Liturgy in Gelati

Last weekend a friend visited Gori on Saturday, and I went to church on Sunday. I tried concocting something to write about, but it was all mushy, so I refrained. This week I went to Gelati monastery, near Kutaisi, and the town of Lentekhi in Lower Svaneti. I took rather a lot of pictures, and am therefore splitting the posts.

The Gelati Monastery Complex was constructed in the 12th century by King Davit the Builder, and has two churches, a monastery, a (not currently operational) academy, a cool bell tower, and an even cooler bell tower with a spring inside. During the middle ages Gelati was the cultural and religious center of Western Georgia, where people studied things like chant, philosophy, theology, science, and math. Basically, it was the center of liberal arts for the region.

I went there Friday evening, and after looking around and praying a bit I stayed the night at a nearby house, where apparently they have supras nearly every night, and had a huge pile of meat on the table because their neighbor had recently killed a pig. Before dinner it was raining heavily, with a little hail, so I sat up on the balcony and watched the storm. The father of the house makes little plaster things to sell to tourists, and gave me a little model of the church, which was nice, but it’s freshly varnished, and made my bag and now room spell of the stuff. There were five or six neighbors over for dinner; they were thoughtful, and said the themes of the toasts very slowly with some hand motions so that I would get the general gist of things, and tried talking to me as much as possible, given my extremely limited grasp of Georgian. I went back to Gelati in the morning for most of Liturgy before returning to Kutaisi. The morning light shining through the insence-filled air was gorgeous, but I thought that it must be very hard for the monks to concentrate on praying when so many people are walking around, taking pictures, giving tours, and so on all during service. The entire church is frescoed, and Georgians are especially proud of the mosaic of Mary behind the alter, because it’s old, and because huge mosaics are unusual in the area.

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