TBILISI (Public Radio of Armenia)—President Serzh Sarkisian and First Lady Rita Sarkisian attended the re-consecration ceremony of one of Tbilisi’s oldest churches, the Armenian Cathedral of St. George, which was led by His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, on Saturday.
The ceremony was joined by Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanyan, Primate of the Georgian Diocese, the donors of the church restoration program, numerous guests and religious people of the Georgian Diocese, as well as by church benefactor Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s former prime minister. Ivanishvili was awarded high decorations of the Armenian Apostolic Church by His Holiness Karekin II together with the other benefactors.
The ceremony was followed by the opening of a memorial plaque bearing the names of the benefactors of the church reconstruction program.
The restoration project of the Cathedral of St. George (XIII ct.) of the Georgian Diocese started in 2012, becoming one of the most important programs of the Initiative for the Development of Armenia (IDeA) and receiving the blessings of the Catholicos of All Armenians and the support of Georgian authorities.
The same year, the Foundation for the Reconstruction of the Cathedral of St. George was established with the aim of getting donations, managing financial resources, as well as of supervising the technical works to restore the church and its frescos.
During the restoration process, both Armenian and Georgian specialists were engaged, including architect-restorer Anatoli Solomnishvili (who is also the author of the restoration projects of Avlabar’s St. Etchmiadzin Church (XVIII ct.)), restorer-builder Zurab Gachechiladze, senior restorer of the Armenian Ministry of Culture, Arzhanik Hovhannisyan, head of the Research Center for Restoration of Monumental Painting, Otar Chakvetadze, head of the Technical Expertise Division of the Georgian Engineering Academy, as well as experts from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and the Matenadaran.
During the three-year restoration project, a close eye was kept on the fortification of the church; underground waters posed a real danger to the church’s foundation and brick walls.
During the project, the church foundation was fortified and replaced with a waterproof one, a drainage system was installed, the walls and dome were reinforced, the external coating was removed and the church’s initial appearance with bricks was restored.
Special attention was paid to the restoration of the frescos and sacred images inside the cathedral. Its entrance and walls, arch niches and columns are decorated with the paintings of the Hovnatanians, Gevorg Bashinjaghian and other unknown masters. The restoration work of the frescos and sacred images were carried out by the Research Center for Restoration of Monumental Painting under the leadership of Arzhanik Hovhannisyan and with the consultative support of Fabrizio Iacobini, head of the Center for Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage of Florence.
The restoration was largely funded by charitable donations. The total cost of the restoration program amounted to USD 3.5 million. The main donors of the program include the Vardanian family, Albert Avdolyan, Sergey Sarkisov and Rusudan Makhashvili, Danil Khachaturov, as well as Bidzina Ivanishvili.
The Cathedral of St. George (or the Great Church of Berd) is one of the oldest churches in Tbilisi. It was an Armenian spiritual and cultural centers during medieval times. From the fourteenth to the fifteenth centuries, numerous manuscripts were created in the church school, which are kept in the Matenadaran. The church has been repeatedly damaged by invasions and fires, and repeatedly has been restored.
The yard of the Cathedral of St. George houses the tombs of Sayat-Nova, Gevorg Bashinjaghian, Mikhail Loris-Melikov, Arshak Ter-Gukasov, Ivan Lazarev and Boris Shelkovnikov.