Old and New Shuamta monasteries

Two of the most important and most beautiful architectural monuments of Kakheti are the Jveli (Old) and Akhali (New) Shuamta monasteries. Both of them stand in a forest of deciduous trees which makes them look even more fascinating. It is 7-kilometre from Telavi. The Old Shuamta architectural ensemble includes three churches. The three-nave basilica, dating from the V century, is a remarkable specimen of the early Georgian Christian architecture. The VII century domed church belongs to Mtskheta Holy Cross type monuments, but is smaller, the depth of its apses and bemas is shallower, the significance of the dome drum is greater in relation to the floor space and the architectural masses, thestructure of squinches is more evident. The third church, also dating back to the VII century, is a tiny, domed structure of the same type, but it doesn’t have the corner chambers end, with the absence of bemas, both of its axes are equal. All three churches are built of cobble stone, and their corners are trimmed with pumice. The churches, like other Kakhetian monuments, have no embellishments, neither do they have any inscriptions.

In the XVI century, the old Shuamta monastery was neglected.

Tinatin, the wife of the king of kakhs Levan-II (1520-1574) and daughter of Lord Gurieli, founded the Akhali (New) Shuamta monastery. There is a legend related to the construction of the temple: as a child, Lord Gurieli’s daughter Tinatin once dreamed that she would marry the prince in whose farmstead she would find a white cornel tree, where she would have to build a church in honour of the Holy Virgin. Indeed, Tinatin married Kakhetian king Levan-II and on their way back from Guria to Gremi with the icon of the Holy Virgin of Khakhuli, they stopped exactly at this place and stayed overnight, placing the icon on the cornel tree which she had dreamed about before. In the morning they saw the miracle – the icon was attached to the tree, a clear sign to build the church. So Queen Tinatin’s dream came true. She built a church and monastery of brick for a community of nuns. Later she herself joined this convent and is buried in the church.

The church is based on a cruciform plan and is painted inside. The inner walls were decorated with mural paintings. Portraits of Donors and some other frescos have preserved. At the end of the XVI century the Queen’s daughter, the nun Thekla, attached to the main church a small chapel of Archangels and gave donations for it. Later, King Teimuraz-I in 1637 issued a deed by which he donated to the monastery customs duties from the merchant caravans which passed along the Gombori way. Finally, the church was renewed by king Erekle-II.

In the XIX century New Shuamta Monastery shared the hardships of the country like the other spiritual centres of Kakheti. Monastic life was gradually diminished. Its revival is connected with the name of Kirion, Bishop of Alaverdi, later the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia. By his work the Monastery was renewed in 1899. But this period turned out to be short – during the Soviet regime the Monastery was closed and an orphanage was placed here.

Monastic life in New Shuamta Monastery was restored again in 1990.

On the north-west part of the monastic yard is a four-storey belfry.

In the 19th century the monastery was a burial place of the members of Chavchavadze, Karalashvili, Makashvili and Andronikashvili families.

About ten nuns live in New Shuamta Monastery today. They are engaged in Iconography, needlework and translating the letters of the saints from Latin and Greek into Georgian for publication by the Diocese of Alaverdi. The monastery also has its own farm, with cows, sheep, vineyards and beehives. From the honey the nuns make high quality perfumed candles.

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