For my last free day in Adigeni I went on a long walk to the monastery of Chule, which is about 6 k up into the hills from town. It’s a long walk, with a long boring incline on a terrible, rock infested road, but at about half way there’s a turn-off onto a smaller, prettier road with tart berries growing on trees, a stream, and some shade. I’ve been there before, but have never taken pictures — so this time I did. In a lot of villages people have a pipe of water constantly running into a water trough, which they often drink out of while going on walks. This time there was a frog in the one on the road to Chule. The Georgian word for frog is “bak’ak’i,” and Georgians like to get foreigners to try to say bak’ak’i sk’alshi k’ik’inebs, because we’re so bad at it. There’s a cool ruined castle that’s visible for much of the walk, and which is apparently called Beech Castle. There’s also a fir tree with a lot of strips of cloth tied into it; I saw the same thing at Vardzia, and suppose that it must be a place where people pray for something and then add a piece of cloth, like they wish for something and then throw a coin in a well. In Syria, on the steps of one of the monasteries (Said Naya, I think), next to a spot in the shape of the Virgin Mary, they have a metal cage with a lot of little strings tied onto it, and then people take a string off of it and tie it to their finger for a similar reason.
Chule a lovely monastery, smaller than Zarzma, up against the mountain with a stream and waterfall going through the property. According to their information booklet, Chule, or Chulevi as it’s often called, comes from the Georgian word Churi, which means “place among the hills.” A lot of Georgian monastery names are not taken from saints or feasts, but rather from places or events associated with their founding. Zarzma, people say, was named for the ringing of the church bells when it was founded, and means something about a bell. Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi is named for Mount Zion, but celebrated its feast on Mariomoba.
The area around Adigeni and Chule has been of cultural interest for a very long time; there are ruins of several churches built in the latter part of the ninth century by George Chorchaneli, a local nobalman, and Beech Castle, from the early middle ages. in the 11th Century Stephan of Chulevi greatly contributed to the life of the monastery, as well as the Holy Black Mountain in Syria, and was a friend of Ephriam the Minor, an important Georgian scholar. In the 14th century important regional laws were created there by Agbuga Jakeli, the ruler of Samtskhe. The main church, dedicated to St Georgia, was built by Agbuga in 1381 (isn’t that a great name? Agbuga). They had an especially fine bell tower, which some historians believe to have been the most beautiful in all Georgia, with blue smalt lapidary decorations and oriental style carved ornaments. I don’t know what happened to the bell tower. A century and a half later Chule was abandoned on account of frequent invasions (I think by the Persians); local people hid the bells and other valuable church property in the mountains to protect them from being stolen. Thirty years ago a forest guard unexpectedly found the bells while cutting wood in the forest. After an unsuccessful attempt to restore the monastery in the 1940s, which the booklet writer accuses of intentionally destroying a chapel and small church, restoration was again attempted in 1977, interrupted in 1988, and became a working monastery again in 1999, under Bishop Teodore Chuadze. They have eight monks, and are still working on reconstruction projects, with the help of the Alkhatsikhe university and the German Embassy; I find the latter kind of surprising.