Top: World's first 360-degree Panorama of Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia, Feb 24/2009, from 12 separate photos...

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Kvirike Church, upper Svaneti, November 2003

Visible in the background, the church is locked, high on a hill with a steep path winding up to it. In 2005 some friends and I paid for the privelege of having it opened for us, with a guide to take us up and in. Kvirike is guarded 24/7 in shifts by villagers. Because...
Among its icons is one in chased gold, one of the most important icons in the entire Orthodox world, which was stolen years ago, before such heavy guarding began. The thieves ran away with their prize across the mountains... and were pursued by the locals who, catching up to them, stoned them to death and recovered the treasure. Although we saw other beautiful Orthodox icons in the church, the main item remained locked away in its own strongbox; it is displayed only once a year, for Kvirikoba, the famous festival of this church.
In the foreground are a metal cross and some bottles. One is supposed to drink a toast to the local saint; but not, presumably, to then litter the ground with empty bottles? (One step back would reveal what I'm describing.) The fact is that there's no organised garbage collection service at ALL in this part of the country, so it's not just a matter of shaming people into not polluting in this manner. Complicated. But garbage strewn in Svaneti is still an easy sell to locals as a sin against nature and God.

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