Armenia and Georgia

Armenian imageArmenia and  Georgia

The history of Christianity in Armenia and Georgia, and of their saints, is both early and closely intertwined (only in the seventh century did the two churches diverge, with disagreement over the orthodoxy of the Council of Chalcedon); but it is currently little known outside the two countries.  The earliest saints we know of were early 4th-century figures, revered as instrumental in the conversion of the region: in Armenia, Grigor Lusaworič‘ (or Gregory ‘the Illuminator’), and the virgin Hṙip‘simē, who with a group of other virgins led by Gayanē had fled the Roman empire and persecution under Diocletian; and in Georgia, Nino, who was one of their companions, and eventually the sole survivor of the group.  Later, in order to strengthen the two churches’ claims to autonomy, both the Armenian and the Georgian churches asserted that Christianity had been brought to the Caucasus either directly by Jesus’ disciples, or by the immediate followers of the disciples. In Georgia it was the apostle Andrew, accompanied by Simon the Canaanite, who was seen as instrumental in the very early conversion of the region, while in Armenia Thaddeüs and Bartholomew were given the same role, with the former reputedly converting Sanduxt, the virgin daughter of King Sanatruk (who was then instrumental in their martyrdom).  The legend of King Abgar of Edessa even came to be woven into this story, Armenian tradition adopting Abgar as a native king.

As well as hagiography, both regions produced considerable quantities of other evidence that will be invaluable in charting the cult of their saints: in both Armenia and Georgia there is a particularly abundant heritage of art and architecture (testifying to martyr churches, pilgrimage shrines and holy wells dedicated to saints), as well as a large number of inscriptions and manuscript colophons that mention saints and their cults.  A central aim of our project will be to integrate this material with the complex and sophisticated history told by Armenia and Georgia’s hagiography.

The evidence from Armenia and Georgia is being collected by Nikoloz Aleksidze, with supervision from Theo van Lint.