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Wednesday, 26 October 2016


Abkhaz Church to secure cultural legacy

04.11.2010  |  23:43

9670.jpegPractically all mountains of Abkhazia are crowned by ancient Christian temples, 144 in total most of which are nothing but ruins. Almost all of them have been there since the time of Byzantium. Still, antiquity is not their primary value. Most importantly, they remain architecturally untouched. These churches, and often the area around them, are the way they were one thousand years ago. To preserve historic face of the sanctuaries the Abkhaz Church calls for compliance with unique restoration rules.


A short while ago the Abkhaz Church had problems inviting sponsors to mend a worn-out roof of a temple. Churches continued to go to ruin under the rain, icons had to be protected from humidity. Now archpriest Vissarion Aplia, interim head of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church has a queue of volunteers eager to restore. But father Vissarion is not quick to give replies.   

Interim head of the AOC insists on holding open tenders to reveal best restoration projects. Without that churches will lose their historical look.

Bedi temple in eastern Abkhazia is one of the most significant monuments of the Orthodox culture in the republic. The temple dates back to 10th century. It was severely damaged at the time of the Georgian-Abkhaz war. Presently, the temple is the reason for discord between Abkhaz and Georgian historians. Both in Georgia and Abkhazia Bedi complex is considered an ancient national cultural monument.

A few years ago when the dome collapsed it seemed the sanctuary will soon join the list of "ancient ruins".

When Bedi temple needed help only one man agreed to finance the project. It was Otar Arshba, native of this part of the country, then deputy of Russian State Duma. Despite constant want of funds he managed to complete the task. The inner part of the temple was restored. The walls are solid to withstand water for the next two hundred years.

The dome, however, has not been restored. In 2007 the Abkhaz authority for cultural legacy protection tried to announce a tender for this costly project, but there was no one to take it up. Now the temple has new icons, and the smell of renewal is still noticeable.

Times have changed. Each new big investor wants to restore some temple in Abkhazia. That is why father Vissarion in charge of the Abkhaz Church calls authors of the restoration projects to coordinate activities.

In an interview with GeorgiaTimes German Marshania, a representative of the Abkhaz Church, stated there are lots of various restoration offers with the authors neglecting the opinion of the Church. "Many investors come to propose their programs, their ideas. There is no unique concept. Anyone who wants to do restoration in Abkhazia gets the blessing of Patriarchate of Moscow. Father Vissarion suggested getting together to define a unique policy in this direction", - the representative of the Abkhaz church says.

Presently Abkhazia's religious monuments witness the height of restoration activity. The Cathedral in Sukhum is shining white, and golden domes of Novo-Afon Monastery are seen from far away.

Still, no matter how magnificent the Novo-Afon Monastery built in 1860 is, the historical value of Bedi temple, which is 800 years older, is much higher. Abkhazia has 5-6 churches considered the symbols of Orthodoxy in the country. Presently they are restored only internally with the exterior left untouched.

The Abkhaz Church and the state authority for cultural and architectural legacy protection continue a slow war. When the Orthodox churches were controlled by the state, their future was determined by the monument protection administration. In the end the officials lost out to the Church. The governmental committee tasked to return the property to the church was set up. The list comprises all buildings of sound construction, i.e. 82 in Abkhazia.

Until now the Church was basically a tenant of temples. When results of the governmental committee are legalized the Abkhaz Church will become the largest landowner in the republic. Still, it won't happen soon and neither will it be a smooth process. The lands supposed to become property of the Church undergo dynamic economic activity that has nothing to do with religion.

German Marshania, secretary of the head of the Abkhaz Church says that the problem of adjacent territories is highly acute. "Naturally it's temples and the land lots. This is already a problem. Some locations are used for commercial purposes, are on lease, people dig foundations for their homes. All this can lead to unnecessary conflicts", - Marshania says.

At first the Church will regain ownership of three largest temple complexes - Pitsunda Cathedral, Novo-Afon and Kaman monasteries. The pipe organ must be taken out of the Pitsunda cathedral, and land lots located on tourist routes must be withdrawn in Novo-Afon. If the authorities cope with this task, transfer of religious constructions of the Church won't face big problems in future.

From the point of view of preservation of historic treasures, transfer of property to the Church is the right move. Probably, church workers will prevent transformation of sanctuaries into tourist bazaars.


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