Faith before Right to Life St Queen Ketevan
Surrounded by Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Black Sea, the country of Georgia sits at a crossroad between Asia and Europe. From its location itself, one can figure out the bloody history of the region and the country must have been subjected to.
Part of that history, is Queen Regent of Kakheti (a Kingdom in Georgia) – Saint Ketevan. Also known as Ketevan the Martyr. St Queen Ketevan, also known as Ketevan the Martyr, was the Queen of Kakheti, a kingdom in eastern Georgia in the 17th century. She was married to Prince David of Kakheti, who later became the royal highness the King of the region in the year 1601 but died just a year later in the year 1602. David’s father Alexander II, who had been forced off the throne by his son, took over in 1602 and ruled Kakheti, according to the book ‘Edge of Empires: A History of Georgia’ by Donald Rayfield.
Eventually, after a lot of turmoil with the Shah Abbas I of Iran of the Safavid Dynasty, Alexander II was killed by his other son Constantine I, who also converted to Islam at the Safavid court. After ruling for a few years, he died in a battle led by Queen Ketevan. After his death, Ketevan devoted herself to religious and charity activities. In order to stop impending bloodshed, she offered herself as a hostage to oncoming armies of Shah Abbas I of Iran.
However, in 1613, Shah Abbas I conquered Kakheti and took Queen Ketevan hostage. She was held as a prisoner in Shiraz, a city in south-central Iran, for 10 years. For refusing to convert from Christianity to Islam, Shah Abbas tortured her to death by red-hot pincers, nearly 400 years ago. Interestingly, her remains landed in Church of St. Augustine in Goa, India, most likely brought in by missionaries who were eyewitnesses of her death.
Teams from Georgia alongside the Archaeological Society of India found the remains in 2005, and confirmed to be hers via DNA testing in 2013. She is greatly revered by the people of Georgia, so the country has been requesting return of her remains ever since. The return of the relic, excavated in Goa in 2016, was lauded by the ruling Georgian Dream Democratic Party as an “unprecedented” gesture and one which will be “remembered and appreciated”. Ever since the relics were excavated, the Georgian Government has been urging India to hand them over. Consequently, in 2017, at Georgia’s request, India sent the relics to the country for an exhibition for six months, according to sources in the Ministry of External Affairs.
The relics were then personally accepted by His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II along with many Georgians on 23rd September 2017. This loan of relics was extended for another six months, and they spent the year travelling to different churches of Georgia. They were returned to India on 30th September 2018. According to ministry sources, due to Georgia’s “persistent request” for permanent transfer of the relics, coupled with the historical, religious and spiritual sentiments that are attached to St Queen Ketevan by the Georgian people, New Delhi decided to gift one part of the relics to the government and people of the country.
EAM S. Jaishankar is the first external affairs minister of India to undertake an official visit to Georgia after it achieved independence from the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991. Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had visited the country before him when he was the foreign minister in 1978.
Ketevan courts deep reverence among Georgians as a martyr of the faith who refused to convert her religion, even though this led to her death.
And yesterday, it happened. External Affairs Minister Excellency S. Jaishankar, during his visit to Georgia, handed over Queen Ketevan to her rightful place. The event at the Georgian Orthodox Church was telecast live, with a thankful and emotional nation watching in veneration, the return of their beloved Queen!
Sources said this gesture will “strengthen” the bonds of friendship and understanding between India and Georgia.