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Bagrati Cathedral renovations halted

By Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, June 19
The restoration of Bagrati Cathedral in the Imereti region was suspended upon the demand of the Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II. The statement released by the Georgian Patriarchate on June 18 said that the rehabilitation being carried out on this “world important cultural and historic monument” is a “rude violation” of the draft project previously arranged with the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection and the Scientific Council of the Patriarchate.

The Patriarchate demanded de-montage of the metal construction attached to one of the sides of the temple so that restoration of the temple would not exceed the framework of the initial agreement. Moreover, the local priest Kutatali-Gaenati metropolitan Kalistrate was obliged to provide the Patriarchate’s centre for restoration with periodical updated information about the ongoing processes, so that the centre could monitor the activities at the site.

It was 2009 when the rehabilitation of the temple was started upon agreement with the Georgian patriarchate. The restoration was due to be completed this autumn. The project designed by architect Ivane Gremelashvili was approved by the patriarchate but in the end, the restoration featured contemporary elements. However, according to Nika Vacheishvili, Head of Georgia’s Cultural Heritage Preservation Agency, although Grdzelishvili’s project didn’t consider attaching a lift to the temple, there were some “modifications” demanded by UNESCO.

Vacheishvili said they would follow the advice of Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II and provide details to the public and the patriarchate regarding the rehabilitation. Vacheishvili said that although the rehabilitation has been executed at a high-level, they would nevertheless consult the positions of the Patriarchate and address the misunderstanding.

Vacheishvili explained that the lift attached to the church from the outside, was designed to assist elderly people interested in the history of the cathedral. He said neither the historic value of the church nor the church services would be hindered at the temple.

Art critics and experts were more worried about the possible loss of the temple’s authenticity after the rehabilitation. Welcoming the patriarch’s decision, Gogi Khoshtaria advised everyone to look through other historic monuments and consider the fact that even the smallest detail means a lot in art, emphasizing that it’s unacceptable to change anything in the monument. “This church [reflects] the image of the country,” he said.

Most of his colleagues feel the same and explain that Bagrati Cathedral does not need restoration but rather conservation. They fear that otherwise the church will lose its historic importance in the list of monuments protected by UNESCO. “What’s happening at Bagrati Temple nowadays has been considered as a wrong experience in many countries,” architect Nestan Tatarashvili said, explaining that the cathedral would look like an absolutely new non-traditional monument after its restoration.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nino Kalandadze emphasized the importance of the Patriarchate’s position on the issue but denied the possibility of excluding Bagrati Church from the list of UNESCO. She said the Georgian delegation would attend the UNESCO committee session in Saint-Petersburg on June 24 where the sides would share their positions. Kalandadze hopes that the interests of the Georgian side will be fully considered.