Saint Nino’s Grapevine Cross
Photo and Text by Paata Vardanashvili
The Grapevine Cross also known as the Georgian cross or Saint Nino’s cross, is a major symbol of the Georgian Orthodox Church, dating from the 4th century AD, when Christianity became an official religion in the kingdom of Iberia (Kartli).
Saint Nino, traditionally depicted holding a grapevine crossIt is recognisable by its horizontal arms drooping a little. Traditional accounts credit Saint Nino, a Cappadocian woman who preached Christianity in Iberia (Georgia) early in the 4th century, with this unusual shape of the Georgian cross. The legend has it that she received the grapevine cross from the Virgin Mary (or, alternatively, she forged it herself on the way to Mtskheta) and secured it by entwining with her own hair. Nino came with this cross on her mission to Georgia. The familiar representation of that cross, with its peculiar drooping arms, did not apprear until the early modern era, however.
According to traditional accounts, the cross of St Nino was kept at the cathedral in Mtskheta for centuries. During the Persian invasions, it was taken to Armenia and eventually to Moscow. Tsar Alexander I returned it to Georgia at the beginning of the 19th century after Georgia’s incorporation within the Russian Empire. This cross, a symbol of the Georgian Orthodox Christianity, is now preserved in the Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi, Georgia.
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