The Christianity cave – temple monuments of the Middle Age in the range of Keshikchidagh

The Christianity cave – temples complex consisting to the Middle Age that in library is known as David Gareja approximately situates 60 km in the East from Tiflis, there could be said it is 40 km in the North-East direction from Boyuk Kasik railway station. In the different periods of history there belonged 17 monasteries and 25 religious and belief objects to the complex on the rocks of the mountains that separate Kur and Gabirri rivers. Here the initiator of monkhood and the founder of the complex was David one of the “13 Syrian fathers” and the famous churchman that lived during 30-50 years of VI centuries. His name in Georgian churches and written historical sources stayed as “Garajeli”, it means, “extraneous, stranger, foreigner”[1]. The nature of the same monastery and its tributaries are very poor – waterless mountainous hills and dry forestless field. David and his diofisit friends and his monophysit  friends that were banished from Byzantium territories were famous as the propagandists of Christianity between the heathen. They lived in the central part of the South Caucasus and played an important role in strengthening of the foundations of Christianity among the people who adopted the Christianity.

For all centuries, in these territories took place strained historical and cultural accidents, by the states in that period of time depending on military-political and religious – political processes of the Byzantine Empire and the Sassanid states. Even, at the first half of VI centuries, Justin (518-527) and Justinian (527-565) especially, in 451, in Chalcedon meeting for attracting the confessors and Constantinople’s population that are faithful to orthodoxy (diofizim) and won completely victory and also for gaining the Papa’s throne patronage they in openly and decisive form were against of monophysit s of Asia Minor and Syria. First of all, dogmas were declared unlawful. The creation of their own church organization for supporters and organization of hierarchy, also creation of cult rituals were forbidden. The law gave an opportunity to meddle with own life of other peoples and limited their rights very much on inheritance and on managing their properties. In 519, there were sent into exile 54 bishops from the territories of Empire because they refused to adopt the diofisit dogmas and ceremonies. In response, the supporters of non-Orthodox denominations left the Empire, and especially, the Sassanid’s – permanent enemy of Byzantine run to Iran. The opponents of Byzantine Orthodox – representatives of Christianity monophysits and Nestorians have been allowed to build churches and monasteries from the edges of the empire by the king of the kings Anushiravan Khosrow (in 531-579).

In the middle of the VI century, Sassanid’s Iran state tried to create a single monophysit merged in Caucasus. In 551 – 553 years, during the Local meeting with the participation of representatives of Armenian Church and Syrian Church officially announced the monophysitism as their own ideological choice and according to dogmas appropriated the liturgy. But none of Georgia (Kartli) and Albania organized such meetings. These states searched the balance between the states of Byzantium and Iran, so it is probably they did not give up the principles of diofizit Kholkidon council, but also did not act as active anti-monophysit.  On the base of written sources, the strong flow of Nestorians in Albanian was even a result of formation of Nestorian bishops in Paytakaran city (at present, near the Beylagan city). Some of their bishops’ names were known from the Synod’s documents of VI century.

In the struggle movement that were placed, Abbas (in 551-596) the Albanian Catholicos went to compromise and stayed in mild Khalkedonit position and agreed with the formula of Antioxidants patriarch of Peter (during 469-489 years, with intervals).

On the base of “The history of Albanians”, the Foma, Biotic, İbas, and other Khalkedonit monks that left the country by force were against of the new rules. Musa Kalankatli noted that, the Catholicos Abbas “the Judge – by absolutely owning to God mercy could restore the peace in church brotherhood”[2]. The Albanian confessor scientists not obeying the new rules time by time move to Albanian monasteries of Jerusalem and to other diofizit centers.

David and other “Syrians’ fathers” acted under the same conditions. According to the saved West Christianity traditions, 13 Syrian priests and also David settled down in central part of the South Caucasus and in the territories that there lived less populations.

From “Syrian fathers” David, Stepanos, Piros və Abibos created the Christianity religious enlightenment temples, churches and caves in the lands of Western Europa.

 The activity of the same “Syrians fathers” and their predecessors and also asceticism activity of their comrades’ John, Zenon, Antony, Thaddeus, Iesey, Isidor, Joseph, Michael and Shion gave opportunity to completely political supremacy of Persian fire-worshippers’ and in the religious-cultural pressure periods these gave an opportunity to save and vitality of Christianity. David with his student Lucian settled down in Cambisena the historical province of Caucasus Albania – the territory that was governed by Marzban the Sassanid’s judge of province.

His activity was not against of the official policy of Persians supporting the Christianity monophisit movements. It seems, David’s choice on territory there played an important role the similarity of the nature of Mesopotamia and Kesikcidag, its stiff chains that burned in the sunshine, even by the ancient authors these territories were written as lonely and thirsty nature. David began the activity of spiritual asceticism here. The proof of these soil lands are the holes that were dig out on the rocky places. The monks collected there the rain water. They knew how to bring water to store and make suitable for drinking. It is known that, even in the Early Medieval Age the Syrian hermit asceticism was very famous with the principles of hard collapsing of body, refusing from the world’s blessings, achievement of purity of soul, gaining the sincere from God so that living as half-starved in whole of life.

The rocks in Keshikchidagh belonged to very ancient geological history so that they can easily throw about and turn over. In this reason the transition to semi destruction or relatively intact remained objects are very hard – to subsidiary buildings, churches, monks’ cell and to rocky caves. David Gareji’s laurels dividing of Georgia and Azerbaijan that situates on the North slope of the mountain considers as the basic monastery. The boundary passes over the top of mountain that calls as the “Udabno” monasteries by historians. One part of called monastery situates in the territory of Azerbaijan – in the South slope of the mountain.

Even in the period of David the monastery that he lived were separated to tributaries in the sample of monasteries of Dado and Vaftidjichi Johann that situate in Georgia. During the centuries there were separated the monasteries to all sides. Sometimes the monasteries’ staffs arranged thousands of membership. And sometimes later the disintegration of structure of Albanian churches and near the X centuries there created the special title as the “archimandrite of 12 monasteries” that was given to Ninotsmindly the manager of Gareji cells because at those periods the Armenian and Georgian churches were straightening – the past hierarchy of Albanian Catholicizes.  

It means near the XII century there were 12 monasteries in this area, 5 the rest of monasteries and also the “Church of Elders” called as “Bertubani” completely situated in the territory of Azerbaijan till the present time (was founded during 1208-1209 years) but the foundation was laid at the end of XII centuries and at the beginning of XIII centuries, at the period of the straightening and spreading period of historical and cultural influence of Abkhaz and Georgian Tsar.

Exactly in this territory one part of frescoes, including the frescoes describing the images of Tsar Tamara (1184-1213) and her son Gorgy Lasha (1213-1222) were in good conditions, but during the last ten years in the boundaries of Georgia and Azerbaijan the different “historian amateurs and professionals” take them out and bring them to Georgia.

According to some information, they were placed in the Historical Art Museum of Georgia. Keeping the same frescoes and other parts in their own places till the present day means the historical proof and argument for saving them in the future too.

But there is necessary to note that, some “careful peoples” of ancient culture of Georgia with momentary haughtiness and liar patriotism feelings have colored more of them with chemical colors in noticeable extent and spoiled. 

One more monastery – Chichkhiktury and the church of Dirchalma also situate in the territory of Azerbaijan. Beside this, there are more than 100 caves that use as cells by the monks in the south slope of the mountain.

The longest distant from the boundaries of Georgia and Azerbaijan is the Bertubani monastery that situates approximately in 2 km distance.

Each of monuments – tower, cells and other monastery buildings created and along the history they even changed their utilitarian meanings too. They can say about many things. For example, the big, with the same measured, rudely hewed and under the time’s influences building with the crumbled stones, having the entrance from the West side, one of temples of Keshikchidagh according to the thoughts of Mansur Mansurov belonged to the buildings with the Albanian style. M.Mansurov considered that, on the building’ stones were described the sun and the moon descriptions that met very often on the most entrances of Albanian temples[3].

In the 20th years of the last centuries, academician G.Chubanashvili arranged the scientific expedition to the cave – temple complexes and he noted that “near the same places, including in the other places there were some cells with exact geometrical forms and all of these make us to think that they were reconstructed since the ancient period”.[4]

Since the 60-70th years of the last centuries view point of archeological – epigraphic and art critic there have continued to carry out the scientific research works in approachable places of wall patterns and writings in the cave churches and in other buildings of Keshikchidagh monastery complexes. During the investigations there discovered one large material that proved the wall patterns and writings were “twofold”.[5]

So everything observes clearly that, here is impossible to talk about the monastery complexes belonged to sole historical-cultural community from the end of XI centuries to the beginning of XII centuries. In collecting publications of 60-70th centuries, for example, in “The historical content of Georgia”[6], there said that the David Garaji’s complex belonged to Georgia’s historical and cultural environment only since the beginning of XI centuries.

The straightening processes of churches’ structure of Georgia coincided with joining processes of Abkhaz and Georgian tsars in one political union’s composition.

The ethno confessional widening in the East directed to the Christians of Christian culturals’ areal that is steel in the lands of Western Albania. All of these processes were finished with the spreading of Georgian language and culture in the church and then with the completely ethnical assimilation of population living in the branches of Iory and Alasan Rivers and all of these processes ended with the joining of the basic historical and cultural part of Georgia.

At the end of the Middle Age some of these monastery buildings and caves were subject to attacks. In the XIII centuries, Mongolians injured them very much. Although, in Immunal decree at the end of XIV centuries (in 1392), in the composition of Mtsxet Catholicos’ property was the name of David Gareji monastery together with other buildings and it could be said that there were not any inhabitants in the monasteries and in the church buildings. But, it seems, in XV-XVI centuries here were the revival of church – religious life. Thus, on the base of sources’ information during the rebellion of I Shah Abbas against of the Christianity population at the beginning of XVII centuries during the punishment expedition were killed more than thousands monks. At the end of the same century at first Shah Teymuraz, and then shah Archil David connecting with the reconstruction of monastery life carried out some measures in Gareji monk cells. On the base of amateur talent activities it happened after its affirmation by the main bishop of Onuphriy Garajiyskiy that got the last lands not only the pseudonym.

         During the XVIII centuries by the population of the North Caucasus the monastery complexes were the subjects to attacks and so that its development became weak again, at the first half of XIX centuries it completely stopped. Only in Ioan Vaftichy’s monastery stayed some grey – beards.

         So that, with the purpose of staying and straightening its position against of Islam and muridism, the Russian Tsar realized some measures in the direction of christenings of local population.

These processes were straightened very much after the organization of “The community of spreading of Orthodox Christianity” near the Empire of II Alexander on the 9th of June, 1860. The “Community” on the account of treasury built the churches, opened the religious and aristocrat schools and realized wide missionary activity.

Although, at those periods the tsar almost abolished the avtokefal of Georgian churches, Georgian orthodox confessors could use of the suitable conditions.

Since the second half of XIX centuries till the present day by the Georgia there purposely and gradually have carried out reconstruction works in more objects of David Gareji complexes. Thus, in both two sides of the church were joined to fake cells; the ancient frescoes began to be worked according to more traditions of a new Georgian school of icon drawing. As a result, there created the “scientific – documental” base for spreading the thesis that all of these monuments were not belonged to monopolists, to Albanian churches, on the contrary they were belonged to the ancient Georgian origin. Even there created the term of “Gareji School of Art”.

When and by whom were these decorating frescoes of more cave-temples worked? According to the thoughts of I. Hajiyev, Azerbaijanian art critic; “these bringing frescoes of reflecting stages from Christianity, from “Gospel” arranges completely discrepancy with the caves’ interior”. The compositions were not prepared on the base of completed plot lines they were prepared in scattered form not taking account of interior scale and they consisted of different religious stages and characters. Especially, we would like to stay on the fresco of the theme of famous “Secret night”. On this composition was not descripted the traditional 12 apostles. The problem is that the surface of cave’s interior is in a small capacious and the creation of completely multi-figured compositions there were impossible. This fact reaffirmed that these caves were many years ago from the period of frescos preparation. In some empty places there were painted the crosses’ descriptions in different form and size. One of these crosses painting in a large size belonged to Orthodox Church of Russia. In the preparation of compositions instead of accordance experience and ability drew attention, taken as a whole they were worked out in non-professional level. In the compositions were not observed to perspective laws by unskillfulness. It is known that, there were used from water-colors very much. … The watercolor of non-muddle clear white color was began to apply since XV centuries. Since XV-XVII centuries there began to use from watercolor in painting of sketches of engravings, drafts, indicator boards and in frescoes. On the same frescos, there were used from the second – it means, in from clear watercolor. Then there put the special varnish on them[7].

Here is necessary to acquaintance closely with the differences in churches’ attributes and in structures of monophysit and Georgian Orthodox Churches. On the base of discovering results getting from the special sources the first’s sanctuary arranges the joint stage with the sacred Mayan. It heightened in the stone postament and situates in height of 70-80 cm from the floor of praying hall. From the both two sides there leans special building stone ladder. It allows to priests to stand on the sanctuary during the religious ceremonies. In Georgian and including in other Orthodox Churches the sanctuaries built in the level of floor. Of course, at present time in dilapidated caves it is very difficult to define the previous views of the floors, but it is easier to knock down the stone – wall postament and construct the sanctuary on the floor. There is one more necessary difference too: according to the Chalcedonic ceremonies there was allowed to bury in church and in the caves the depths’ survivals. But on the base of monophysit laws, if in the church carried out bury ceremonies it means, it became to the small church and there is forbidden to carry out religious ceremonies and rites, for example, marriage ceremony, baptized confinement. Within the framework of archaeological research works, during the visual glance discovering the noted peculiarities would be important in determination of time and religious-ideology signs.

In Georgian sources there noted that the creation history of frescos in the monastery complexes in the territory of Georgia belonged to earlier period [10].


[1] Look: The dictionary of Georgian languages. Tbilisi, 1986, p.128.

[2] Moisey Kalankatlu. The history of Aluank. The translation from old Armenian language, introductions and comments. Sh.I. Smbatyan. Erevan, 1984.p.74.

[3] M.Farajullayeva. Snail on the slope. // Newspaper “Zerkalo”, 07.02.2004.

[4] Q.Chubanashvili, uk. Rab., p. 36.

[5] Q.Qaprinadashvili. inscription of 1089, from “The cave of Chariton” of Gareji monasteries.// The news of NA of Georgia.SSR. Series of history, archeology and ethnography, 1976, № 2, p.177-186

[6] The historical content of Georgia. T. III. Tbilisi, 1979 (in Georgian language); Russian version – Tbilisi, 2002

[7] Flora Gadji. Keshikchidagh.// Journal “Yol”, №3 (16), 2009, p.17.

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