On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Nino, the slave girl who brought Christianity to Georgia in the early fourth century. She is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Catholic Churches.
Nino, a Christian, was brought as a captive to Georgia, then known as Iberia, from Cappadocia. She escaped her captors and went to live in the Jewish quarter of Urbnisi. One day, when people from the town went to the city of Mtskheta, Nino went with them and observed them worshipping the local gods. After her prayers, the bejeweled idols, Armazi, Gatzi, and Gaim, were destroyed by hailstones that fell during a hurricane.
Back in Urbnisi, after miraculously curing a child, Nino became known as a healer. Queen Nana came to her seeking a cure. With her grapevine cross, Nino made the Sign of the Cross on the queen and healed her. She taught the queen about Christ. When the queen returned home, King Mirian wanted to send presents to Nino in gratitude, but Queen Nana said the only way he could thank Nino would be to accept her teachings. The king began studying Christianity.
After a while, he decided to return to the old religion. He was hunting one bright summer day when a thick fog enveloped him, blacking out the sun and causing him to get lost. He prayed to his old sun god, but the darkness continued. Then he prayed to the "Crucified One whom Nino preaches", and the sun reappeared. King Mirian promised to become a Christian and build a church. He kept his promise. Soon other kings and queens of the Caucasian people accepted Nino's teachings and were baptized.
In 338, her work completed, Nino, the Enlightener of Georgia, Equal to the Apostles, died. "They came and buried her body, resplendent with divine power, at Bodbe, a village in Kakheti. And they built a church there, and appointed a bishop over it, in honor of the holy, blessed enlightener of Georgia, the thrice divinely blessed noble Nino."
--from St. Nino and the Conversion of Georgia.
For a scholarly account of the same period that includes a description of the importance of the Jewish community and an explanation for the slow spread of Christianity from the royal families to the rural population, see "Mountain Constantines: The Christianization of Aksum and Iberia", by Christopher Haas, Journal of Late Antiquity, Spring, 2008, Johns Hopkins University Press.
To hear three-part Georgian chant, recent and archival, click here.
To see icons of St. Nino, click here.
St. Nino is depicted with a grapevine cross, an important symbol in Georgia, where viticulture dates back "to the Eneolith period (the end of IV - beginning of III millennia B.C.). This is witnessed by seeds, specific trimming knives, ornaments with vine depictions and other objects that were discovered in ancient burial places (Mtskheta, Trialeti, Alazani Valley, Pitsunda, etc.)."
For more information about Georgian wines and spirits and for recipes for Georgian cuisine, see About Georgia, by David A. Mchedlishvili.