Architecture and Asceticism

Cultural Interaction between Syria and Georgia in Late Antiquity

This ERC-funded project, directed by Professor Emma Loosley, explores the links between Syria and Georgia in the fourth to seventh centuries. Monks of the differing branches of Syrian Christianity are known to have spread their faith as far afield as Ethiopia, southern India and China by the eighth century, so it is not surprising that there are many Georgian stories of “Thirteen Syrian Fathers”. They reportedly came to the country in the sixth century to consolidate the conversion process said to have been begun by St. Nino in the fourth century. However all sources relating to these monks were written several centuries after the purported events occurred and nobody has yet researched the evidence for such a relationship between the two cultures from an interdisciplinary viewpoint.

This project will examine material culture (art, architecture and archaeology), the evolution of the liturgy, and evidence of trade, pilgrimage and other interaction between the two regions in order to explore whether or not definitive data exists to prove the Syrian influence on early Georgian Christianity. It will also address the fact that in this era Syria and Mesopotamia proved a breeding ground for the doctrinal debates and schisms of the time and therefore these “Syrian Fathers” could have been Chalcedonian, Non-Chalcedonian (formerly referred to as monophysites), followers of the Church of the East (formerly referred to as Nestorians), or even a mixture of all three. By attempting to identify the doctrinal currents travelling north to the Caucasus, it is hoped that the project may contribute to the debate as to the denominational identity of Georgia up until the split with their (Non-Chalcedonian) neighbour, Armenia, at the Third Council of Dvin in 608/9. Since this time Georgia has always remained resolutely within the Chalcedonian fold and taken her religious lead from Constantinople.

Browse the project's online collections on the Architecture and Asceticism website