Four hundred years after she was killed in Safavid Iran for refusing to give up her Christian faith and convert to Islam, St. Queen Ketevan returned home to Georgia Saturday.
The relics of Queen Ketevan, revered as Ketevan the Martyr, had been taken to Goa where they remained hidden in a church complex until their discovery in 2005.
In Georgia’s capital Tbilisi Saturday, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar handed over part of the relics to its government and the people at an emotional ceremony in the presence of His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.
It was the culmination of years of diplomatic requests and hard work to establish the identity of Queen Ketevan.
From Kakheti, a kingdom in eastern Georgia, she was tortured and killed in 1624 in Shiraz during the rule of the Safavid dynasty. Portuguese missionaries were said to have carried the relics to Goa in 1627.
In 2005, after years of research and study of medieval Portuguese records, the relics were found at the St. Augustine Church in Old Goa.
At the instance of the Archaeological Survey of India, the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, carried out DNA analysis that confirmed its authenticity.
In 2017, at the request of the Georgian government, India sent the relics to Georgia for exhibition for six months. The relics were personally greeted by His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II. This loan of relics was extended for another six months. The relics returned to India on September 30, 2018.
A government official told The Sunday Express that “considering the persistent request from the Georgian side for permanent transfer of the holy relics and also taking into account the historical, religious and spiritual sentiments that are attached to the St. Queen Ketevan by the Georgian people, the Indian government decided to gift one part of the holy relics to the government and people of Georgia.”
At the handing over ceremony Saturday, Jaishankar said: “Today is a special day, not only for Georgia, but also for India. I have the honour to hand over the holy relics of St. Queen Ketevan to the people of Georgia. I consider myself blessed that the purpose of my first visit to Georgia is such an auspicious one.”
“The holy relics were preserved at the St. Augustine Church in Goa since the 17th century. Given the immense spiritual value that this relic holds for the people of Georgia, we had kept this sacred heritage as our own. Its return is a testimony to our warm and friendly relations. I particularly thank the good people of Goa who have been such reverential custodians of this holy treasure. They have done India proud by being true to our tradition of respecting faiths,” he said.
“The martyrdom of St. Queen Ketevan is a story of courage and sacrifice. Her relics were taken to India by two devoted Augustinian monks who witnessed the last years of her life. One part of the holy relics still remain in India as a reminder of our shared past. But the part which has now come back permanently to Georgia due to a decision made by Prime Minister Modi will surely inspire generations to come in this land,” he said.
“The presence of some of the relics in India and Georgia is a bridge of faith between our two countries. I hope that in the coming years, the people of both of our nations will traverse that bridge of spirituality as much as of friendship,” he said.
Father Joaquim Loiola Pereira, Secretary to the Archbishop of Goa and Daman, said: “The Church in Goa had been keenly following the search for Queen Ketevan’s relics which were finally found in 2005 in the ruins of the Church of St. Augustine in Old Goa, thanks to the joint efforts of the local Superintending Archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India and a Portuguese researcher.”
“We are glad that, at long last, at least ‘part of the relics’ were handed over to the government and the people of Georgia by the Government of India, in whose possession they have been since their discovery. Queen Saint Ketevan belonged to Georgia and Georgia is where her relics should be,” he said.
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