have an 11th century church with original frescos” he informed me, “but it’s closed to the public.”  Naturally, I was disappointed, but of course there were so many other wonderful sites in this UNESCO protected region of Georgia, that I didn’t dwell on it.

After we finished breakfast the following morning, Ana, our host’s teenage daughter, slipped on her boots and said to us “Let’s go to the church.”  “But isn’t it closed to the public?”   “Oh yes” she smiled “But I have a key!”  And just like that, we went out into the rain, past cows making their way out for their daily cud-chewing circuit.

rain

Here’s all I know about the church: it’s called Archangel church and it’s built in the 11th century, with unrestored frescos from the 12th century.  Modestly scaled with clean lines and an overhanging roof on the outside.  On the inside….

room

These frescos!  Super-dynamic, vibrant, expressive FRESCOS!  [Pauses for a moment to do a happy fresco dance.]

Anyone belonging to the art history turbo-nerd club, of which I am a high-ranking member, would freak at an opportunity like this.  It was so, so glorious.

socks

Archangel Gabriel in his polka dot socks is letting Mary know she’s knocked up with a little savior.  I do hope this is the very archangel the church is named after.

nativity

Mary reclines, ignoring the gift-schlepping wise men and a curious sheep.  I wish our photo was clearer so you could see how the ox and ass seem to be snacking on baby Jesus in his manger.

fish

A positively German Expressionist John the Baptist baptizes Jesus who now is being nibbled by fish.

lazarus

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  Notice the fellow to the right of Lazarus, pulling of his mummy wrappings.  He’s holding his sleeve in front of his nose in a fairly accurate depiction of  “He stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.”

donkey

Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.  Please do me a favor and click on the image so you can enjoy all the lively detail, especially the guys in the palm tree, the dude throwing his red cloak on the ground, and OMG, the donkey!

grave

Jesus yanking folks out of purgatory like a boss.

pile

What’s with the puppy pile of soldiers?

window

We’ve seen a lot of art from the 12th century that is stiff and formulaic.  The frescos in Archangel church are human and expressive.

dudes

Dudes with WTF faces.

ears

Mary’s all like “So what if I’m wearing my son as a pendant around my neck?”

halo   eyes   lady

Many of the portraits are almost sculptural.

beardwinjpg

Apparently the 12th century was a great age for righteous beards.

iconostsis

The iconostasis.

script

Old Georgian writing on the iconostasis.

icon

Archangel church’s  icons have been much loved and kissed.  Me: I’d like to kiss the who place.  What an incredible privilege it was to spend a rainy morning here.

 

How we got to Kashveti: overnight train from Tbilisi to Zugdidi followed by a marshrutka ride from Zugdidi to Mestia  Kashveti is about a 45 minutes walk from Mestia.

Where we slept: Guest House Folk Music.  Price: €42 for a double (including meals).  Recommended: highly.

 

 

 

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21 comments

  1. What an amazing find, you were so lucky, thank you for sharing such a wonderful visit. We only have a few wall paintings left on UK churches and for such a small church to be covered in them, is again totally amazing 🙂 (you can guess I love it)

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    1. Thank you blosslyn. We were certainly quite fortunate. We did go in a couple of other churches with frescos in that region which were open, and they were also fabulous, but somehow it didn’t feel as special.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I would like to visit that part of the world now, never really thought about it before your travels there, and its somewhere we could drive to, my husband hates flying, I was really lucky that I got him to the USA last year, but its not going to happen again. Or we could go by train 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. And incredible church. You are so lucky to have seen it. I’m surprised what great condition they are in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was also surprised by the preservation. I can’t seem to find any information about this church online–surely it must be in a photo book out there at least, but I don’t know how to find it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe they don’t let people in to avoid that. I can imagine they have much in the way of security or climate controls. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Amazing! What a contrast between outside and inside and what a great opportunity to be able to see them. It just goes to show how important it is to talk to locals when travelling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so right. When you stay in guest houses especially you’re getting the best local advice and connections.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! Such an amazing thing to be able to enter such and old church closed to the public! Great post as usual 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you unodiasen. I do often feel like the luckiest lady alive!

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  5. How wonderful to stumble upon such artistic treasure!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny because I spend so much time studying and preparing to see certain sites, and then we are surprised with something totally unexpected!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. C’est la vie 🙂

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  6. Do they actually hold worship services in the church?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure. Perhaps they open it for major holidays.

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  7. You are really lucky.Forgive my ignorance ,but is there any significance to fish nibbling at Jesus?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi sidran! I don’t think there’s a significance to the nibbling fish. It’s just one of those weird things that makes medieval art so wonderful—they want to show Jesus getting baptized in deep water so they put these funny fish in there!

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  8. Thank you.That was really interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading sidran!

      Like

  9. Lovely photos. You truly are fortunate.

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    1. Thank you Videshi—I can see from you’re blog that you’re a fellow lover of art history!

      Like

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