Orthodox Christian icons are everywhere to be found in Georgia - gazing over the shoulders of butchers cutting meat, peeking among stacks of cards in notary bureaus, dangling over the windscreen on public buses and marshutkas, and a cross sway from the mirror in most cars across the country. Religious images are ubiquitous attributes of public spaces and lay bare the Georgian society’s entrenched religious belief.
Georgia embraced Christianity as a state religion between around 327 AD and it has since then been the pillar of the country’s character. As the country was engulfed into the Soviet project in 1921, religious institutions were undermined, many of their representatives were executed, and the authority of those who survived dissolved - in 1917 there were 2,455 working churches, by mid-1980 a mere 80 remained, plus a handful of monasteries and seminaries. When Georgia became an independent state at the meltdown of USSR in the early 1990s, religious feelings re-emerged, stronger than ever, and the Church played a key role in shaping the re-gained national identity - you are Georgian, hence you are Orthodox Christian. Today, 89 percent of Georgia’s 3.7 million people define themselves as Orthodox Christians.
This affirmation spilled over the severe high walls of chapels and monasteries, inundating public spaces which have become places to communicate who Georgians are and stand for. Here, creed takes up different forms as religious icons mingle with religion’s arch-enemies like former USSR’s head Joseph Stalin, himself a Georgian trainee priest till he met with Karl Marx’s theories, and modern-day secular cult, footballers.
Photo: Lala Aliyeva ; Text: Lika Antadze