V. Silogava, R. Shengelia
Tbilisi – 2006
The book contains two parts – in the first part is presented the history of five eparchies of Tao-Klardjeti and the second part contains photo album? in which there are presented most know churches and other architeetural monuments. There are discussed diferent issues not only about these monuments, but about other issues from the history of South Georgia in endnotes and enclosures.
the book is belonged not only for specialists – for historians, philologists and etc, but for the society which is interested ancient Georgian culture.
EPARCHY OF AKHIZA
Akhiza is one of the eldest Georgian orthodox eparchies from the time when King Vakhtang Gorgasali (40s of 5th c. – 502) founded 11 episcopates in addition to the episcopal see of Mtskheta.When the chronicler Juansher (11th c.) reports about the church activities of Gorgasali, he writes that King Vakhtang Gorgasali built in Mtskheta the church of the Apostles, Svetitskhoveli (life giving Pillar)… and installed there Petre as Cathalicos and Samoel as Bishop of the episcopal see of Mtskheta. As Bishops he established also one in Klarjeti, at the church of Akhiza (Akhizi), and one at Artaani, in Erusheti. The other episcopates founded by King Vakhtang were: Tsunda, Manglisi, Bolnisi, Rustavi, Ninotsminda, Cheremi, Cheleti, Khornabuji, Agaraki and Nikozi1.
Before creating a see for bishop, Vakhtang Gorgasali let build a church in Akhiza. According to Juansher, Vakhtang, returning from the battle with the Byzantines, «saw among the cliffs in Klarjeti a place called Artanuji»2. He appointed his foster-brother Artavas as eristavi (govarner of province) and «ordered him to construct the fortress of Artanuji.and He also ordered him to seek out a place in the valley for a monastery, and to build a church and construct a monastery just as he had seen monasteries in Greece»3. Juansher continues: «Artavaz built the fortress of Artanuji and the monastery, which is Opiza, and three monasteries: the villages of Meri, Shindobi and Akhizi. He restored the fortress of Akhizi, and fashioned it to a cave»4.
Based on Juansher’s information, the same is repeated later by the Georgian historian Vakhushti Batonishvili (Bagrationi) (1696-1756) about Akhiza Vakhusti wrote: «also, he created at the cliffs of Akhza the hard and safety caves»5
This, means, King Vakhtang Gorgasali created an episcopal see for a bishop in the church of Akhiza which was built by his foster-brother6.
The eparchy of Akhiza includes the ravines of the rivers Artanujistskali and Imerkhevi, the latter is one of the tributaries of the river Chorokh. On this territory is located the city-fortress Artanuji. A Georgian historian of the 11th century Sumbat Davitisdze mentions: «Ashot Kurapalat found a cliff in the woods of Klarjeti, where a fortress was built by Vakhtang Gorgasali, named Artanuji; it was ruined by the «Deaf from Bagdad» (i.e.Murvan surnamed «Qru» – the «deaf») and restored by Ashot as a fortress again and he built also a city”7. Artanuji has been considered a city founded in the 8th- 9th centuries8.
In the 30s of the 8th century, during the raids of Murvan «Qru» (Murvan Ibn-Muhammad) Akhiza was razed to the ground. Its eparchy was included into the eparchy of Ancha which became the episcopal centre. This means, the eparchy of Akhiza had existed for more than two centuries.
Now, the ruins of the Monastery of Akhiza are located in 2-3 km distance north to the cityfortress Artanuji, on the left bank of the river Artanujistskali, on its western slope, over the present motorway. These are surroundings of the village Perathli, Artvini wilayat, the Republic of Turkey. According to prof. Wachtang Djobadze, who studied these sites in the 60s of the 20th century, the Monastery of Akhiza was divided into upper and lower parts with five small churches of the «darbazi» (hall) type . There are now all in ruins. From one of them has survived only a small portion of the eastern wall which is laid with roughly squared pinkish and yellowish sandstone blocks, in straight lines9.
In 1913 the ruins of the Akhiza Monastery were surveyed by scholar A.Florensky, who was sent there by the Caucasian Museum of Tbilisi. He writes that in the eastern apse of one of the bishop’s churches, he saw a mosaic representation of the Virgin as orans. The mosaic was completely damaged and had fallen down. Only from the contours of the traces of the mosaic could be depicted the firure of the oran10. According to Florensky, the mosaic of Akhiza was destroyed by a certain Usta-Gevork, a goldsmith and resident of Artanuji. He had collected the mosaic stones in two small sacks in order to sell them abroad11.
A.Florensky himself collected tile antefixes in the church of Akhiza and took them to Tbilisi, to the Caucasian Museum. In his report, he writes that he has brought two fragments of tiles with representation of animals (deer), crosses and letters. The author is mistaken. The S.Janashia State Museum of Georgia, which is a legatee of the Caucasian Museum, still preserves three ceramic antefixes brought from Akhiza: two big ones and one of average size. Their graphic sketches were first published by P.Zakaraia12, based on materials given to him by G.Chubinashvili. Their origin was unknown to him, as he writes, «we have long been searching for these exhibits in different museums, but failed to find them»13. The identification of the antefixes belongs to Z.Skhirtladze, who knew only two of them and published them together with photos14. In addition to these antefixes, Florensky had taken about 30 mosaic stones from the Akhiza church, which are now kept in the State Museum of Georgia. He had, as he writes, also a ring from Akhiza which he gave to Vladimir Epremov, in Petrograd (today St Petersburg). It was a ring with a carnelian cameo with an engraved Archangel Mikael and a Greek explanatory inscription. The further destiny of the ring is unknown. One of the antefixes, brought by Florensky from Akhiza , shows a deer as full figure, in profile, turned rightwards to the viewer. Before him is engraved a cross with widened edges. On the other are represented two crosses, slightly bent towards each other, of the same contour as the cross on the antefix with the deer, but here it is of a bigger size and «leaved», divided into two by the ornament of a peacock’s tail, between which a cross is put. On the third antefix, which is of an average size, there is a vertically «leaved» cross, the same as has been described for the preceding antefix. There are no letters on any of them, which opposes the information delivered by A.Florensky. According to their artistic and stylistic features, the Akhiza antefixes are dated of the 5th-6th/7th cc.15. They seem to belong to the end of the 5th century, the time of the first building of this church. Thus, there have been preserved stonse from the once magnificent mosaic, three antefixes and at least ruins of the razed-to-the ground patriarchal temple, which was one of the eldest, or may be, the eldest in the history of Georgia.
EPARCHY OF ISHKHANI
The village of Ishkhani, the former centre of the eparchy, is situated on the right bank of the river Oltisistskali, a right tributary of the river Chorokhi. It is extending on a wide and high plateau, sloping gradually towards Oltisistskali. From the village and from the road leading to the village one has the most beautiful sights to places which belong to the best part of Tao. The village is rich in springs and orchards. The now damaged castle of Ishkhani castle is located to the north-east of the village, at the foot of a high mountain with the Georgian name Karieli, i.e. Kariani (windy) place, with the Arafik mountain to the south and the mountain Urghun-Duzi to the south-east1.
These places were settled by Georgians since ancient times (the Georgian tribes of Taokhs (Diauehi) are mentioned in Assyrian and Urartuan inscriptions of the 12th-11th cc BC and the 9th-8th cc BC 2). In the 2nd-1st cc BC, these lands were conquered by the strengthening kingdom of Armenia, from this time is dating the Armenian population there as well as Armenian toponymy. One of the Armenian toponyms is Ishkhani, others are: Shatberdi, Midznadzoro3. At the same time, we find also eldest Laz (Zan-Chanian) toponyms, like Opiza (meaning «the right side for covering» in Georgian), Oshki (from the Megrelian «shka”, i.e. being in the middle»), etc4.
In the 5th century King Vakhtang Gorgasali built fortress-city on the plateau of the high, inaccessible cliff of Artanuji. Later it became the capital of the Kingdom of Tao5. Its ruins are most impressive even today.
At the turn of the 8th-9th cc, in this region, which had become a domain of the Bagrationi feudal house, was formed a new Georgian feudal state, connected with the name of Ashot I Kurapalati (†826)6. All through the Middle Ages these places belonged evidentlyto Georgia. At the end of the 16th century, they were conquered by Ottoman invaders and the Islamization of the local population started7. E.Taqaishvili, who studied these places, in 1917, wrote: «the residents of the village Ishkhani are all «Islamized» Georgians, Meskhs. In 1917, the Georgian language was known only by some old-aged people, the others have already forgotten it»8.
The Ishkhani cathedral is a cruciform domed construction of immense measures(fig.1), its dome being erected on four free standing strong pillars. Its central part is of somewhat elongated form. That is why E.Taqaishvili characterized it as «a unification of central-domed church and one-naved basilica.» 9 The church has been reconstructed many times, embellished and decorated. From its architectural elements, the altar is of special interest: two-storeyed, with side repositories and an arcade at the ground level (a remain of the original building from the dated of the first half of the 7th century. The church in its present form dates to the 11th century). The church was decorated with frescoes of high quality from different periods10, from which Only fragments have been preserved. Especially mentioned should be an Ascension of the cross in the cupola neck which is one of the best composition of this type in Georgian monumental art. Similar crosses can be found in Parkhali, Manglisi and Nicortsminda.
The cupola of this church, its walls and roof have been well preserved up to now. The cupola still has an old roofing, which consists of dark blue and dark purplish-red glazed, rounded tiles arranged in cone-shaped order. There are stone relief ornaments of different character on the church walls. The church possesses also rich epigraphics, which will be discussed later. The church architecture has been studied more than once11.
Vakhushti Batonishvili (1696-1756) writes about Ishkhani in his work: «Description of the Kingdom of Georgia», namely, in the chapter titled «Description of fine places of Samtskhe-Saatabago»: «Above Artvin, the Chorochi is joined by a ravine from the west, which comes down from the mountain of Tortom-Ispiri… Above this ravine is situated the fortress of Ishkani, firmly built, with domed, beautifully built church. It is the seat of a bishop, the pastor of Ispiri, Tortomi, Baiburd, up to the mountains of Trebzond, which is vacant now»12.
In a historical document of the beginning of 16th century on «The Bishops and parishes under the Cathalicos in Samtskhe-Saatabago», the parish of the Ishkhneli Bishop is determined as follows: «the entire Tortomi above Gurjiboghaz, below Taoskari, [and a place] called Sakrulavi, at the Artanujistavi and on the opposite side –[the territory] above the mountain Orjokhi, the entire Sakavkasidzo, above the mountain of Ispir-Trebzond»13. «Sakavkasidzo» mentioned in the document, is a domain of the Kavkasidze feudal house, which according to another document of the same period, was owned by the Cathalicos together with the vassal domain Parkhali14. Other feudal houses and their estates – Samdzivaris, Babulisdzes, Avalishvilis, Slesars, Lasurisdzes, Chorchanelis, Khursidzes, etc (more than 23 houses in total) – were only cathalicos’ vassals15.
The bishop of Ishkani, the «Ishkhneli», had the highest honour in the hierarchical rank of medieval Georgia. During one of the most important state and political acts, enthronement of the king, the king was led to the altar by the Cathalicos of Kartli and the Abkhazian Cathalicos and in case the latter did not attend the ceremony, by the Ishkhneli bishop or Archbishop16. After the enthroning act, the king was taken down from the altar by the Cathalicos, who was holding his right hand, while his left was held by the Abkhazian cathalicos or Chqondideli (this word is inserted in the text in Mkhedruli (i.e. Secular alphabet– V.S.) or the Ishkhneli17. This means that the Ishkhneli replaces the cathalicos of Abkhazia, when the Chqondideli was absent, the Ishkhneli being placed here on the second place, after the cathalicos of Kartli.
This rule of king’s enthronement presents the situation of the 13th century and in the 14th century «Khelmtsipis Karis Garigeba”, (The regulation of Royal Court) which represents the situation of earlier period (2-3 centuries ago) Ishkhneli’s high honour is specially accentuated. So, it is said that the king welcomed with respect the Ishkhneli, Matsqvereli, Ancheli, Mtbevari and Golgoteli bishops and for the Ishkhneli the king made two or three steps forward and welcomed him18. With such great respect and honour the king welcomed only cathalicos and Chqondideli, the cathalicos still being kissed by the king whj, then, put him to his right19.
At the feast arranged after enthronement, the Ishkhneli occupied the 10th place among 36 bishops of East and West Georgia. He is mentioned between two archimandrites, i.e. betweeb the ruling Ninotsmindeli (9th place) and Ancheli (11th place) bishops and their eparchies though the Ancheli should have been placed directly after the Ninotsmindeli20.
It is clear that the Ishkhneli occupied a high rank among the bishops of Samtskhe-Saatabago, here he is mentioned on the third place after the Matsqvereli and Kumurdoeli (even before the Ancheli) among 13 bishops21.
The bishops of the eparchy of Ishkhani held the title of «Ishkhneli», as was mentioned earlier. The eparchy existed for 1000 years – from the 7th-17th century – and had a very rich and interesting history. The bishop’s cathedra was founded in Ishkhani and the church built in the 30s of the 7th century by one of the local residents, the Armenian Nerse. He was evidently endowed with the talent for construction. In addition to the old cathedral of Ishkhani, he built the famous round church of Zwratnotz22 (church of the «Guardian Angels»), near Echmiadzin in Armenia, which resemble our splendid Bana church (in historical Tao)23. He also renewed and restored several old churches. His activities have been preserved in Byzantine, Armenian and Georgian sources24. Nerse become Cathalicos of the Armenian Church and was known under the name Nerse III Shinogh («the Builder»). He held the cathalicate from 641-66125. As he adhered to Chalcedonism, (Diophysite position, opposition to the otherwise non-chalcedonian, monophysite position of the Armenian church he was displaced from the Armenian cathalicos’ throne. That is why the old Georgian writer Arseni Sapareli (who is supposed by some authors to have lived between the 7th and 10th centuries, but in the opinion of Z.Alexidze he wrote in the 20s of the 12th century or probably at the end of the 13th century26) considers him to be a «worthy and orthodox» man27.
There are different historical sources reporting on Nerse, but only the Georgian source – «Life of Grigol Khandzteli» by Giorgi Merchule (10th c.) – tells about him as the builder of the old church of Ishkhani. This points to the reliability of this and also other old Georgian written sources. The «Life of Grigol Khandzteli» mentions also Saba, Grigol’s associate, being consecrated as Ishkhneli bishop: «by the will of God, Saba was consecrated bishop of Ishkhani at a catholic church built by the catholicos Nerse, remaining for many years without its spiritual head»28.
The old church of Ishkhani built by Nerse «remained without its spiritual head for many years» because with the raids of the Arab Murvan Qru (Murwan Ibn-Muhammad) in the second half of the 30s of the 8th century in Georgia and the Caucasus, also Tao-Klarjeti was raided29. It is supposed that during these raids also the old church of Ishkhani built by Nerses was destroyed30.
The building of a new church in Ishkhani and the re-foundation of the episcopal centre there is connected with the name of Grigol Khandzteli’s disciple Saba/Sabani (in the «Life of Grigol Khandzteli» he is mentioned with both names).
Saba was a nephew of Grigol Khandzteli’s mother, i.e. a man of his age and generation (OGHLM, I, p 252:20). In the «Life of Grigol Khandzteli» he is mentioned as «Ishkhani rebuilder and its bishop» (ibid). Saba accompanied Grigol everywhere, lived with him in Khandzta, and went with him to Constantinople to visit holy places. They returned also together and stopped near Ishkhani. Just before, thay were informed that «Ashot Kurapalat had been assassinated and his sons had become the rulers» (OGHLM, I, p 264:33). Here are mentioned Ashot I Kurapalati, who was assassinated January 29, 826, and his sons Adarnese, Bagrat and Guaram. On Bagrat was bestowed the title of Kurapalati (also Kurapalat, one of the highest Byzantine ranks, which was also conferred to Georgian kings) and he became the head of the Bagrationi royal house in Tao (OGHLM, I, p 272:16-22).
Grigol and Saba, which stopped near Ishkhani, «had a vision and God revealed to them Ishkhani,s initial splendour and the need for its renewal by Saba/Sabani» (OGHLM, I, p 265:6-7). After this, they had a revelation about the way to Ishkhani because the church ruins and their surroundings were desolate and inaccessible to reach and the way was forgotten (ibid, p 265:10). When they reached Ishkhani, they liked the place very much for its spiritual and earthly appeal. Saba decided immediately to stay there, but Grigol did not allow him to stay, he told him that they should return to Khandzta to see their monk brothers and should only then «on god’s will and blessing, return to this holy place» (OGHLM, I, p 265:14-15). On the way to Khandzta, they «visited the sons of Ashot Kurapalati’s to condole, and shared their grief.»
On his return to Khandzta, Grigol visited Bagrat Kurapalat once more and appealed to him with the request to give resources for building a church in Shatberdi which was donated by Ashot Kuropalati to Khandzta‘s monastery as an arable land. Bagrat assisted him in every way and «built Shatberdi like Khandzta» (OGHLM, I, p 273:30-31). After having completed Shatberdi, Bagrat Kurapalati invited Grigol once more to palace and gave him the good places for the arable of shatberdi. (OGHLM, I, p 273:37). Grigol thought of Saba and informed Bagrat Kurapalati about it. He «was very glad… and wrote immediately a letter» and sent people to bring Saba before him. But when they returned, they told the Kurapalat that «he did not want to come.» Bagrat Kurapalat said to Grigol «I was not right in sending my letter» and asked him «to write a letter on his behalf» supplementing it with his new letter to Saba. «Blissful Saba obeyed the second order by the Kurapalat and before all the letter by his father», i.e. of Grigol, is said in the «Life of Grigol Khandzteli.» (OGHLM,I,p274:5-6).
When Saba appeared before him, Bagrat asked: «You should obey your sovereign, why did not you come on the first calling, Holy Father» (OGHLM, I, p 274:9-10). Saba/Sabani´s answer to Bagrat Kurapalat was: «Gracious King, you are the sovereign of a country, but Christ governs over heaven and earth and underworld. You are the King of your relatives while Christ is thew king of all the born; you are the king of transient and Christ is an eternal king and the king of angels and human beings and I believe in his word that «no man can serve two masters» and I came to you on the words of my brother and holy father Grigol» (OGHLM, I, p 274:12-20).
Bagrat Kurapalat obediently agreed with these arrogant words of Saba/Sabani proved by the words from the Gospel (Matthew, 6, 24, and Luke, 16, 13) and himself proves by the words from the Gospel «Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who is in heaven» (Matthew, 5,16).
Then, accompanied by Grigol Khandzteli and Saba, Bagrat Kurapalat came to Ishkhani and «liked this place very much.» Saba was consecrated as bishop of Ishkhani and the church of Ishkhani «was rebuilt by blessed Saba/Sabani» and Ishkhani began to exist (OGHLM, I, p 274:34-35, 274:39). «And, thus, Ishkhani flourished from now to the eternity», concludes the biographer of Grigol Khandzteli, Giorgi Merchule (ibid, p 274:39).
Saba Ishkhneli’s response to Bagrat Kurapalat’s words concerned several issues. At first, the response shows that the monk-fathers were full aware of the meaning of their activities for the spiritual revival of the country. Another conclusion is connected with this point: they also apprehended the significance and designation of a broad ecclesiastical construction work in this region and thirdly, not only the spiritual fathers influenced the public authorities but the latter also supported them and this joint co-operation yielded important results which finally promoted the establishment of a first Georgian feudal state.
Saba Ishkhneli’s response is also interesting from the philological point of view. In K.Kekelidze’s opinion, Saba Ishkhneli’s words could have been connected with the translation of a piece from «David and Goliath» of Hippolyt of Rome (2nd-3rd cc). It is not excluded that Saba Ishkhneli himself had translated these texts between 831-84231. To this hints that this work of Hippolyt is included in the «Shatberdi collection» (a collection of ecclesiastical texts from the 10th c.) which ends with the same words, as Saba Ishkhneli’s response32. The «Shatberdi collection» is connected with Iskhani – in one of the annexes of Ioane Bera, a major scribe of the manuscript, we read: «this book of Genesis was copied from original in Iskhani, pray for the writer who will read it»33. It is supposed34, that the quotation from Hippolyt of Roma could have been translated by Giorgi Merchule what would exclude Saba Ishkhneli’s role. But Giorgi Merchule himself writes that these were the words of Saba Ishkhneli, who was probably also translating ecclesiastical literature. So, K.Kekelidze’s consideration is more convincing.
From the above may be deduced also the period, when the first Ishkhneli bishop Saba/Sabani was active. We think that this was in the 30-40s of the 9th century.
The name of the next bishop of Ishkhani – Basili Ishkhneli – is mentioned in the historical source only one century later. His name is preserved in a fine fresco inscription on the south wall of the north chapel. This inscription with a historical content is dated according to E.Taqaishvili to the years 954-95535(fig.2). The first part of the inscription commemorates Basili Ishkhneli, the other part contains the text on the consecration of a new bishop. The inscription begins with the following words: «In the Chronicon 137 in the month of September 7 with the help of Christ and the blessing of the holy Cathedral Church by the order of Adarnese, King of the Georgians, our blessed Father Basil was appointed as bishop and he served this Holy Church (of Ishkhani) 19 years with outstanding dedication, and in complete faith, and he entrusted his soul to God in the month of December 26 on Friday. May Christ give peace to his soul, amen»36.
Thus, on September 3, 917, Adarnese, King of the Georgians appointed Basili as bishop of Ishkhani, who occupied this see for 19 years up to his death, on December 26, 936. Unfortunately, there is no further evidences of Basili Ishkhneli, but there is also no such evidence on any other Georgian church father in the medieval Georgian epigraphics as the exact dates of the beginning and the end of their activities are concerned. Only the construction inscription of the church of Kumurdo of 964 with its specified chronological evidence may be compared to our inscription37.
The inscription of the church of Ishkhani continues with commemorating the consecration of Stepane Ishkhneli as bishop. It says that David, King of the Georgians, Ashot Kurapalat, Bagrat Magistros and Sumbat Antipatrik sent Stepane to Trebizond at the place of the deceased Basili Ishkhneli, and there he was consecrated by the hand of the honorable and God-pleasing Greek Patriarch Basil; According to E.Taqaishvili, this happened on Sunday, March 1, in 93738, the year after Basili Ishkhneli had died (936).
Unfortunately, the further text has faded out and is unreadable. The remaining fragments give to understand that there may have been noted why it was necessary to send Stepane to Trebizond and not to Mtskheta, to the cathalicos of Kartli. The final words of the text are as follows: «Because at that time [the Catholicos] of Kartli blessed…». From these words E.Taqaishvili concludes that the cathalicos of Kartli was dead by that time and the new one was not yet consecrated. Anyhow, it is a fact that Stepane as bishop of Ishkhneli was consecrated in Trebizond in the 10th century, and this also leads us to the relations of one part of the Georgian bishops with Trebizond in the late Middle Ages.
It is unknown how long Stepane Ishkhneli had been bishop but it is not excluded that Ilarion Ishkhneli succeeded him – there are about 30 years from the consacretion of Stepanos until Ilarion was intensifaing his activities.
There are two precious and highly important objects connected with Ilarion Ishkhneli: a processional cross, that was made on his order in 973, and a voluminous manuscript (P 331) copied at the end of 10th / beginning of 11th century, in which are collected various texts, including a paterik the lipos of holy fathers translated by Eptvime Mtatsmindeli at the end of the 10th century39. The processional cross of Ishkhani, which is now preserved in the State Museum of Georgian Art and has been thoroughly studied by acad. G.Chubinashvili40, has two historical inscriptions in Asomtavruli (the eldest Georgian uncial script). The first inscription reads: «it was made for Ishkhani by Ilarion and who will take it from here, he will be damned» and the second: «† cross of Life, be leader and protector for Bishop Ilarion. Christ, glorify Our Kings and protect their nation. Chronicon 973.» Thus, according to its inscriptions, this processional cross was specially prepared for the church of Ishkhani, in 973, on the order of Ilarion, the bishop of Ishkhani.
The manuscript A-35 of the end of the 10th century was copied by a certain Iovane-Germane, – who reminds in a special note on one of the pages of the manuscript (26v). That Ilarion Ishkhneli was the person who let copy the manuscript, can also be seen from the numerous commemorative inscriptions on different pages of the manuscript. Among them, the text of the 17th colophon is as follows: «Jesus Christ, exalt Archbishop Ilarion» and the text of the 8 th colophon: «Jesus Christ, exalt Ilarion, Archbishop of Ishkhani, amen. »41. They shows that since the end of the 10th century, the Ishkhneli bishops carried the title of archbishops (we’ll see below that later they had the title of metropolitans as well). L.Menabde supposed that Ilarion Ishkhneli could have been the same Ilarion Ishkhneli who had copied the Gospel of Mestia. But he himself doubts this as well because there are 60 years between the making of the cross (973) and the copying of the Mestia Gospel (1033), which excludes both Ilarion Ishkhneli being the same person42. (infra)
There is no other evidence of Ilarion (I) Ishkhneli in Georgian historical sources, according to the material mentioned above, he seems to have been active in the last quarter of the 10th century.
The Armenian historical sources also mention a certain Bishop Ilarion, who encouraged by Tao noblemen which were supported by the Byzantine emperor Basili II (976-1025) murdered David Kurapalat43. We think that he was not a contemporary of David Kurapalati and the renowned Bishop Ilarion Ishkhneli mentioned above. Bishop Ilarion, who assassinated David Kurapalat seems rather to have been a royal court bishop who had the same name Ilarion. To this points the easiness with which he could move at royal court, where he freely moves around the palace, enters the room where the old king sleeps, suffocates him with a pillow and fulfills his evil plan without any problem.
A few years later, this Bishop Ilarion was caught by King Basileos. They put a stone around his neck and Ilarion, together with the noblemen which had supported him, was drowned in the sea. «Thus they were perished by curse», writes Mate Urhaezi44. One can remember here: «For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword» (St. Matthew, 26, 52).
How important the cathedral of Ishkhani was, show the following building activities. A small chapel was built by Gurgen, King of Kings, father of Bagrat III in 1006 opposite the south entrance, in some three metre distance from the cathedral. This small chapel (10,35 X 5,65m) has one entrance in the north; on the entrance architrave is engraved an Asomtavruli inscription, the lines of which are arranged in semicircle, the lines with the date horizontally. The text reads as follows(fig.3):
«† In the name of God, I, Gurgen, King of Kings, have built this holy church in the name of Holy Virgin, to pray for my soul. Holy Virgin, do protect me at Doomsday. This is the gate of the Lord into which the righteous shall enter. Each to pass it, do pray for me». Chronicon was 226; (i.e. 226+780=1006.) The same date, only in the Armenian chronology and in Armenian letters, is engraved to the right, along the Georgian date and opposite it. It seems that givins the date in Armenian, is a certain contribution to the local chalcedonite Diophisite Armenian population, who lived here since the 1st-2nd cc, when these places were conquered by the Kingdom of Armenia.
This small church, built in the name of the Virgin, may have been determined by Gurgen, King of Kings, for his burial. To this points at least the date of the inscription, 1006. He died two years later, in 1008. Also the formula «pray for my soul» is important in this context. It is the Introduction to Psalm 117,20, beseeching those entering the church to pray for the soul of the builder. It should also be mentioned that the entrances of the main church and the chapel are located opposite each other so that during the liturgy on could move easily from the church to the chapel.
All this was arranged so in the period of Anton being at the Ishkhani cathedra.
The archbishop of Ishkhani, Anton, is a contemporary of the kings of the united Georgia, Giorgi I (1014-1027) and Bagrat IV (1027-1072). It is possible that he was consecrated archbishop already during the reign of Bagrat III (978-1014), so he may have succeeded Ilarion at the cathedra of Ishkhani.
Anton has considerably re-constructed his church in Ishkhani. The cathedral in its final form was built during his time, as is testified by two lapidary inscription on the walls of the church which document the works he had conducted. The exists a third lapidary inscription on the northern wall, that could date to the period of Bagrat IV period but it is only fragmentary. Without closer studies it is not possible to say whether it can be ascribed to Anton Ishkhneli or not45.
On the architrave of the south entrance of the church is a lengthy Asomtavruli inscription. The engraved letters are painted with a clear, light-blue colour. At some places, the inscription is well preserved. The lines are semi-circular except the final letters of the final word which are vertical and placed such to form a cross. The inscription seems to have a decorative designation as well and made up an element of the church decoration. The inscription text consists of two parts: the first is adorative and glorifies King Giorgi: «† Jesus Christ exalt in both lives King Giorgi and his children, amen.» The other inscription is very long. Its beginning is of historical importance: «†In the name of God, I, miserable Anton, bishop of Ishkhani, renovated this porch of the holy Cathedral church for the glorification of kings: King Giorgi and his children, for (the) prayer for the soul of Bagrat Kurapalates, (And) for the forgiveness of our sins…», (fig.4) etc46.
The dating of the inscription was discussed in special literature. To my opinion, E.Taqaishvili has proved finally that the kings mentioned in this inscription are King Giorgi I (1014-1027) and King Bagrat III (978-1014). Anton, Bishop of Ishkhani, renovated the southern entrance during the lifetime of King Giorgi47. This entrance does not exist any more. That Anton Ishkhneli is mentioning the deceased Bagrat in the inscription, gives rise to the assumption that Anton was active during Bagrat’s reign as well and was at this time bishop not of Ishkhani but of Tsageri (infra).
Later Anton Ishkhneli conducted bigger works. He writes in an inscription, dated 1032, carved on the southern wall of the church: «I, renovated and completed this temple of God». The inscription which is at first cross-cut and then becomes rounded over another window of the southern wall (all in one line) and then continues in 10 cross-cut lines on the southern wall(fig.5) glorifies King Bagrat IV (1027-1072) («for the glorification of Bagrat Kurapalates»). At the and is named the master mason: «And I built (this church) by the hand of Iovane Morchaisdze48. According to E.Taqaishvili, by that time (i.e. time of Anton), the church had got a new stone cover. He writes that the church was embellished with nice red-yellow slates»49. There are also wounderful ornamental crosses on walls of the temple from this period(fig.6).
From all this may be assumed that Anthon Ishkhneli was active in the first third of the 11th century.
A chased silver icon of Symeon the Wonder-worker is dated of approximately the same period (G.Chubinashvili). The icon was preserved in the village Laghami, (village community of Mestia), at present it is in the State Museum of Georgian Art50(fig.7). The icon represents a person in bishop’s attire with the inscription: «Antoni Tsagereli»(fg.8). The bishop, as full figure, is turning to St. Symeon (in Georgian: Svimeon) insupplication. The bishop is arranged to the left of St. Symeon who’s bust on a pillar is placed in the centre of the icon. On the other side of the pillar, there is an inscription written in beautiful, lengthy Asomtavruli letters which are formed like arrowheads at the end(fig.9):
«I, miserable Antoni Tsagereli, when was in Ishkhani, saw an artistic place, and made and sacrificed to St Svimeon and made this icon to put in his church to pray for my soul-whoever changes this humble deed of mine, St Svimeon will punish him before God at Doomsday, amen».
There is still one more inscription of historical importance on the tri-stepped base of the pillar: «Christ, have mercy upon Pilipe Goldsmith. St Svimeon, have mercy upon Anton»51.
The icon and its inscription have been many times studied and published since the end of the 19th century52.
There exist various interpretations of the inscription text, which we will not discuss here. We should understand this text as follows: Anton, who is Bishop of Tsageri, writes that when he was in Ishkhani, renovated an artistic (beautiful) place left without an owner, for St Svimeon’s chapel which would have been in the Ishkhani environment, sacrificed and made this icon by the hand of Pilipe Goldsmith. It seems that, after Tsageri, Anton Tsagereli, being in Ishkhani, became bishop of Ishkhani (architrave inscription) and then archbishop (southern wall inscription).
Thus, the icon of Svimeon Stylite in Laghami has preserved for us a portrait of Anton Ishkhneli when he was still the bishop of Tsageri, i.e., as G.Chubinashvili dates, in the 20s of the 11th century.
Consequently, based on the historical sources, the stages of the construction of the Ishkhani church can be imagined as follows:
In the 7th century – Nerse builds the Ishkhani church, which in the 8th century is destroyed after the raids of Murvan «Qru» (Murwan Ibn-Muhammad).
In the first third of the 9th century – Saba/Sabani builds a one-naved church, which at present is «a northern annex» of the main church.
In 1006 – a small church is built by Gurgen, king of kings, which is now to the south of the main church.
1014-1027 – Anton Ishkhneli, Bishop in the period of Giorgi I, builds a main church which includes an altar left from the church of Nerse from the 7th century and the church built by Saba/Sabani in the first third of the 9th century, as a «northern annex».
By 1032, in the period of Bagrat IV, Anton, already archbishop of Ishkhani, finishes the construction of the Ishkhani church wall with a dome. The last two constructions are made by the master mason Ivane Morchaisdze.
In 1032, after having finished the renovation and embellishment of the main church of Ishkhani, Anton Ishkhneli, for reasons unknown to us, must soon have suspended his activities, because in 1033 a new bishop, Ilarion, is seen at the Ishkhani cathedra.
Ilarion, his family name being Masurisdze, endowed a Tetraevangeliar, copied by the «miserable Gabriel, Giorgi’s nephew», to the church. The manuscript is richly decorated, with a beautiful processional cross, painted against a red background on the reverse side of the second page. It is embellished by canons, annunciator’s miniatures, the Asomtavruli text is written in gold-coloured ink. This Gospel manuscript is now in Mestia, in the Museum of History and Ethnography of Svaneti53. It is known for more than 150 years and has been studied54.
The manuscript includes also two colophon of the donator (who ordered copying). One, comparatively short text says: «Glory to God. This holy book of the Gospel is finished. Jesus Christ, Our Saviour, have mercy and exalt Ilarion Ishkhneli, your humble servant and donator of this holy book, amen»55. The other, more lengthy text has some lacunas at the beginning. Thus, I am quoting only some extracts of historical importance: «I, miserable and most sinful and unrepentant poor Ilarion, son of Masuri, Bishop of Ishkhani, got this holy Otkhtavi (Tetraevangeliar) and let it copy in full… by the hand of Giorgi, nephew of the miserable Gabriel at Oshki John the Baptist‘s lavra, chronicon was 253»56, i.e. in 1033.
Then, in the colophon, Ilarion Ishkhneli names Bagrat Kurapalat, his mother Mariam, Queen of Queens, and continues: «I got the Otkhtavi copied to pray for and glorify my poor soul, the souls of my live and dead, of my brother Iovane and his sons, Masur and Giorgi»; Little below Ilarion Ishkhneli names Iovane, the Cathalicos of Kartli57.
A study of the text directly in the manuscript has revealed interesting details, to which earlier was not paid attention. So, in the first short testament, the words «Ilarion Ishkhneli» are at a place where an elder text had been scratched out. In the other, lengthy text, at its beginning, the letters «Ishkh» in the words «Ishkhneli bishop», are written in a scratched out place as well, but here can be seen the outlines of the former letters «ban». This means that earlier was written here «Banel» or «Bana(a)el»58.
So, Ilarion before becoming bishop in Ishkhani, was the Baneli bishop and he ordered this Tetraevangeliar while being bishop of Bana. We do not know how long Ilarion had been bishop of Bana but according to this material, it can be assumed that Ilarion was bishop of Bana from 1028- 1032 and since 1033, bishop of Ishkhani. Later, until the mid – 12th century, we do not know who held the cathedra of Ishkhani and whether, over the next 120 years, any further work was done in the church. Only by 1155, the Ishkhneli archbishop Egnati placed a long inscription on the northern wall of the central nave of the church. The inscription, painted in black, covered the wall in full length. This inscription, the most lengthy Georgian epigraphic inscription, does not exist any more. It was written down by Nerses Sargisian in the mid – 19th century and, then, was published by Acad. M. Brosset (1861)59.
Later, the inscription was damaged and the text was lost in some parts. In 1917, when E.Taqaishvili saw the inscription, some more parts were lacking. At present (October 2002), there is no sign of the inscription any longer as the wall plaster has fallen of completely.
As we know nothing else about Egnati Ishkhneli’s activities and because of its great importance, I have, on the basis of the publications by N. Sargisian/ M. Brosset and E. Taqaishvili, re-constructed the text of the inscription as follows:
«[† In the name of God and with the support of St Virgin and St Swimeon, the Wonder-maker], glorify God the powerful Demetre, King of Kings, in both lives, to pray for their reign and to mention the village of Lozni which was released from the every tribute by Demetre, King of Kings [?] for devotion to him and have held it by mortgage agreement.
God endowed and all the saints supported [?][?] Ishkhani cathedral church, St Virgin and St Swmeon the Wonder-maker as first Kings, God-imbued fathers and fathers donated.
Now I, earth of their reign, Egnati Ishkhneli, Archbishop, they honoured me, miserable, whom they cared for [who] [slimes not in full but in small and insufficient*, for devotion made me a bishop of Teodore and all the church depentants.
[?] For [?] [?] powerful kings David and Giorgi, for the first time we put icon lamps during day and at night, one over them, another – in front of St Virgin and one more – in front of Swimeon, the Wonder-maker.
And established memorial record («Agape»), before the day of St Martyr Teodore, Friday of fast, which … [?]. Two donators together: Elia, nephew of Elia archpriest and Grigol [?] and also [?] they sacrificed to them [?] what was written by them[?]
[?] Glorify, God the greatest among Kings, the most powerful King Demetre, his sister, Queen of Queens Tamar and their children, powerful Kings David and Giorgi, help them to defeat all their foes, give them a peaceful life and to all your descendants.
Whoever will change their blessed reign, be cursed and damned by God, by the mercy of The Holy Twelve Apostles, St Virgin, St Swimeon the Wonder-maker, six five Patriarch crosses and who is against should stay with Judah, who betrayed Christ.
[and who shall approve, God’s mercy and support of all saints be on them. Chronicon was 
[?] [or who appeared and implored Kings or who was with them, sharing their intentions to separate Loz from the church, be all the curses mentioned above full on them]. [And][which bishops, patriarchs, cathalicoses sit together and … be they cursed, their souls be damned by their own mercy. [And who are not, let God… at Doomsday]».
The inscription of Ishkhani church is an epigraphic charter: kings have earlier contributed the village Lozni to Ishkhani. Then the village was given by a mortgage agreement to the some king. King Demetre made it mortgage-free and once more contributed it to Ishkhani. Surely, there should have existed also a document, on parchment and in a usual form. But Egnati Ishkhneli, as Lozni’s return took place in the period when he was a bishop, made an extensive inscription on the church wall, too. In this inscription were determined the memorial days in the name of him who returned the village and his family members and put icon-lamps. Line 6 of above mentioned a wall inscription, from the words «or who appears» up to the end («at Domsday»), seems to be the king’s handwriting text, probably appended to the document on parchment and which was written on the church wall by Egnati to confirm his order also in this form.
There are many historical figures named in the inscription text: Demetre, King of Kings, his sister Tamar, Queen of Queens, Demetre’s sons, David and Giorgi, the Cathalicos of Kartli Teodore, Archbishop Egnati Ishkhneli himself and those praying for the king: Elia, archpriest Elia’s nephew and Grigoli – unknown for us from other sources. Referring to these data, E.Taqaishvili mentioned that «the inscription was made in the second half of the 12th century, not later than 1155.»60 As the inscription mentions King Demetre’s sons David and Giorgi as kings, what could have been only in this same year, we can fix the dating even more exactly. Taking into account that Egnati Ishkhneli determines agape for Demetre, King of Kings (1125-1154), his sister Queen Tamar, Demetre’s sons King David (1154-1155) and King Giorgi (1155-1184), the inscription could have been made only in 1155. That is why the damaged letters with the date at the end of line 5 should be restored as 375, i.e. 375+780+1155.
The inscription concerns many issues (e.g. we learn that King Demetre had another man to pray for him – Arsen, the nephew of Iovane Mtbevari, etc) which cannot be discussed here in more details61.
Having no other historical proof, it mast be assumed that Egnati was Ishkhneli in the middle of the 12th century.But there are still other interesting hypothesizes.
In 1941, Acad. K.Kekelidze published the restored text of «Istoriani da azmani sharavandedtani» («A History and Loudation of the Monarchs») by an anonym author of the beginning of the 13th century, the so-called first historian of Tamar (the book has the subtitle «Attempts to restore the text»). In the introductory part, he discussed the work of the author which has a very interesting history. There were different persons supposed to be the author: Anton Glonistavisdze (T.Zhordania), Sargis Tmogveli (P.Ingoroqva), Mandaturtukhutsesi (head of police officials) Chiaber (S.Kakabadze)62. K.Kekelidze specified one place in the work which reached us in a damaged form as follows: Arsen says «iqvn neli» as Arsen says «Ishkhneli» and concludes that «a certain Arsen Ishkhneli seems to be the author, this we can say at least about this issue at present but it is still a hypothesis”63. He also determines the period of the author’s activities: «it’s clear, this Arsen is a writer of the first two fifths of the 13th century»64. But this hypothesis of Kekelidze is based on weak arguments and was not shared by other scholars65. This damaged place in «Istoriani da azmani sharavandedtani» is preferred to be read as «Arsen Iqaltoeli», there has been no Arsen Ishkhneli in the «first two five years of the 13th century»66.
We have the original of a significant historical document of mid-13th century which is now preserved in the central state Historical Archives of Georgia (fund 1448, n5003); it is written by Arsen Chqondideli-Mtsignobartukhutsesi to Mgela Abulahtarisdze. Arsen writes that when «my patron Rusudan, Queen of Queens, sent me to Bato, you were with me then and faced many troubles». After returning from the Mongol’s court, «you asked me the village Ghuerki for devoted services and I gave it to you» with everything. The village Ghuerki/Ghverki still exists in Georgia even two times: one in Kharagauli region and the other in the region of Zestaponi67. Arsen’s document means probably the village Ghverki in the region of Kharagauli, as the document part names along with Chqondidi martyrs «Saint martyr of Ubisi.» (Ubisi situated in western Georgia, near a village Kharagauli).
The document has ten signature confirmations by Arsen Chqondideli, Queen Rusudan, King David (Narin), the Cathalicos of Kartli Arsen, Basili Chqondideli-Mtsignobartukhutsesi and Protoipertimos, Nikoloz, «Father Superior of a big monastery», Avag Atabagi, Shahansha Mandaturtukhutsesi, Mamurchai Mechurchletukhutsesi (Chief Treasurer). That means that Mgela Abulahtarisdze had his document confirmed by all high-ranking secular and ecclesiastical authorities of the then Georgia. According to these persons, scolars are dating this document, with one or two year difference, in general, to the 40s of the 13th century68.
Between the signature of Shahansha and Mamurcha in the unique document, there is a long proof(fig.10): «Proved by the God-imbued hand granted by the Mtsignobartukhutsesi (chief of the regular chancellory) to Mgela and his children, I, the former Ishkhneli and Mtsignobari of estate and treasury, Anton, am a witness. Be it firmly proved by God»69.
We know that the unknown for us Anton was at first Bishop of Ishkhani and then became Mtsignobartukhutsesi and Mechurchletukhutsesi, i.e. a state official of the royal court. It should be considered as a unique case because we do noy know of other such examples in the historical sources that have reached us.
The Ishkhneli, whether the just acting or a former one, should have been a clergyman. This means, also the royal court officials were clergymen. The «Satsolis mtsignobari» (chamberlain) was the first deputy mtsignobartukhutsesi, therefore, one of the high-ranking officials in the state70. As for the «Sachurchlis mtsignobari, he was the first deputy mechurchletukhutsesi (chief tresurer) in case of Anton, as he occupied both of these posts simultaneously. The «Mechurchletukhutsesi» was the head of the «sachurchle» (treasury). Treasures, valuables, administration in royal cities, all was subject to him71. Anton, the former Ishkhneli, occupied a second-in-rank high posts in both services and his competence, surely, was very high. That he was highly respected, is witnessed in his handwriting where he mentions his former church title along with his posts. If Anton, the former Ishkhneli, was an official of the central royal court administration in the 40-ies of the 13th century, he must have been Ishkhneli in the 30s of the 13th century at latest.
The 13th century manuscript (A-85)72 of hymns written on parchment was filled up with paper pages in the 16th century and renewed by the scribe Giorgi on the wish and expenses from Amba Ishkhneli Aberki73. The title «Amba» or «father» could be attributed to the Bishop of Alaverdi only («Amba Alaverdeli»), because he was, at the same time, both the head of the eparchy and the monastery of Alaverdi. In the 16th century, there was evidently a monastery in Ishkhani together with the episcopal cathedra, otherwise Aberki Ishkhneli could not have had the title of «Amba» added to his name. No one knows whether this was an interim event or existed either before or after. Also, as «Ishkneli» was Archimandrite of monasteries as well he could held the title «father» («Amba»), but it is no sources about it, except above mentioned one.
In the quincuncial notes of a manuscript (S-252) of the Society for Spreading Literacy among the Georgians is mentioned: «335 Here Sapridze Mtbevari was granted the rank of Ishkhneli and Matsqvereli from the sultan»74. We know about Sapridze from another note of the same manuscript, which says: «325 Here Sapridze Gedeon had a seat as Mtbevari»75. Therefore, Gedeon Sapridze, who had been Mtbevari since 1637, has become Ishkhnel-Matsqvereli since 1650. We do not know whether he preserved the see of Tbeti as well (it’s more likely that sultan remained Mtbevari as the head of big and important cathedras of Ishkhani and Atskuri, but it is a fact that by the middle of the 17th century, the bishops of Tao-Klarjeti were being confirmed by the Ottoman sultan.
It seems that Makar was replaced at the Ishkhani cathedra by Gedeon Sapridze. Makar is unknown to us from other sources. He is mentioned in one of the supplements to the Echmiadzin Gospel: «Christ, have mercy on Makar, bishop of Ishkhani, God, forgive him. Christ came the year of one thousand six hundred fifty, Adam seven thousand and one hundred forty and seven more, and «Zednadebi» (The dipperence between the Sun and the Moon full chronological cycles)76. The first date gives us 1650, the other 1559. It seems to by the date of Makar’s death, as his commemoration inscription is among tens of others added in this Gospel.
Consequently, in the first half of the 17th century, up to 1650 we should see Makar as Ishkhneli, who was replaced by Mtbevari Gedeon Sapridze being approved by the sultan at the see of Ishkhani for this year. It is unknown how long Gedeon had been Ishkhneli, at least, from the second half of the 17th century onwards, we find Germanos as the new Ishkhneli.
In the same 17th century, the Ishkhnelis carry the title of metropolitans. The first Ishkhneli known with this title is Germanos, whose commemoration is added to the so-called Gelatis Gulani (The prayer book with hymnes)(A-186 ABG), on page 2314 of its first part: «Jesus Christ, Our Saviour, God have mercy upon your servant Germanos, Ishkhani metropolitan, amen, God have mercy»77. As we have no other evidence, we can assume that Germanos was metropolitan of Ishkhani in the second half of the 17th century, according to the paleographic data. But he came after Gedeon Sapridze. In the last twenty years of the 17th century, the historical sources mention one more bishop of Ishkhani: Nikoloz Ishkhneli.
In one of the additions in the margin, we read: «God, forgive his sins to Nikoloz Ishkhneli; chronicon 375», i.e. 168778. The same Nikoloz Ishkhneli made an addition on one page of an 18th cent. manuscript: «I, Nikoloz Ishkhneli, read this book: it is full of kindness»79. In our opinion, T.Zhordania was right when he said that «this is the last Ishkhneli ousted from the Chorokhi gorge by Mohammedans»80.
A nephew of the ousted Nikoloz Ishkhneli, himself Nikolaz, in the same 1687 year made an marginal addition to the collection of works from Grigol the Theologian copied in 1030 on the order of Zakaria Baneli Swingelos (Institute of Manuscripts, A-1; p 454). He wrote in Mkhedruli (Secular Georgian script), on the first page of this magnificent manuscript being the property of Svetitskhoveli. «I have read this (book of wisdom) of (Grigol) the Theologian, explained, by you (i.e. Zakharia Swingelos) many times. I tried to take in consideration all wisdom which is in it, but could assimilate every little»81.
Consequently, the following bishops of Ishkhani are proved by the historical sources of the 7th- 17th centuryes:
Nerse – the 30s of the 7th century. (died in 661) Saba/Sabani – the 30s-40s of the 9th century.
Basili – 917-936. Stepane – the 40-60s of the 10th century.
Ilarion (I) – the last quarter of the 10th century.
Anton (I) – the first third of the 11th century.
Ilarion (II) – Banaeli (1028-1032), Ishkhneli since 1033.
Egnati – mid-12th century.
Anton (II) – the 30s of the 13th century.
Aberki – the 16th century. Makari – the first half of the 17th century.
Gedeon Sapridze – Mtbevari (1637-1650), Ishkhnel-Matsqvereli – the 50s of the 17th century. Nikoloz – the last fifth of the 17th century.
From the beginning of the 18th century, Ishkhneli is already a surname. As an example we can cite the charter of king Vakhtang the 6 th At April 20 1712 he gave the «charter and book» to Urbnisi bishop. he wrote: «To our (Royal) Coert it came Ishkneli, Urbneli bishop Elise, who have been apointed to his seal by us and he besougth us to renew the old charter.»82 The king not only renewed the charter, but to church have been given the generous gifts. It is interesting that this important letters – patent, at May 24 1749 had been reconfirmated by the new king Teimyraz II.83 For us it is remarkable that Urbnisi bishop Elise‘s second name was Ishkneli. Also on the order of «Svimeon Ishkhneli, a clergyman» who conducted his activities in the second half of the 18th century, Ose Gabashvili, son of Zakaria, copied metaphrasis big manuscript for the Chkhari church. He finished copying on July 19, 180184.
The bishops and the family of the Ishkhneli have generated many renowned and outstanding figures to Georgia but this is already another chapter.
EPARCHY OF ANCHA
It seems that an eparchy of Ancha was founded in the 6th-7th cc1. Since the 60s of the 17th century it has no longer been mentioned in the historical sources. The eparchy involved Artanuji the capital of Tao-Klarjeti kingdom, the territory of the Klarjeti monasteries, lands on both sides of Ligani ravine up to Gonio and the river Porchiskhevi gorge. The eparchy centre was Ancha or Anchi (the present Turkish village of Anchli), the cathedral of which was built in the name of God, i.e. Our Saviour. The eparchy bishops were called “Ancheli”. The main sacred thing of the cathedral was an icon of Our Saviour, the so-called Anchiskhati. It’s made in encaustic technique (in paint mixed with melted beeswax), is dated of the 6th-7th cc2 and has been preserved in Tbilisi since the 17th century (since 1664) (fig.11,12).
In the historical document of the beginning of the 16th century «Bishops and flocks of Cathalicos in Samtskhe-Saatabago» the Ancha eparchy borders are determined as follows: «This side of Samtskali, between Khandzta and Opiza – Dakhatula. Below it Nigaliskhevi, this and opposite sides up to the border of Gonio»3. A renowned Georgian historian and geographer Vakhushti Batonishvili (1696-1756) wrote in the mid-18th century about Ancha location and the eparchy borders: «Above the Porchkhi gorge there is a small source, comes from Ispiri mountain, up to southnorthwards, joins Chorokhi. Over that ravine, eastwards and to the west of the river Chorokhi, on the slope of Ispiri mountain there is the Ancha church, in the name of our Lord domed, finely-built, in good place, a bishop’s seat, [Ancheli is] a pastor over Ligani ravine up to Gonio, over Porchkhi gorge and Ajara, now abandoned»4.
The bishop of Ancha held a honorable place among both the Georgian bishops and the Samtskhe- Saatabago hierarchs. For example, he is mentioned in the 11th place among 36 bishops of Georgia at the ceremony of enthronement of the king («whenever a king is enthroned and sits on the throne»). It is said that: «comes the Ancheli archimandrite and sits below Ninotsmindeli»5. Ancheli is mentioned between Ishkhneli (the 10th place) and Mtbevari (the 12th place) and after Ninotsmindeli archimandrite (the 9th place).
As for bishops of Samtskhe-Saatabago proper, according to the document of the beginning of the 16th century («Bishops and flocks of Samtskhe-Saatabago»), Ancheli is honored to be on the 4th place after Matsqvereli, Kumurdoeli and Ishkhneli among the 13 bishops of this region6. The Ancheli bishop is most honoured according to the 14th century «Khelmtsipis karis garigeba» (Code of Royal Court) as well. It is mentioned in it that at the royal court ceremonies «just the bishops came, Ishkhneli, Matsqvereli, Ancheli, Mtbevari and Gogloteli, [i.e. Gogloteli] they honoured the king, who touched the carpet with his hand7. Firstly, Ancheli here is mentioned on the third place among the five bishops invited from Meskheti and secondly, when they entered the hall, «the king touched the carpet with his hand», while on entering two highranking officials of the royal court such as «Mechurchletukhutsesi» (Chief treasurer) and «msakhurtukhutsesi» (Chief attendant), «the king touched the carpet with his fingers»8. It means that in the first case the king touches the carpet, placed in front of a royal throne, with his hand and with his fingers – in the other (for Ishkhneli the king makes 2 or 3 steps forward to welcome him, as well).
Vakhushti Batonishvili wrote in the first half of the 18th century that the Ancha Our Lord‘s church «is domed and beautifully built.» But when its first scientific study began in the second half of the 19th century, nothing much had remained from the Ancha church. When Dimitri Bakradze visited Ancha in 1879 there were only ruins left there9. A major reason of the building destruction was that the local inhabitants took away the church decoration stone plates to build their dwellings and mosques.
On August 4, 1904 Acad. N.Marr saw the Ancha church north-western corner, but it have been absolutly ravaged from decorate stone plates, he could see a wall of the semi-circle altar and part of its upper bema, wall fragments of north and south annexes. A room was later added to the south annex, the fragments of which are preserved, he wrote10 (fig.13).
At present, unfortunately, neither this has been preserved and a heap of walls, without their lining, has remained in place of the Ancha church. The ruins formed a hillock with some wall remains standing on it11. N.Marr points that it was obvious the church stones were used to build a mosque in the village Ancha (the church itself is situated in some 200m distance to the north of the village). Inside the mosque three stones with ornaments from the church are used in the mosque southern wall, to the east of the cathedra. Two stones from the window (or windows) lining are vividly seen in the mosque wall structure, one – to the south (fig.14) and the other – inside of the gallery, to the west. In the period of N.Marr’s visit and even now stone blocks of big size, well-cut and of redbrownish colour are seen in the dwellings of Turkish village Anchli (former Ancha) inhabitants. They are parts of the church wall revetment12. According to these blocks and ornament stones the Ancha church should have been built in the end of the 10th century or in the first half of the 11th. It was a big so-called «cross-domed» church13. Unfortunately, only a few ruins have been preserved. The bishops of Ancha were most respected pastors of Georgian church. If we take into consideration that they were also holding the posts of archimandrites of Klarjeti monasteries, that many most important monuments (manuscripts, icons…) of Georgian culture were created in these monasteries, we can easily understand the role and significance of Ancheli bishops for the Georgian church and culture.
The Ancha eparchy was formed in the 5th-6th centuries. But the most renowned bishop of Ancha was Zakaria Ancheli, who conducted his activities in the 9th century. He is a contemporary to St Grigol Khandzteli (759-861). “Life of Grigol Khandzteli” by Giogri Merchule preserves important evidences on Zakaria Ancheli (especially miracles connected with his name).
According to this work, in his childhood Zakaria was a shepherd in Klarjeti14. Once, like a priest, he prepared a sacrifice at the stone cross in the field. He was surrounded by children, «and they song the ecclesiastical hymnes like angels» Suddenly a pole of bright light came down from the heaven and stood over Zakaria. The Ancheli bishop was walking along the way then. He saw this and took Zakaria with him. On his order «Zakaria was brought up among the worthy men of Tbeti». (OGHLM, pp 304:30-44).
It becomes clear from this evidence that: 1. Zakaria Ancheli has been a miracle-worker since his adolescence: 2. he was brought up in Tbeti (an Episcopal centre of Shavsheti, neighbouring Klarjeti. The ruins of its grand cathedral have reached us (infra); 3. there were many other bishops of Ancha before Zakaria, which are mentioned in the previous work, and they also were miracle-workers. A little bit earlier in this literaly work we can read: «Very much time have gone before (this) temple of Ancha was built and it have been held by many bishops who were the wonder-workers». (OGHLM, pp303-304), i.e. the Ancha church has existed long before the monasteries were built by Grigol Khandzteli and had many miracle-worker bishops.
It is of great interest, we think, to mention about the miracles worked by Zakaria Ancheli, which are described in «Life of Grigol Khandzteli.»
When Zakaria was in Tbeti there was a terrible boulder near the church which used to move and frighten those living in the monastery. They often ran away (OGHLM, pp 304:8-10). Zakaria calmed them saying that next day the boulder would be in the harmless place, which was fulfilled.
Once in Tbeti, during the vintage, Zakaria sat under a high vine which was winding up the tree and the grapes were being eaten by a blackbird for a long time. Zakaria crossed and the blackbird instantly died. Then he crossed once more and the blackbird was alive, flying peacefully this time making no harm.
Once an enormous number of locusts came to the Ancha border. Zakaria met them with his crosier in his hand and the enormous number of locusts died out. They were so many that fully covered the air and the sunlight.
Once two horrible «whales» (monsters) appeared in the Ancha vineyard scaring away the vinegrowers. Zakaria prayed and the «whales» died. The people blessed Christ with gladness. The author of the work mentions that there were other miracle-worker bishops in Ancha, who were recembling to the god and who assisted rather small quantity of bread the geat number of people during famine, etc.
Along with Zakaria Ancheli there are mentioned three other Ancheli bishops in «Life of Grigol Khandzteli»: Tskiri, Ezra and Makari.
An episode of Ancheli bishop Tskiri involved in the work has been connected with many important issues of not only the Georgian church history but, of the 9th-10th cc political history. In general, there existed in East Georgia then Tbilisi Saamiro (emirate), a political unit founded by Arab occupants. It was governed by emirs who tried their best to spread their influence over other parts of Georgia15. The Tbilisi emir of that period, Sahak, son of Ismail (830-853) sent to Ashot Kurapalati († 954.)( By the way, this Ashot, together with his brother David, is represented on the famous Opiza relief exhibited now in the State Museum of Georgian Art16.) Some diacon Tskiri, brought up in Tbilisi, probably, on some diplomatic mission.
By the time Tskiri arrived to Artanuji, a residence of Ashot Kurapalati, Ancha episcopate cathedra was vacant as the Ancheli bishop had been dead. Giorgi Merchule writes about Tskiri who demanded from Ashot Kurapalati the Ancha church on behalf of emir Sahak. He did manage to become a bishop «by force» and did so many wicked deeds that as the author wrote, he could not describe them in his work.
Despite repeated disclosures by Klarjeti hermits and St Grigol Khandzeteli, they failed to reach his resignation from Ancha episcopal cathedra. Just on the contrary, he attacked them and secretly ordered to assassinate Grigol: «He (Tskiri) gave up the faith of God and have been took by ambition. He asked secrethy one layman of Ancha, who was a poor and shameless («libri»)17, but a good shooter of bow, to assassinate father Grigol in Khandzta. He rewarded him 3 «grivi» (a measure of grain) of oats and 5 goats» (OGHLM,I,p305:13-17).
Once that man lay in wait for Grigol Khandzteli in the wood to kill him. That time Grigol Khandzteli was walking trough an arable alone repeating the words of St Eprem Asuri. The killer saw an enormous colored cross in the sky over St Grigol Khandzteli’s head. The colours of the cross were the same as in rainbow, after a rain. He was horrified, became feeble and fell down to the ground awe-stricken. St Grigol Khandzteli appealed to him with the request to do what he was ordered. Grigol told him that he was rejecting Christianity by shedding blood of a monk for some grain and goat. A weakened man appealed to him for mercy, asking him to be like God who pardoned his killers. St Grigol crossed him. The killer regained his force again, full of joy he went home and told everything to Tskiri who got most angry, «and added to stop his blindness a stone-blindness» (OGHLM,I,p 305, 32-35, 42).
Tskiri continued to do unkind things to both civil people and clergy men. Finally they were forced to appeal to Ashot Kurapalati, the most high-ranking official of the region. On his order a letter was written to Cathalicos of Kartli describing Tskiri’s activities. Cathalicos sent «worthy bishops», who arrived to Ancha and the priests gathered. There came with them «desert fathers» and Mother Febronia, Grigol Khandzteli’s supporter and Mother Superior of Mere nunnery.
A church assembly was held attended by «all the priests and the parish of Ancha.» Tskiri’s all misdeeds, wicked activities were declared, his irreligious activities were reminded to him(OGHLM,I,p306:10-13).
Then, the author continues, the bishop who was sent there by Cathalicos of Kartli excommunicated Tskiri He was deconsecrated from his rank of bishop. The ceremony was held as follows: Father Grigol and Mother Febronia took Tskiri in his bishop attire into the altar of the Ancha main church, undressed him of his attire and he was unanimously excommunocated as a «corrupted part of body» (OGHLM,I,p306:11).
But this turned out to be insufficient for Tskiri. He went to Sahak, emir of Tbilisi, his patron. Ashot Kurapalati did not want to offend emir of Tbilisi and Tskiri again «got hold of the Ancha church». This time his major objective was to make revenge on Father Grigol.
Tskiri «sent people of Ancha to Khandzta to destroy the monastery» (OGHLM,I p. 306:22) built there by Grigol18. These people came there before the sunrise. Father Grigol appealed to them with the request to give them time for prayers before the afternoon as they wanted to pray for St Giorgi and all the saints. They agreed. Meanwhile an angel announced to them about coming of the preacher soon who would bring them the news of Tskiri’s death. Soon he came and told them to abstain from destroying the magnificent Khandzta monastery as the man who ordered this was no longer alive(OGHLM,I,p306:42-43).
In reality, Tskiri has not been dead by that time. When he sent people to destroy Khandzta, he himself went to Korta where he kept his treasures. On the way he stopped to have a meal with a certain priest from Ancha. Tskiri fell asleep and had a terrible vision about his misdeeds and the priest also had a vision on Tskiri’s death. He sent his disciple to Khandzta to inform real death of Tskiri, who died on reaching Korta, «where he was buried till Doomsday». (OGHLM,I, pp 307:10-11). Such was the end of Tskiri, the Bishop of Ancha, an agent sent to the Kingdom of Tao-Klarjeti by emir of Tbilisi. There has been no such case in the history of any other eparchy of the Georgian church, no case of a foreign country agent to be consecrated as bishop by force.
One interesting detail is given in the work in connection with the death and place of burial of Tskiri. Tskiri, as a bishop, had to be buried in the Ancha cathedral. Before his death St Grigol and his supporters were annunciated by an angel that soon a preacher (a messenger) would come to annunciate about Tskiri’s death. Though he will live two days more and won’t be buried in the cathedral (OGHLM,I, pp 306:33). Therefore, according to this place in «Life of Grigol Khandzteli»: 1. a bishop has the honour to be buried in his Episcopal cathedral; 2. the deceased should have been immediately placed in the cathedral; 3. the deceased should have been buried in two days. In case with Tskiri this rule was not observed as the information on his death was spread two days earlier and all believed in it (OGHLM,I, pp 306-307), he himself was far from his Episcopal cathedra, in Korta. So, as soon as he died in Korta he was buried there.
Is also interesting, that a name «Tskiri» is very rare in the Georgian onomastics. One more case is known in the written monuments and it is in the 9th century. On the early – Christian age stela discovered in the village Davati, Dusheti region there is scratched: «God, have mercy upon me, Tskiri…»19(fig.15). Davati is near to Mtsketa, in the Aragvi gorge, probably within the Tbilisi emirate in the 11th century. It is not excluded, therefore, that the Tskiri’s inscription scratched on the stela was an autograph of Tskiri from «Life of Grigol Khandzteli» (scratched inscriptions or graphitos, as a rule, are conducted by the persons themselves mentioned in the inscription).
The historical sources give no evidence to specify whether Tskiri was on the Ancha cathedra directly after Zakaria Ancheli or not. The period of his being a bishop can be determined as the time before 853, i.e. before his protector Tbilisi emir Sahak was assassinated by the Arab commander Bugha surnamed «Turk»20, in general, the time of his activities can be determined as the 40s of the 9th century.
Giorgi Merchule, in his «Life of Grigol Khandzteli», mentions about two Ancha bishops of the 10th century, Ezra and Makar. According to him, in the period of Ezra the activities were conducted by “son of Adarnese Kurapalati (899-923), Bagrat Eristavteristavi (937-945), a great king, through the mercy of God” (OGHLM,I,pp 307:30-31)21. Consequently, upper date of Ezra Ancheli being bishop will be the first part of the 40s of the 10th century and the lower date – the 30s.
As for Makar Ancheli, Giorgi Merchule names him among those historical persons, in the period of whom he wrote “Life of Grigol Khandzteli” 90 years after the death of Grigol (861), i.e. in 951. Therefore, Makar Ancheli conducted his activities in the mid-10th century and we can consider him to be a bishop at the Ancha cathedra directly after Ezra Ancheli.
Giorgi Merchule adds some more information on Ezra Ancheli that he was a son of the “grand nobles Dapanchulis” (OGHLM, pp 307:23). The Dapanchulis were representatives of one of the powerful feudal houses in South Georgia. Gabriel Dapanchuli has been well known from “Life of Serapion Zarzmeli” (OGHLM, pp 319:347) by Basili Zarzmeli (the 10th cent.)22, who greatly assisted Serapion in his monastic activities in Samtskhe (Acad. El.Metreveli considers to belong to the Dapanchuli dynasty one more renowned ecclesiastical hierarch of south Georgia, Banel-Valashkerteli Zakaria Swingelos, who conducted his activities in the 20s-30s of the 11th century; – infra, Eparchy of Bana). In various passages of Grigol Khandzteli`s work there are mentioned: Gabriel, Abulasat, Arshusha, Guaran, Patric and Ezra Dapanchulis.
At the same time, Ezra Ancheli was a creative person. He is thought to be the author of a hymn of January 20 to Eptvime Palestineli23.
There is an inscription in Asomtavruli (uncial) letters on the plate used as one of the supporting stones for the barn in the garden neighboring the Porti or Khandzta monastery. The inscription is dated as of the 10th century. N.Shoshiashvili restores the name of Teodore Ancheli who has been a participant of “reception” (buy-sell act?) of the (St Giorgi, Khandzta) church24. But this restoration is conventional and it causes doubts whether it is Ancheli mentioned in the fragments of the text, which have been preserved.
Next Ancheli bishop appearing in the historical sources, is Ezra Ancheli, another famous bishop of the same name at Ancha Cathedra, conducting his work in the 20s of the 11th century. In 1028 when a part of Georgian noblemen (from Tao and Klarjeti) betrayed their country and joined the Byzantines, when the Emperor of Byzantium sent his army to raid the country, Ezra Ancheli remained devoted to Bagrat IV (1027-1072) and reinforced in the fortress built by Saba Mtbevari: “there was built a stronghold by bishop Saba Mtbevari, near the Tbeti church, which was named by him as a “Pillar” He took his people there, entered himself (Saba Mtbevari) and also Ezra Ancheli bishop and Shavsheti nobles”, writes the 11th century author Sumbat Davitisdze25. The same is mentioned by the author of the “Matiane Kartlisai” (“Chronicle of Kartli”) (the 11th cent.): “there came to the fortress Ezra Ancheli and which nobleman were devoted to him followed him in and reinforced there”26. Archbishop Iovane Ancheli conducted his activities in the second half of the 12th century. The evidences about him have been preserved in several written sources: Tbeti Gospel colophon, an inscription on the Anchiskhati icon Chased riza made by Beka Opizari, Anchiskhati hymn compiled by Iovane…
Iovane Mtbevar-Sapareli, being brought up by King Dimitri (1125-1155), son of David Aghmashenebeli (the Builder), writes in Tbeti Gospel colophon that he has nephews: Nicoloz, Kutateli archbishop, Arseni Kutateli archbishop, Iovane Ancheli archbishop, Antoni Opiza Father Superior and Arseni, a preacher of King Dimitri27. In the same colophon Iovane Mtbevari named his sisters: Tskhoreba, Guaranduht and Nona, but it is not clear who was whose child. In 1900 an article was published on the Tbeti Gospel by P.Tskhviloeli28. He considers that “Anton, Father Superior of Opiza”, named in the Gospel colophon, is a renowned Kutateli archbishop Anton Saghirisdze of Queen Tamar period29. Even if it is so, which is doubtful, K.Kekelidze, based on the suppositions of P.Tskhviloeli, considered one of the Anton’s nephews, Iovane Ancheli archbishop to be Saghirisdze30 too. As we don’t know for sure whether any of Iovane Mtbevari’s nephews was Saghirisdze, a supposition on Iovane Acheli to be Saghirisdze is doubtful. In reality, Iovane Ancheli’s name is Rkinaeli as he mentions about himself in the Anchiskhati chased inscription and as he has been mentioned in the Tsalka, i.e. Ancha Gospel colophon (infra).
Iovane Ancheli has largely contributed to the most holy thing of the Ancha cathedral – Our Saviour’s icon and on the resources granted by Queen Tamar he made it chased by Beka Opizari.
Chasing of Anchiskhati riza by Beka Opizari is the summit of the 12th century Georgian goldsmith’s mastery and it is fundamentally studied by the art critics31. On the sloping side between the icon central part and the frame there is a relief inscription in two lines, in Asomtavruli (Uncial) letters: “† On the order and material assistance of Divinely – Crowned Queen of Queens, Tamar, I Iovane Ancheli, Rkinaeli, started to embellish this icon in veneration; of most wonderful (Our saviour) … This icon was Chased by hand of Beka; (He) will protect their reign, this and next, Christ have mercy” (the inscription has been published for many times, including the works mentioned above).
Iovane Ancheli compiled “Hymns of Anchiskhati”32, which is highly evaluated by K.Kekelidze and he writes that “Iovane Ancheli’s hymns are full of warm patriotic feelings”33. It is interesting that the first letters of the hymn lines form a sentence: “I sing a hymn to most wonderful Anchiskhati, Iovane Ancheli”. Iovane Ancheli also writes about Christ Our Lord who wanted to convert unbelievers by means of the icon sent by Apostle Andrew34 and that Christ’s disciple, Apostle Andrew the First- Called, came from Ierapololis to Klarjeti rocks and cliffs and brought this icon (most wonderful) of Our Saviour35. So it is clear that St. Andrew brought icon of Christ and not of Our Lady, as it is written by the 11th century Georgian historian Leonti Mroveli36. It should be mentioned that the fact of bringing the icon of Our Lady by Andrew the First-Called to Georgia and its placing in the Atskuri church was considered to be insertion into the text by Leonti Mroveli in the modern Georgian specialist literature. The insertion has been preserved by the three manuscripts of “Kartlis Tskhovreba” of later period (the 18th-19th cc)37. Old Atskuri icon of Our Lady is nowhere seen. The one preserved in the State Museum of Georgian Art under the name of “Our Lady of Atskuri” is prepared by King Giorgi II of Imereti in 1578-1585 and with all its decor it is connected to the group of Kakhetian icons38.
Considering all said above, probably, more confidence should be turned to the evidence by Iovane Ancheli and we should consider the icon of our Savior brought to Georgia by Andrew the Apostle, done in encaustic manner on the wood, to be the one preserved in the state Museum of Georgian art and known as “Anchiskhati”.
According to one document dated as December 3, 166439, a merchant from Tbilisi Amirjana Ievangulashvili sold Ancha folding icon brought from the “Caesar’s country” (as if from Byzantium, in reality from Turkey), along with ten other icons (among them those of John the Baptist, John the Annunciator, Archangel and six more “small icons”) to Cathalicos Domenti at 2000 marchili40 (a silver coin). Cathalicos Domenti placed it at the 6th century church of Patriarch41, which has been known since then as “Anchiskhati”42.
The Ancha icon of Our Saviour is dated of the 6th-7th cc43, but it has not been specially studied by anyone (in the special literature mentioned above mostly its chasing has been studied). It should be taken into consideration that encaustic painting was spread in the Empire of Rome just in the 1st- 2nd centuries (cf. the portraits of Faium, etc).
A second Ancheli bishop seems to be Teodore Ancheli of the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th, i.e. the period of Queen Tamar, who is mentioned in the colophon of so-called Tsalka Gospel44, which is written on parchment.
The text of colophon is published twice: at first, in 190745 by full Russian translation, (but the iscription text was inacurate and abreviations – unoponed). Secondly, it have been published breviarly, with the same mistakes (1949)46.
The colophon is rather extensive and included an introductory (theological) part, a main, substantial and s.c. “damnation” parts. The main part abounds in personal names. For example, there are mentioned: King of Kings David, Queen of Queens of Tamar, their son Lasha.
– Soprom, a former chancellor; sometimes he was a chancellor that of “vazirs” (ministres) and sometimes that of “divinly kings” (i.e. Tamar and David). He wrote that he bought this Gospel in Tskarostavi Lavra and have took it to Ancha.
– A goldshmith Beka Opizari, who by order of Sopron chased to cover of this Gospel.(Beka made other wonderful icon of Christ for Ancha temple too).
– Ioane Rkinaeli, (already deceased); As it seems, he was bishop of Ancha monastery.
– Archbishop of Ancha – Theodore
– “Swimeon and his brothers” – the members of Ancha monastery flock
– Theodore, from Tskarotsminda, his parents and brothers.
– The great Solomon, from Gelati, his parents and brothers
– The family of Ba[ra]sdze and one more Soprom.
As Queen Tamar, her husbend King david and their son Lasha are mentioned together, E. Takaishvili supposed that the colophon was written among the 11931208 years47. Sh. Amiranashvili also thougth that the cover of s.c. Tsalka Gospel (Tetraevangeliar) have been chased by Beka Opizari – “among the 1193 (the birth of Lasha) and 1206-07 years” (the date of david Soslan1`s death) 48.
Unportunatly, by Georgian historiography it stil have not been setteled the exactly date of Queen Tamar’s death – the 1207, 1210, or 1213 years49.
But it is undoubtedly, that all three persons: Queen Tamar, King David and prince Lasha, at the moment when a colophon was written, were alive.
There are one more charter where all ofthem are mentioned together. It is Queen tamar’s letterspatent donated to Shio-Mgvime lavra50. According to this document, “it was the 18 th indiction” (year) of Tamar’s reign (It can means, that it was either 1201-02 or 1195-96 years. It depends what data we shall take for counting – her first coronation at the 1178, when tamar and her father King Giorgi III reigned jointly, or the 1184 year, when she became an independent ruler after father’s death)
In the “Corpus” (of Georgian Monuscripts) it is indicated the 1195-96 years51.
According to Ivane Javakhishvili, David Soslan died at 1207 year52. So, it is the upper date when the Tshalka Gospel could be copied. the lower date of its coping is the year, when Lasha became the “co-ruller” of his mother53. At that time, he was only 12 years old; As Iv. Javakhishvili supposed, Lasha was born at 1192-93 years54. I.e. the chronology of the events which are mentioned in colophon should be determined among the 1204-07 years.
It is clear, that the Tshalka Gospel (or more correctly the “Ancha Gospel”) was copied and embelished by order of Soprom55 and the cover of this excellent Gospel was chased by “blessed goldmith” Beka Opizari56. In the colophon it is described that Beka Opizari have made the other wonderful icon of Christ too.
For all These deeds the souls of Soprom and his relatives, familiars, including “Giorga”, who was educated by him should be mentioned in pray at Ancha temple. And as to Iovane Rkinaeli, we are already aqwainted with him. Above, we wrote, that by his order and donationit have been embellished and chased the wonderful icon of Our Lord of Anchiskhati. So, it is clear, that the next bishop after Iovane Rkinaeli at Ancha see, there was Theodore archbishop58.
At the end of the 13th century Iovane Ancheli it seems to be contemporary of King Demetre II (1271-1289). A document of the end of the 13th century written on the leather has been preserved in the central state historical archives of Georgia issued by King Demetre II (CHAOG, 1449, N1596). In the document King Demetre II calls himself a martyr three times, twice in the beginning and once in the end. That was the document thought to be forged and was not put into the I volume of the “Corpus of Georgian historical documents”59. In the scholars’ opinion such mention of King Demetre is explained by the following: he issued the document in 1289 before leaving for the Mongol’s court (Mughani valley), where he was pending evident torture and death and he knew this well60. The document text was once published by T.Zhordania61. He characterized the document as written in beautiful Mkhedruli (Secular script) and supplied by confirmation belonging to Iovane Ancheli: ”I, their earth and prayer Iovane, archbishop by Christian Ancha and archimandrite of 12th lavra’s, confirm it according to law”62. The document has to be studied again from the viewpoint of its being true or false.
The special literature considers Iovane Ancheli a really existing figure, the fresco image of whose has been preserved in Khareba (Annunciation) church of Udabno in Gareji monastery. Here, on the north wall a fresco of young Demetre II is represented, and just on the opposite, on the south wall there is an image of bishop Iovane with the model of church in his hand, i.e. in the donor’s pose. G.Chubinashvili had specially studied the painting and connects with each other Iovane expressed here and Iovane archbishop of Ancha, “archimandrite of 12th lavra’s”, who confirms the document was issued by Demetre II. In his opinion, Iovane was King Demetre’s spiritual father, he made young Demetre (when he was about 18 years old, i.e. at about 1280) paint the Khareba church in Udabno, and in 1289 he visited King Demetre before the King was leaving for the Mongol’s court to face his death of martyr. It was then that he confirmed the last document63.
Despite its being logical, this discussion seems to be problematic and is based on reality of the document issued by King Demetre II. However as we have already mentioned above, the document should be studied again. But if this is all true and right, Iovane Ancheli is the only one among Ancheli bishops, whose fresco image reached us.
One more ecclesiastical object is connected with Iovane Ancheli, the so-called Tsaishi Omphor, chasuble the part of priest attire, which is now preserved in the State Museum of Georgian Art64. There are most important inscriptions embroidered on it. Among the three inscriptions being on it two mention Ancheli bishops Iovane and Teopane and one points to David Jolia from Tsaishi. According to these inscriptions the situation is as follows:
In 1312 a noble Meskhetian lady Tamar, daughter of Kherkhemlisdze made an “olar” (a small, diamond-shaped embellished part of Orthodox bishop ceremonial attire) for Iovane Ancheli, mentioning about it in a specially embroidered inscription. The Kherkhemlisdzes were representatives of the noble feudal family in Meskheti. It is seen well in the document of the beginning of the 16th century “Cathalicosate vassal nobles and villages in Samtskhe-Saatabago.” In this document they are mentioned on the 6th place among 25 feudal houses. The document says that their family, cemetery, monastery and family church are owned by the Taktirisdzes”65, i.e. by that time (beginning of the 16th cent.) their family has no longer existed and their domain has been occupied by a new feudal house of the Taktirisdzes. At present there does not exist an inscription on the attire any longer, but its text was first published by T.Zhordania66 (1897), secondly – by Takaishvili67 on the basis of studying the monument on site (1913/1914), (thirdly – by K.Davitashvili in 1970 based on the previous publications as by that time “omphor” had no longer had this inscription).
E.Taqaishvili and K.Davitashvili, based on him, say that Iovane Ancheli mentioned in the inscription of the “omphor” “was not known from other sources.” We, however think he should be the same Ancheli archbishop Iovane expressed in the Khareba church of Udabno monastery in about 1280, and who confirms a deed of King Demetre II by 1289. There have passed 23 years since the supposed date of the deed, (1312 to 1312 years); if we add to it 10 passed years, 33 years are quite possible for conducting ecclesiastical work for one person. So, deed of Demetre I, fresco of the Khareba monastery and inscriptions on Tsaishi “omphor” mention about one and the same person – archbishop Iovane Ancheli.
In 1358-1360 another noble lady from Meskheti, daughter of Kvarkvare, “Amirspasalar and spasalar of Samtskhe”, wife to Imereti king Bagrat I, Queen of Queens Nateli turned olar into omhpor. With this aim in view she added to it an embroidery with Deesis image and presented it to Teopane Ancheli. This is how a name of one more Ancheli bishop has been preserved. There exist no other evidences about him.
As the inscriptions made by Tamar Kherkhemlidze and Natela Jaqeli on Ancha cathedra thing (olar-omphor) have about 30years interval, we can suppose Teopane Ancheli was a bishop following Iovane Ancheli at this cathedra.
Atabag of Samtske, Ivane (1391-1444) in the beginning of the 15th century betrayed King of united Georgia Alexandre I (1412-1442), whose educator he had been and declared Samtskhe an independent political unit. In 1415 he was defeated in Kokhtistavi battle and was again subject to the king. In addition to political independence, Ivane Atabagi wanted ecclesiastical independence as well, i.e. separation of South Georgian eparchies from Kartli Cathalicosate. This effort of his also failed. The same with the attempts of the atabags that followed him Qvarqvare (1451-1498) and Mzechabuki (1500-1515)68. Ivane’s separatist aspirations were shared, along with some bishops of South Georgia, by Ancheli bishop Ioseb. Maybe they behaved so under the pressure of political power. Finally, they supported Kartli Cathalicos. Samtskhe-Saatabago politically separated from Georgia but ecclesiastically it remained within the Georgian church.
Proceeding from what was said above Ioseb Ancheli could have been a bishop in the period from the end of the 14th century and the 40s of the 15th century.
To suppress separatism in church, cathalicoses of Georgia demanded from the bishops blessed by them in South Georgia to put “a book of devotion”, i.e. to form in writing a special legal document on confidence to the Mtskheta church. Many of such documents have reached us both from Samtskhe- Satabago and different regions of Georgia69. One of them is “a book of devoyion” of Ancha archimandrite Kerobine Abelisdze to Kartli Cathalicos David. Kerobine is called archimandrite but it is seen in the document that he is bishop of Ancha (“We should not pray with the bishops, who have not been devoted by You”). T.Zhordania puts this document under 1453 in his “Chronicles”70, while I.Dolidze dates it of 1466-147971. Cathalicos of Kartli David ruled the church in 1435-1439 and 1443-1459. This is David III Gobelasdze who convened an assembly in Sapara vicinity and threatened Samtskhe separatist bishops with renouncement. They took his side and the document says there was Ancheli Kerobine among them as well. According to the chronological data mentioned above, Kerobine conducted his activities at the Ancha cathedra in mid-15th century.
Memorial record to Ioakime Ancheli (the 15th-16th cc) is put into “Chronicle of Gergeti memorial records”; we read here: “God have mercy and pardon all the sins to unworthy Ioakim, archbishop of Ancha, archimandrites of 12 lavra’s Udabno Baramisdze”72. The document also says that he had a brother Sepedavle. They were Baramisdzes. It is not usual that memorial record to Ancheli archbishop was put into the chronicle of souls compiled in highlands of East Georgia. It is unexpected as well. But as the compiler of this monument Mrs Kr. Sharashidze says “According to the Chronicle one can easily feel a strong link between Samtskhe ruling circle and the eristavs of Khevi and Aragvi”73. This link and what caused it is an object of separate research.
A collection of different ecclesiastic works copied in Nuskhuri (cursive) in the 13th century has been preserved in the Institute of Manuscripts (A-182), (362p), which involves more than 30 marginal inscriptions in Mkhedruli Secular74. It seems from some of them (of the 17th-19th cc) that finally the manuscript belonged to the Dodo Monastery of David-Gareja. But before that, according to some marginal inscriptions the manuscript was connected with the Ancha church, even more, it should have been its property. Namely, in marginal addition 7 of the manuscript written in Mkhedruli of 15th-16th centuries, a certain Ioane/Iovane has been mentioned, who “Embellished” the manuscript anew. This meant restoration, filling up of lacking places (in one place Iovane even names himself a writer), putting into cover. Connections with manuscript of and Iovane are seen from one of the colophons, in which Iovane appeals to Anchiskati (The icon from Anchi): ”God and Anchiskhati, have mercy on soul and body of Iovane, beautifier of this book and God pardon his parents”75. Anton Ancheli is mentioned in the colophon N9. In this inscription The letters, “tzh” (“tzhor”) of secular Georgian alphabet outline resembles those of “ch” (“chin”) used in the 14th-16th century and called “Machkhitisdzis chini”76. Anton’s memorial record is also written in Mkhedruli (secular) of the 15th-16th cc. Anton Ancheli has been dead by that time (“God pardon his soul”). The colophon says he had a son Abram, here is also mentioned Michel or Michael but in what family relations he was with Anton Ancheli is not clear. We have no other evidences about it. He seems to be the last Ancheli bishop, known in the historical sources.
Consequently, the historical sources have preserved the names of Ancheli bishops after the 9th- 16th centuries: Zakaria – the first half of the 9th century
Tskiri – the 40s of the 9th century
Ezra (I) – the 30-40s of the 10th century
Makari – the 50s-60s of the 10th century
Ezra (II) – the 20s of the 11th century
Iovane (I) Rkinaeli – the second half of the 12th century
Teodore – the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th century
Iovane (II) – ca. 1280-1312
Teopane – the 50-60s of the 14th century
Ioseb – the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century
Kerobine Abelisdze – mid-15th century
Ioakime Baramisdze – the 15th-16th cc.
Anton – the 15th-16th cc.
Ancheli bishops carried the title of bishops or archbishops. They were also called “Archimandrites of twelve Udabno (lavras) in Klarjeti.” What does this mean and how should we understand this? “Life of Grigol Khandzteli” tells about St Grigol’s proposal. On this suggestion Bagrat Kurapalat, King of Tao-Klarjeti and his family members, decided to visit the monasteries, one built by Grigol and others existing before (OGHLM, I, pp 275:13). They first visited Shatberdi where Zakaria, bishop of Ancha joined them; then came Jmerki, Berta, Daba, Dolisqana, Opiza, Khandzta. Here they were joined by Illarion Father Superior of Midznadzori monastery and Father Zakaria who built Baretelta. Fathers superior of all the monasteries mentioned above and bishop of Ancha together with kings of Klarjeti gathered at Khandzta. Here Fathers Superior and Ancha bishop decided “to make Grigol archimandrite of all Udabno (lavras) in Klarjeti and shared their decision with the kings (OGHLM,, pp 276:25-277). If earlier Grigol refused to be bishop and together with three of his associates of his he went to conduct his activities in the Opiza Monastery (OGHLM, pp 251:36-40 – 252, 253:1-9) now after he built monasteries and spreded wide monastic activities, he agreed to be archimandrite of Klarjeti monasteries, i.e. their head. Giorgi Merchule writes that Grigol conducted his activities for many years until he died. (OGHLM, pp 276:29,30) The following monasteries were under the governance of Grigol Khandzteli: Shatberdi, Khandzta, Jmerki, Berta, Daba, Dolisqana, Opiza, Midznadzoro, Tqarostavi, Baretelta, Parehta, Mere77.
Here are mentioned 12 monasteries. After Grigol died archimandrite rank went to bishops of Ancha as Klarjeti pastors. There are other monasteries in Klarjeti as well but Ancha bishops were always called “Archimandrites of Klarjeti Twelve Udabno (lavras)”. It is clear that “12” were here with symbolic meaning according to Christ’s 12 disciples.
That the Ancheli bishops were simultaneously the monastery archimandrites determined their special legal status. “Life of Grigol Khandzteli” mentions that “priests and deacons were consecrated by bishops of Ancha, because they built the wonderful lavras of Klarjeti” (OGHLM,pp 303:28-29). And Cathalicos consecrated a bishop at Ancha cathedra only after the consent of monasteries and a written consent received from them (OGHLM,pp 303:40-43).
There was no such case in any other eparchies of Georgia and Ancha eparchy is special from this viewpoint as well. Giorgi Merchule explains this by the fact that it was built “in the name of icon of Our Lord” (OGHLM, p 304:5). Here the talk is on Ancha icon of Our Saviour, chased by Beka Opizari in the end of the 12th century and now preserved in Tbilisi. (see above)
In the monasteries of the Ancha eparchy a great number of most important monuments of Georgianliterature, art and generally culture were created. A good example of this is that Giorgi Merchule, as he himself informs, wrote his “Life of Grigol Khandzteli” in Khandzta.