Saturday afternoon in the Metekhi Church


The doorpost of the gate of Metekhi Church has been worn shiny over eight hundred years from the kisses of the believers entering. The church, rising on a riverside cliff in the middle of Tbilisi, was built in the 5th century by King Vakhtang as a palace chapel. After the Mongol devastation, between 1278 and 1284, it was rebuilt by Demetrius II upon the same floor plan and in the same style, which at that time was already considered archaic: an early example of historicizing architecture. The next devastation would have followed in 1937, when Beria, during the demolition of old Tbilisi, wanted to pull down this emblematic building, too. The intellectuals of the city organized a society to save it. Its leader, the painter Dimitri Shevardnadze was allegedly offered by Beria an appointment as director of the Museum of Tbilisi, had he put a stop to the resistance. The painter, who refused, died in prison that same year. However, somehow the church survived. After being converted into a theater, in 1988, in the wake of the hunger strike of Georgian intellectuals, it was given back to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Saturday is the day of weddings in the Metekhi. In the churchyard, several couples and their relatives engage in social life while waiting their turn; at the gate beggars, Gypsies and wedding photographers each expect some revenue. In the single, small space of the church several ceremonies take place at the same time, and while some faithful are praying at the iconostasis, some light candles before the icons, or, secluded in a corner, confess or ask for advice with the old priests.

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