|In 1166 a daughter, Tamar, was born to
King Giorgi III (1155–1184) and Queen Burdukhan of Georgia. The king
proclaimed that he would share the throne with his daughter from the day
she turned twelve years of age.
The royal court unanimously vowed its allegiance and service to Tamar,
and father and daughter ruled the country together for five years. After
King Giorgi’s death in 1184, the nobility recognized the young Tamar as
the sole ruler of all Georgia. Queen Tamar was enthroned as ruler of
allGeorgia at the age of eighteen. She is called "King" in theGeorgian
language because her father had no male heir and so she ruled as a
monarch and not as a consort.
At the beginning of her reign, Tamar convened a Church council and
addressed the clergy with wisdom and humility: "Judge according to
righteousness, affirming good and condemning evil," she advised. "Begin
with me — if I sin I should be censured, for the royal crown is sent
down from above as a sign of divine service. Allow neither the wealth of
the nobles nor the poverty of the masses to hinder your work. You by
word and I by deed, you by preaching and I by the law, you by upbringing
and I by education will care for those souls whom God has entrusted to
us, and together we will abide by the law of God, in order to escape
eternal condemnation.… You as priests and I as ruler, you as stewards of
good and I as the watchman of that good."
The Church and the royal court chose a
suitor for Tamar: Yuri, the son of Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky of
Vladimir-Suzdal (in Georgia Yuri was known as "Giorgi the Russian"). The
handsome Giorgi Rusi was a valiant soldier, and under his command the
Georgians returned victorious from many battles. His marriage to Tamar,
however, exposed many of the coarser sides of his character. He was
often drunk and inclined toward immoral deeds. In the end, Tamar’s court
sent him away from Georgia to Constantinople, armed with a generous
ManyMiddle Eastern rulers were drawn to Queen Tamar’s beauty and desired
to marry her, but she rejected them all. Finally at the insistence of
her court, she agreed to wed a second time to ensure the preservation of
the dynasty. This time, however, she asked her aunt and nurse Rusudan
(the sister of King Giorgi III) to find her a suitor. The man she chose,
Davit-Soslan Bagrationi, was the son of the Ossetian ruler and a
descendant of King Giorgi I (1014–1027).
In 1195 a joint Muslim military campaign against Georgia was planned
under the leadership of Atabeg Abu Bakr of Persian Azerbaijan. At
Queen Tamar’s command, a call to arms was issued. The faithful were
instructed by Metropolitan Anton of Chqondidi to celebrate All-night
Vigils and Liturgies and to generously distribute alms so that the poor
could rest from their labors in order to pray.
In ten days the army was prepared, and Queen Tamar addressed the
Georgian soldiers for the last time before the battle began. "My
brothers! Do not allow your hearts to tremble before the multitude of
enemies, for God is with us.… Trust God alone, turn your hearts to Him
in righteousness, and place your every hope in the Cross of Christ and
in the Most Holy Theotokos!" she exhorted them.
Having taken off her shoes, Queen Tamar climbed the hill to the Metekhi
Church of the Theotokos (in Tbilisi) and knelt before the icon of the
Most Holy Theotokos. She prayed without ceasing until the good news
arrived: the battle near Shamkori had ended in the unquestionable
victory of the Orthodox Georgian army.
After this initial victory the Georgian army launched into a series of
triumphs over the Turks, and neighboring countries began to regard
Georgia as the protector of the entire Transcaucasus. By the beginning
the 13th century, Georgia was commanding a political authority
recognized by both the Christian West and the Muslim East.
Georgia’s military successes alarmed the Islamic world. Sultan Rukn
al-Din was certain that a united Muslim force could definitively decide
the issue of power in the region, and he marched on Georgia around the
year 1203, commanding an enormous army.
Having encamped near Basiani, Rukn al-Din sent a messenger to Queen
Tamar with an audacious demand: to surrender without a fight. In reward
for her obedience, the sultan promised to marry her on the condition
that she embrace Islam; if Tamar were to cleave to Christianity, he
would number her among the other unfortunate concubines in his harem.
When the messenger relayed the sultan’s demand, a certain nobleman,
Zakaria Mkhargrdzelidze, was so outraged that he slapped him on the
face, knocking him unconscious.
At Queen Tamar’s command, the court generously bestowed gifts upon the
ambassador and sent him away with a Georgian envoy and a letter of
reply. "Your proposal takes into consideration your wealth and the
vastness of your armies, but fails to account for divine judgment,"
Tamar wrote, "while I place my trust not in any army or worldly thing
but in the right hand of the Almighty God and the infinite aid of the
Cross, which you curse. The will of God — and not your own — shall be
fulfilled, and the judgment of God — and not your judgment — shall
The Georgian soldiers were summoned without delay. Queen Tamar prayed
for victory before the Vardzia Icon of the Theotokos, then, barefoot,
led her army to the gates of the city.
Hoping in the Lord and the fervent prayers of Queen Tamar, the Georgian
army marched toward Basiani. The enemy was routed. The victory at
Basiani was an enormous event not only for Georgia, but for the entire
The military victories increased Queen Tamar’s faith. In the daytime she
shone in all her royal finery and wisely administered the affairs of the
government; during the night, on bended knees, she beseeched the Lord
tearfully to strengthen the Georgian Church. She busied herself with
needlework and distributed her embroidery to the poor.
Once, exhausted from her prayers and needlework, Tamar dozed off and saw
a vision. Entering a luxuriously furnished home, she saw a gold throne
studded with jewels, and she turned to approach it, but was suddenly
stopped by an old man crowned with a halo. "Who is more worthy than I to
receive such a glorious throne?" Queen Tamar asked him.
He answered her, saying, "This throne is intended for your maidservant,
who sewed vestments for twelve priests with her own hands. You are
already the possessor of great treasure in this world." And he pointed
her in a different direction.
Having awakened, Holy Queen Tamar immediately took to her work and with
her own hands sewed vestments for twelve priests.
History has preserved another poignant episode from Queen Tamar’s life:
Once she was preparing to attend a festal Liturgy in Gelati, and she
fastened precious rubies to the belt around her waist. Soon after she
was told that a beggar outside the monastery tower was asking for alms,
and she ordered her entourage to wait. Having finished dressing, she
went out to the tower but found no one there.Terribly distressed, she
reproached herself for having denied the poor and thus denying Christ
Himself. Immediately she removed her belt, the cause of her temptation,
and presented it as an offering to the Gelati Icon of the Theotokos.
During Queen Tamar’s reign a veritable monastic city was carved in the
rocks of Vardzia, and theGod-fearingGeorgian ruler would labor there
during the Great Fast. The churches of Pitareti, Kvabtakhevi, Betania,
and many others were also built at that time. Holy Queen Tamar
generously endowed the churches and monasteries not only on Georgian
territory but also outside her borders: in Palestine, Cyprus, Mt. Sinai,
the Black Mountains, Greece, Mt. Athos, Petritsoni (Bulgaria),
Macedonia, Thrace, Romania, Isauria and Constantinople.
The divinely guided Queen Tamar abolished the death penalty and all
forms of bodily torture.
A regular, secret observance of a strict ascetic regime — fasting, a
stone bed, and litanies chanted in bare feet — finally took its toll on
Queen Tamar’s health. For a long time she refrained from speaking to
anyone about her condition, but when the pain became unbearable she
finally sought help. The best physicians of the time were unable to
diagnose her illness, and all of Georgia was seized with fear of
disaster. Everyone from the small to the great prayed fervently for
Georgia’s ruler and defender. The people were prepared to offer not only
their own lives, but even the lives of their children, for the sake of
their beloved ruler.
God sent Tamar a sign when He was ready to receive her into His Kingdom.
Then the pious ruler bade farewell to her court and turned in prayer to
an icon of Christ and the Life-giving Cross: "Lord Jesus Christ!
Omnipotent Master of heaven and earth! To Thee I deliver the nation and
people that were entrusted to my care and purchased by Thy Precious
Blood, the children whom Thou didst bestow upon me, and to Thee I
surrender my soul, O Lord!"
The burial place of Queen Tamar has remained a mystery to this day. Some
sources claim that her tomb is in Gelati, in a branch of burial vaults
belonging to the Bagrationi dynasty, while others argue that her holy
relics are preserved in a vault at the Holy Cross Monastery in
Exalted among the saints, O Holy and Righteous Queen Tamar, thou didst
erect churches atop the highest peaks, strengthen the armies of the
Christ-fearing Georgian nation by thy prayers, and defeat the Muslim
armies with thy right hand. Intercede with Christ God to save our souls!
As soon as he finished his prayer, the light appeared and the King
hastily returned to his palace in Mtskheta. As the results of this
miracle, the King of Iberia renounced idolatry under the teaching of St
Nino and was baptized as the first Christian King of Iberia. Soon whole
of his household and the inhabitants of Mtskheta adopted Christianity.
In 327 A.D King Mirian made Christianity as the state religion of his
kingdom, making Iberia the second Christian state after Armenia.
After adopting Christianity, Mirian sent an ambassador to Byzantium,
asking Emperor Constantine I to have a bishop and priests sent to
Iberia. Constantine having learned of Iberia’s conversion to
Christianity, granted Mirian the church lands in Jerusalem and sent the
delegation of Bishops to the court of the Georgian King. Roman historian
Tyrannius Rufinus in Historia Ecclesiastica writes about Mirians request
After the church had been built with due magnificence, the people were
zealously yearning for God's faith. So an embassy is sent on behalf of
the entire nation to the Emperor Constantine, in accordance with the
captive woman's advice. The foregoing events are related to him, and a
petition submitted, requesting that priests be sent to complete the work
which God had begun. Sending them on their way amidst rejoicing and
ceremony, the Emperor was far more glad at this news than if he had
annexed to the Roman Empire peoples and realms unknown.
In 334 A.D, Mirian commissioned the building of the first Christian
church in Iberia which was finally completed in 379 A.D. on the spot
where now stands the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mstkheta.
Nino, having witnessed the conversion of Iberia to Christianity,
withdrew to the mountain pass in Bodbe, Kakheti. St Nino died soon
after; immediately after her death, King Mirian commenced with the
building of monastery in Bodbe where her tomb can still be seen in the