Saint Nino

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St Nino icon at Svetitskhoveli, Georgia.JPG
Icon of Saint Nino at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral
Bornc. 280
Colossae (Kolaste, Kolasa)
Diedc. 332
Bodbe, Kakheti (Georgia)
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church,
Oriental Orthodoxy,
Roman Catholic Church,
Eastern Catholic Churches
Major shrine Bodbe Monastery
Feast January 14 (Roman Catholic) January 14 (27) (Eastern Orthodox)
Attributes Grapevine cross
Patronage Georgia

Saint Nino (Georgian :წმინდა ნინო, romanized:ts'minda nino; Armenian : Սուրբ Նունե, romanized: Surb Nune; Greek : Αγία Νίνα, romanized: Agía Nína; sometimes St. Nune or St. Ninny) Equal to the Apostles and the Enlightener of Georgia (c. 296 – c. 338 or 340) was a woman who preached Christianity in the territory of Caucasian Iberia, of what is now part of Georgia. It resulted in the Christianization of the royal house of Iberia, with the consequent Christianization of Iberia.


According to most widely traditional accounts, she belonged to a Greek-speaking Roman family from Kolastra, Cappadocia, was a relative of Saint George, [1] and came to Georgia (ancient Iberia) from Constantinople. Other sources claim she was from Rome, Jerusalem or Gaul (modern France). According to legend, she performed miraculous healings and converted the Georgian queen, Nana, and eventually the pagan king Mirian III of Iberia, who, lost in darkness and blinded on a hunting trip, found his way only after he prayed to "Nino’s God". Mirian declared Christianity the official religion (c. 327) and Nino continued her missionary activities among Georgians until her death.

Her tomb is still shown at the Bodbe Monastery in Kakheti, eastern Georgia. St. Nino has become one of the most venerated saints of the Georgian Orthodox Church and her attribute, a grapevine cross, is a symbol of Georgian Christianity.

Early life

Many sources agree that Nino was born in the small town of Colastri, in the Roman province of Cappadocia, although a smaller number of sources disagree with this. On her family and origin, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have different traditions.

According to the Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, she was the only child of a famous family. Her father was Roman general Zabulon and her mother Sosana (Susan). On her father's side, Nino was related to St. George, and on her mother's, to the patriarch of Jerusalem, Houbnal I.

During her childhood, Nino was brought up by the nun Niofora-Sarah of Bethlehem. [2] Nino’s uncle, who was the patriarch of Jerusalem, oversaw her traditional upbringing. Nino went to Rome with the help of her uncle where she decided to preach the Christian gospel in Iberia, known to her as the resting place of Christ’s tunic. According to the legend, Nino received a vision where the Virgin Mary gave her a grapevine cross and said:

"Go to Iberia and tell there the Good Tidings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and you will find favour before the Lord; and I will be for you a shield against all visible and invisible enemies. By the strength of this cross, you will erect in that land the saving banner of faith in My beloved Son and Lord."

Saint Nino entered the Iberian Kingdom in Caucasus from the Kingdom of Armenia, where she escaped persecution at the hands of the Armenian King Tiridates III. She had belonged to a community of virgins numbering 35, [3] along with martyr Hripsime, under the leadership of St. Gayane, who preached Christianity in the Armenian Kingdom. They were all, with the exception of Nino, tortured and beheaded by Tiridates. All 35 of the virgins were soon canonised by the Armenian Apostolic Church, including Nino (as St. Nune).

Contrasting with this, the Roman Catholic tradition, as narrated by Rufinus of Aquileia, says Nino was brought to Iberia not by her own will, but as a slave, and that her family tree is obscure. [4]

St Nino in Iberia

Saint Nino with her scroll and grapevine cross Saint Nino.jpg
Saint Nino with her scroll and grapevine cross

Nino reached the borders of the ancient Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the south about 320. There she placed a Christian cross in the small town of Akhalkalaki and started preaching the Christian faith in Urbnisi, finally reaching Mtskheta (the capital of Iberia). The Iberian Kingdom had been influenced by the neighbouring Persian Empire which played an important role as the regional power in the Caucasus. The Iberian King Mirian III and his nation worshiped the syncretic gods Armazi and Zaden. Soon after the arrival of Nino in Mtskheta, Nana, the Queen of Iberia requested an audience with the Cappadocian.

Queen Nana, who suffered from a severe illness, had some knowledge of Christianity but had not yet converted to it. Nino, restoring the Queen's health, won to herself disciples from the Queen's attendants, including a Jewish priest and his daughter, Abiathar and Sidonia. Nana also officially converted to Christianity and was baptized by Nino herself. Mirian, aware of his wife’s religious conversion, was intolerant of her new faith, persecuting it and threatening to divorce his wife if she did not leave the faith. [5] He secluded himself, however, from Nino and the growing Christian community in his kingdom. His isolation to Christianity did not last long because, according to the legend, while on a hunting trip, he was suddenly struck blind as total darkness emerged in the woods. In a desperate state, King Mirian uttered a prayer to the God of St Nino:

If indeed that Christ whom the Captive had preached to his Wife was God, then let Him now deliver him from this darkness, that he too might forsake all other gods to worship Him. [6]

As soon as he finished his prayer, light appeared and the king hastily returned to his palace in Mtskheta. As a result 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, the whole of his household and the inhabitants of Mtskheta adopted Christianity. In 326 King Mirian made Christianity 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 new church land in Jerusalem [7] and sent a delegation of bishops to the court of the Georgian King. Roman historian Tyrannius Rufinus in Historia Ecclesiastica writes about Mirian's request to Constantine:

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. [8]

In 334, Mirian commissioned the building of the first Christian church in Iberia which was finally completed in 379 on the spot where now stands the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta.

A mosaic in Samtavro Monastery, Mtskheta Saint Nino Georgian mosaic.jpg
A mosaic in Samtavro Monastery, Mtskheta

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 churchyard.

Nino and its variants remains the most popular name for women and girls in the Republic of Georgia. There are currently 88,441 women over age 16 by that name residing in the country, according to the Georgia Ministry of Justice. It also continues to be a popular name for baby girls. [9]

The Georgian name "Nino" is "Nune" or "Nuneh" in Armenian, thus St. Nino is known as St. Nune in Armenia. Her history as the only one of the 35 nuns of the company of Sts. Gayane and Hripsime to escape the slaughter at the hands of the pagan Armenian King Tiradates III in 301 is recounted in the book "The History of the Armenians" by Movses Khorenatzi (Moses of Khoren), which was written about the year 440.


The Phoka Nunnery of St. Nino was established in rural Georgia by Abbess Elizabeth and two novices. They originally lived in a nearby house owned by Georgian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Ilia II, then in 1992 moved to the site of an 11th century church to restore it.

The Sacred Monastery of Saint Nina is the home of a monastic community of Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Christian nuns in the Patriarchate of Georgia's North American Diocese. It is located in Union Bridge, Maryland, USA, and was established in September 2012. [10]

See also


  1. Orthodox Church of America - Archived 2007-03-20 at the Wayback Machine
  2. "Full Account of Lives of Georgian Saints (in Russian)".
  3. "Lives of all saints commemorated on this day". OCA. Retrieved 2012-09-23.
  4. Rufinus 1997 = The Church History of Rufinus of Aquileia, Books X and XI, transl. by Philip R. Amidon, New-York – Oxford.
  5. Isoelian, P. A Short History of the Georgian Church. Saunders, Otley, and Co., London: 1866.
  6. Tyrannius Rufinus, Historia Ecclesiastica
  7. Theodore Downling, Sketches of Georgian Church History, p. 52
  8. Marjory and Oliver Wardrop, The Life of Saint Nino, volume 5, Clarendon Press Series
  9. Nino is the most popular name for girls in Georgia Archived 2008-08-28 at the Wayback Machine
  10. Sacred Monastery of Saint Nina in Union Bridge, Maryland

Further reading

Related Research Articles

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October 1 (Eastern Orthodox liturgics)

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Grapevine cross

The grapevine cross, also known as the Georgian cross or Saint Nino's cross, is a major symbol of the Georgian Orthodox Church and dates from the 4th century AD, when Christianity became the official religion in the kingdom of Iberia (Kartli).

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is an Orthodox Christian cathedral located in the historic town of Mtskheta, Georgia, to the northwest of the Georgian capital Tbilisi. A masterpiece of the Early and High Middle Ages, Svetitskhoveli is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is currently the second largest church building in Georgia, after the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

Abiathar and Sidonia were a legendary Jewish priest of Mtskheta and his daughter. Abiathar is said to have been the first person Saint Nino converted to Christianity. An apocryphal account of the life and miracles of Saint Nino is attributed to them. They are regarded as saints in the church in Georgia, and are mentioned in Bessarion's The Saints of Georgia and the Menologium der Orthodox-Katholischen Kirche des Morgenlandes.

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Bodbe Monastery

The Monastery of St. Nino at Bodbe is a Georgian Orthodox monastic complex and the seat of the Bishops of Bodbe located 2 km from the town of Sighnaghi, Kakheti, Georgia. Originally built in the 9th century, it has been significantly remodeled, especially in the 17th century. The monastery now functions as a nunnery and is one of the major pilgrimage sites in Georgia, due to its association with St. Nino, the 4th-century female evangelist of Georgians, whose relics are shrined there.

Samtavro Monastery

Samtavro is an Orthodox Christian monastery complex that combines Samtavro Transfiguration Church and Nunnery of St. Nino in Mtskheta, Georgia. Built presumably in the 4th century by the King Mirian III, and reconstructed in the 11th century by the King George I and Catholicos-Patriarch Melchizedek I, Samtavro is an important Early and High Medieval historical and architectural monument, protected by UNESCO. Samtavro church is cross-in-square temple, with archature [sic?] and other decorations typical for the 11th century Georgian architecture. The famous Georgian Saint monk Gabriel is buried in the yard of Samtavro Church.

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Christianization of Iberia Spread of Christianity in Caucasian Iberia

The Christianization of Iberia refers to the spread of Christianity in the early 4th century by the sermon of Saint Nino in an ancient Georgian kingdom of Kartli, known as Iberia in classical antiquity, which resulted in declaring it as a state religion by then-pagan King Mirian III of Iberia. Per Sozomen, this led the king's "large and warlike barbarian nation to confess Christ and renounce the religion of their fathers", as the polytheistic Georgians had long-established anthropomorphic idols, known as the "Gods of Kartli". The king would become the main sponsor, architect, initiator and an organizing power of all building processes. Per Socrates of Constantinople, the "Iberians first embraced the Christian faith" alongside the Abyssinians, but most probably Kartli would become a second state after the Kingdom of Armenia, its longtime southern neighbor, that officially embraced the new religion. Armenian and Georgian monarchs were among the first anywhere in the world to convert to a Christian faith. Prior to the escalation of Armeno-Georgian ecclesiastical rivalry and the christological controversies their Caucasian Christianity was extraordinarily inclusive, pluralistic and flexible that only saw the rigid ecclesiological hierarchies established much later, particularly as "national" churches crystallized from the 6th century. Despite the tremendous diversity of the region, the christianization process was a pan-regional and a cross-cultural phenomenon in the Caucasus, Eurasia's most energetic and cosmopolitan zones throughout the late antiquity, hard enough to place Georgians and Armenians unequivocally within any one major civilization. The Jews of Mtskheta, the royal capital of Kartli, that did play a significant role in the Christianization of the kingdom, would give a strong impetus to deepen the ties between the Georgian monarchy and the Holy Land leading to an increasing presence of Georgians in Palestine, as the activities of Peter the Iberian and other pilgrims confirm, including the oldest attested Georgian Bir el Qutt inscriptions found in the Judaean Desert alongside the pilgrim graffiti of Nazareth and Sinai.

Aghaiani church of Saint Nino

Aghaiani church of Saint Nino is an early medieval Georgian Orthodox church on Mount Tkhoti, 2 km southeast of the village of Aghaiani in the Kaspi Municipality in Georgia's Shida Kartli region. It stands at the place of one of the three wooden crosses erected—according to historical tradition—at the behest of Saint Nino to mark adoption of Christianity by the people of Kartli. The extant structure is a hall church, a 9th–10th-century remodeling of an earlier cross-in-square building. The church is inscribed on the list of Georgia's Immovable Cultural Monuments of National Significance.