David Gareja Complex


David Gareja Monastery, VI century AD


David Gareja Complex represents one of the greatest Cave Monasteries in the world. It's 65 km. from Tbilisi to the South on the hilly place. It stretches over about 25 kilometers and consists of several single Monasteries, the oldest of which St. David Lavra was founded by St. David Garedjeli in the VI c. Also the Dodo Monastery and St. John the Baptist Monastery are built in the VI c. Other Monasteries are built later. From the middle centuries including the XVIII c. here dominated the active (live) Monastery life. The period of the highest prosperity is the period from the XI c. to the XIII c. during the unified Georgia. The single constructions, as fortresses and towers, belong to the XVI-XVIII cc. Since the only source of water throughout the territory is so called " David's Tears" falling down drop-by -drop in one of the caves, the monks have cut a system of crevices across sheets of rock on a steep mountain slope for rainwater collection.

This place is indeed unique for its wild nature, rare plants and animals, mural masterpieces and rock-cut monasteries. This place is called "Udabno", which means desert or wilderness. Though it is not a desert with sands, but rather a semi-desert. Blunt-nosed vipers are found in a wide range of David Gareja habitats: stony hillsides, shrubs, grassy meadows and dry infertile ground. This viper has a very strong poison and tourists must be extremely careful.

The monastery was found by Father David of Gareja (one of the thirteen Assyrian Church Fathers who came to Georgia in the late 5th or early 6th centuries). The ancient books write that all the Saint Fathers came from Mesopotamia.  Their spiritual father was St. John or Ioane Zedazneli. When he was in the city of Edessa St. Ioane had a divine call to select twelve disciples and go to Georgia to preach and strengthen people in their belief (Georgia was ancient Christian country but after Persian invasions a lot of fire-worshippers tried to spread Zoroastrianism into the country). To these Assyrian Fathers is ascribed the introduction of monastic institutions into Georgia. They founded some great and well known churches and monasteries in Georgia.
Father David came to Gareja desert with his pupil, Lucian and settled in the little natural cave. So was formed Davitis Lavra. Time by time it was branched, the number of monasteries came to 18 (one of the monasteries nowadays is on Azerbaijan territory, this part of the land was given to Azerbaijan in 1921, when the Red Army occupied Georgia and the Russia and Turkey signed special treaty, according to which huge part of Southern Georgia was given to Turkey and some parts to Azerbaijan). For centuries Gareja has been a significant religious and cultural centre, and from time to time - the retreat of kings.

In the wilderness of David-Garejeli  monks had lived the ascetic life for centuries. In 1615, Iranian Shah Abbas I invaded Georgia, laid it waste and slew innumerable Christians. One day, while  hunting out at dawn on Easter Day itself, he saw the light of many candles shining in the hills. This was the monks of all seventeen monasteries in procession all round the Church of the Resurrection, walking with candles in their hands. When the Shah discovered that it was monks, he asked in disbelief: 'Isn't the whole of Georgia put to the sword by now?', and ordered his generals to go and slaughter the monks at once. An angel of God appeared to Abbot Arsenius, and revealed their imminent death to him, and Arsenius informed the brethren. They then all received Communion in the Holy Mysteries and prepared for death. Then the attackers arrived, hacked the abbot to pieces when he came out ahead of the others, and then killed all the rest. Six thousand monks died on that day as martyrs at the St. David of Gareja monastery. Thus ended the history of these famous monasteries, which had been like a flame of spiritual enlightenment in Georgia for more than 1,000 years. The King of Georgia, Archil, gathered the remains of all the martyrs and buried them. Their relics are to this day full of myrrh for the healing of those in sickness.

During  the Soviet Period a Russian military firing ground was established near that place. So every time that military exercises were held, this beautiful place shook as a result of explosions and many caves with unique murals of 9-13th cc. AD were damaged.