Kumurdo Cathedral, Akhalkalaki

Georgia is a country with a rich ancient history not only a secular but also religious one. Georgia was one of the first countries to adopt Orthodox Christianity and many of the Georgian temples were built in the beginning of the first millennium AD.

The ruins of the Episcopal temple, one of the oldest churches of Georgia in village of Kumurdo are located near the ancient city of Vardzia in the territory of Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. This building is one of the outstanding monuments of Georgian architecture. The Kumurdo temple was built on the hillside in 964 by order of Abkhazian King Leo III.

Leo III was a son of the Abkhazian King Georg II. When he became an Abkhazian king, he occupied Kakheti and the territory of Javakheti. To the position of the governor of Javakheti region, he appointed Zviad Marushiani mentioned in the inscriptions from the Kumurdo temple. At this very period Leo III ordered to start construction of an Orthodox temple in Javakheti on the border with Armenia. The place for this construction was chosen Kumurdo village.

Such details about the temple became known owing to the inscriptions written by order of King Leo. They read that “John, the bishop has laid the foundation of this church by hand of sinful Sakotsari in King Leo’s days in May 964, in the Zviad’s vicegerency. It means that the temple was consecrated by the bishop John, built by the architect Sakotsari by order of King Leo in 964 during Zviad’s vicarious power in Javakheti. Along with the reference about construction of the church, the inscriptions on its walls represent the prayers for the builders. There is an inscription which narrates about the construction of the southern gallery under Bagrat IV, Leo’s descendant. In addition there is an inscription which makes clear that the temple was subjected to a considerable reconstruction in the XIV century.

Initially the church represented a building sized 29x20m with the dome reaching 15.3 m in height and with diameter of 9 m. The dome of the building was supported by 6 strong wall-adjacent pillars. From the eastern side of the building where there still survived small fragmants of the dome, one can see pictures of historical persons. The altar with the fragments of painting dated back to the X century is also preserved in the temple.

Kumurdo is also unique because it is one of few cruciform domed temples built in Georgia in the Middle Ages. Although the décor of the Kumurdo temple is not very variable and rich, it differs with its sophistication and originality. The temple is built in a form of a Greek cross, surrounded by 5 semicircular apsis (“apsis” is translated from Greek as “dome” - a building barge, semicircular, faceted or rectangular in plan, ended with a semi-dome or closed dome). Adjacent to the temple from the western side, there is a rectangular gallery built in an oriental style by order of Bagrat IV in the XI century.

In the end of the first millennium the Kumurdo temple became not only a cultic center of Samtskhe-Javakheti, but also one of the educational centers of Georgia. The activity of John of Kumurdo who over the whole length of his life was contributing to the development of Javakheti should be specially mentioned.