Saturday, January 15, 2011

Feast of St. Nino: Apostle of Georgia

January 14 is the feast of St. Nino the Apostle of Georgia.
No, not that Georgia.
This Georgia-
I'll bet Georgians have an awful time with this one when they visit the US!

Georgia is a fascinating country. It has a long, mostly traumatic history of invasions and war, yet in the 300's (that's right, 4th Cent.) Georgia earned the distinction of being one of the first Christian nations in the whole world. This remarkably quick conversion is traditionally due to the amazing witness of one young lady, St. Nino. Hence she has been titled the Apostle (one who first brings the good news) of Georgia.

In the icon above, you can see that St. Nino has been depicted with all the traditional trappings of an evangelist (the Bible) and a saint (the halo). What makes her distinct from other saints is the cross she holds, which was made from a grapevine. Consequently, the crossbar of St. Nino's cross is always shown as bent downward on both ends.
St. Nino was supposedly taken as a slave into Georgia where she performed a miracle and won (as is typical) the respect of the Queen, who was her first major convert. The King (as usual) was harder to convince, but once he converted, he imposed conversion on his entire kingdom (so the story goes).
You'll notice, after looking at depictions of other famous ancient Georgians, the distinctive long, dark braids make St. Nino look particularly Georgian (see the picture below of Queen Tamar, Georgia's most powerful monarch).
Over the years these beautiful Georgian braids have grown to unrealistic lengths. Online I've seen a whole troop of Georgian dancers with equally sized (can anyone get braids this skinny? I can't!) three foot long braids. I say to myself, "They must be hair pieces!" but I have no idea really. Maybe most Georgian ladies are blessed with perfectly braid-able hair?
As you can probably guess from the amount of time I'm spending talking about braids, Georgian culture, with its familiarity with all things medieval, has me enthralled. It all started with one video.
It is really a must-see in my opinion.
So, I figure, since St. Nino's life is mostly shrouded in mystery, and because I can't find if native Georgians do anything special on St. Nino's day, it's a perfect day to learn about Georgian culture, specifically two amazing looking traditional Georgian foods:
Georgian cheese bread or Khachapuri
 Georgian meat dumplings or Khinkali (Note from wikipedia, you're not supposed to eat the pleated top because it's quite tough.)

I love cheese bread and meat dumplings. I was not shocked that these were two of the most popular national dishes. Personally, I think this cuisine is the perfect meeting of oriental and occidental foods. It's like a Chinese-Italian smoosh with some great Middle Eastern flavors (pomegranate anyone?) thrown in.

Georgian national dress and dance are both magical. Samaia is a dance that honors the memory of the great Queen Tamar. I've read different interpretations of why there are three girls that represent the one queen (her overwhelming power?), but I'm convinced the hands are held in such a way because they are mimicking the poses shown in medieval frescoes.

I'm having trouble finding much upbeat Georgian music in iTunes. Most of the authentically Georgian music that is available for purchase over here in the West are slower polyphonic ballads. If you love Greek and Russian Orthodox chanting, you'll love Georgian traditional music.

This a culture worth celebrating in my opinion. Thank God for St. Nino and her humble mission!

P.S. I would ignore Wikipedia's insistence that Catholics celebrate this feast on Jan. 15. I find other sources to be more trustworthy in these matters.


  1. Hello, do you know where I may be able to purchase this icon of St Nino? Thanks

  2. No, unfortunately I don't, sorry!