Upper Bethlehem Church

Immersed in the charming atmosphere of Old Tbilisi lies the Upper Bethlehem Church, or the Holy Mother of God Church of Bethlehem. This venerable structure, initially built as an Armenian church in the 18th century atop an older religious site, now serves as a Georgian Orthodox Church. The church stands as a historic icon at the foot of the Narikala fortress, in the Roch District of Tbilisi, bearing witness to the city's religious evolution.

A trek to the Upper Bethlehem Church takes you on a picturesque journey up the renowned Betlemi Stair-Street. Climbing the 120 steps, past cliffside gardens, you will find the church nestled amidst rose bushes, aged vines, and benches, an inviting sanctuary of tranquility. The summit also offers breathtaking views over the city of Tbilisi.

The history of the Upper Bethlehem Church traces back to the late 5th century, with the original church purportedly erected by King Vakhtang Gorgasili. This initial structure was obliterated in 1225 by Jalal al-Din, only to be later succeeded by the Mother of God Monastery, established by Armenian immigrants who renamed the area Petkhain.

Fast forward to the 18th century, the church saw a significant reconstruction led by Agha-Meliq Bebutyan, a participant of the Indian crusade of Nadir Shah. Despite enduring periods of incompletion, renovations, and a stint as a jeweler’s workshop during the communist era, the church finally returned to its spiritual roots in 1991, with Orthodox services resuming in 1994 under the Georgian Patriarchate.

Architecturally, the Upper Bethlehem Church's charm lies in its cross-domed, hall-style structure, ornamentation, and intricate bas-reliefs. The 18th and 19th-century renovations have lent the church its current form, characterized by an intimate crib-like space within the altar, symbolically housing a star icon of Christ's birth.

Visitors to the church can also marvel at the depiction of cherubim and the Mother of God among angels on the north facade, a chained lion on the tholobate, and frescoes by Basil Zandukeli. The church is also the resting place of relics of 6,000 monks from Gareja, commemorated by a dedicated icon.

Adjoining the church is a 17th-century two-story brick bell tower, capped by a domed pavilion made of hewn stone, further enhancing the site's historic appeal. The Upper Bethlehem Church thus encapsulates the city's spiritual journey, making it a must-visit for those keen on exploring Tbilisi's layered past.

Nearest to Upper Bethlehem Church

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