The Adishi Bible was stored in this defense tower

Bauchi Qaldani enters his defense tower, where the Adishi Bible had been kept; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

The first Georgian-language bible, called the Adysch Gospels, dates from 897. It is called the Adishi Bible because it was stored in one of the village’s defense towers. Mari Papidze and I interviewed the tower’s owner, Bauchi Qaldani. To get an interesting backdrop for our video we asked Bauchi’s sons if they thought their father, 92, would be willing to climb to the top of the tower. One said yes; the other no; Bauchi said yes. So we followed Bauchi up the narrow space lit only by a couple of 1-inch-wide slit windows. First we climbed via a ladder made of small branches, and, on the next stage, we climbed via a log with notches for footholds. At the top, Bauchi crouched against one of the tower’s stonewalls, and I sat on the timber-littered floor cradling the camcorder.

The medieval manuscript was hand-copied by monks living in a monastery in what had been southwestern Georgia but is now located in northeastern Turkey. The bible was moved during “King” Tamar’s lifetime (1184 to 1213). I wrote “King” because Tamar was the first woman to rule Georgia, and out of respect for her power and achievements, medieval Georgians give Tamar the title King. During her empire-expanding, but enemy-creating reign, King Tamar had many important relics sent to Adishi and other remote villages in Svaneti for safekeeping. Tamar knew that no invader had yet conquered the mountain-dwelling, very tough Svan people (and the Svans remain unconquered even today).

When Georgia was a republic in the Soviet Union, the medieval text had been kept in an Adishi church. Communists, however, forced priests to leave Georgia’s churches, so the Adishi Bible had to be stored elsewhere. Since Bauchi’s grandfather was the oldest member of the village, the Adishi Bible was  put in his grandfather’s defense tower.

Sometime during this period, a German accompanied by a member of a Svan family asked to see the ancient manuscript. Adishi residents showed their respect to the Svan family by letting the two see the bible. The next morning, however, residents found that the German and the bible were gone. Adishi residents organized a chase and caught the German in nearby Ipari. I am surprised that the locals didn’t immediately kill the thief; they simply recovered their bible and returned to Adishi. Upon arriving home, however, Adishi residents discovered that one page (or four, or five, or nine—stories vary) was missing. I haven’t confirmed this fact yet, but a missing page is supposedly kept in Germany at a Leipzig University museum.

In modern times, the Adishi Bible was relocated to a museum in Mestia, but since this museum is currently under construction, the bible is currently kept in a Svan’s home. Adishi residents would like the bible to return to Adishi. Perhaps if they can convert a defense tower into a museum and provide proper storage conditions, the Mestia museum will return the Adishi bible to Adishi.

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About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

2 Responses to The Adishi Bible was stored in this defense tower

  1. Tammy says:

    Super interesting. I stumbled upon your article while doing research for a fictional Christian story I’m writing.

    I will be very interested to learn the outcome of your further research about the German (dates, names, places – if avail) who stole the pages from the Bible (which pages/Bible verses).

    Thanks for sharing!

    • keithrkenney says:

      I will certainly try to find out, but it may require a trip to Germany. All sources of information in Svaneti about what is/is not in a German university/museum are unreliable, in my mind. When I find out, I’ll certainly write about the news.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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