Near the town of Chiatura in Georgia a limestone monolith rises almost vertically some 130 feet or 40 metres up into the sky. Atop it lies an unexplained church or hermitage dating back from the 6th to 10th Century.
Nobody knows for sure who originally lived here. Based on the life style of Stylite monks who fasted prayed and preached on pillars, there are theories that the initial inhabitants of this hermitage were Stylite monks.
It is a mystery as to how the monks who originally lived here got to the top of the Katskhi Pillar. The task to carry the building materials for the church atop the Katskhi Pillar would present a challenge today, let alone some 1200 plus years ago.
Local legend has always venerated the Katskhi Pillar as the Pillar of Life. For centuries it is believed to have been uninhabited. In the 18th Century a Georgian scholar Prince Vakhushti noted that there is a rock in a ravine, standing like a pillar, considerably high. There is a small church on top of the rock but nobody is able to ascend it, nor know they how to do that.
In 1944, a group led by a mountaineer Alexander Japaridze scaled it. The group found the original ruins of the original stone church which contained a wine cellar and three hermit cells. They also uncovered a small limestone plate in asomtavruli, the ancient Georgian script paleographically dated back to the 13th Century. The plate revealed the name “Georgi” as the person responsible for the construction of the three hermit cells. Perhaps it referred to Georgi Lasha IV who ruled from 1213 – 1223, who was the only king Georgi who ruled Georgia during the 13th Century.
Asomtavruli inscription stone found atop the Katshki Pillar
Indeed his portrait along side that of his mother Tamar and grandfather Georgi III is found in both the famous Georgian monasteries of Bethania and Kintsvisi monasteries indicating he was a benefactor to both these institutions. Based on the finding of this stone, it is known that the church atop the Katskhi Pillar was extant at this time. The plate also refers to the Katskhi Pillar as the Pillar of Life.
No records of the monolith’s original monks were found and there are no records to confirm when this church or hermitage was abandoned.
Today the church of St Maximus the Confessor is located at the south east corner of the top of the Katskhi Pillar. It is a modern restoration of the ruined stone church which once existed here. The consists of this church dedicated to Saint Maximus the Confessor, it has three hermit cells, a wine cellar, a curtain wall used normally for defence on the top of the pillar and a crypt. Recently a ladder was built which for a while was only open to male visitors. This is no longer open to the public.
At the base of the pillar lies a newly built church of Saint Simeon Stylites.
Relevance to The Devil’s Prayer
The Katshki Pillar is one of the few locations in The Devil’s Prayer which I did not get a chance to visit. The Katshki Pillar is the location selected for the meeting between the Mongols and the Georgian King Georgi IV after the Battle of Kura River. Although the Mongols decimated the Georgian army at Kura River, they chose not to enter Tiflis (modern day Tblisi) because of the deal struck atop the Katskhi Pillar.
The Mongols, were reputed to have killed some thirty to fifty million people. The Katshki Pillar has always been known as The Pillar of Life, perhaps having earned its name from the lives it saved as it marked the spot where a deal was struck and the Mongol war machine turned its back on Europe and went home.
The Devil’s Prayer is available on amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/Devils-Prayer-Luke-Gracias-ebook/dp/B01BXR4838/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1469262173&sr=8-1&keywords=the+devil%27s+prayer#navbar