Georgia: St. Queen Ketevan returned home to Georgia on Saturday, four hundred years after she was executed for refusing to convert to Islam in Safavid Iran.
In 2005, the relics of Queen Ketevan, revered as Ketevan the Martyr, were discovered hidden in a church complex in Goa.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar handed over part of the relics to the government of Georgia and the people in Tbilisi, in the presence of Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.
After years of diplomatic efforts and hard work, it was finally possible to establish the identity of Queen Ketevan. She came from Kakheti, a kingdom in eastern Georgia, and was tortured and killed in Shiraz in 1624 during the Safavid dynasty. In 1627, Portuguese missionaries brought the relics to Goa.
In 2005, after years of study of medieval Portuguese documents, the relics were discovered at the St. Augustine Church in Old Goa following years of research. The CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, conducted DNA analysis at the request of the Archaeological Survey of India.
In 2017, India sent the relics to Georgia for exhibition for six months at the request of the Georgian government. His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II personally received the relics. This loan of relics was extended for another six months and was returned to India on September 30, 2018.
‘The Indian government decided to gift one part of the holy relics to the government and people of Georgia in recognition of the persistent requests from the Georgian government for the permanent transfer of the holy relics,’ said an Indian government official.
Jaishankar said during the hand-over ceremony: ‘Today is not just a special day for Georgia, but also for India. I am honored to hand over the holy relics of St. Queen Ketevan to the people of Georgia. It is an auspicious occasion that has brought me to Georgia for my first visit.’
‘The holy relics were preserved at the Augustinian Church in Goa since the 17th century. Because of the tremendous spiritual significance that this relic holds for the people of Georgia, we have kept it as our own. Its return is a sign of our friendly and warm ties. In particular, I wish to thank the people of Goa who have been such reverent custodians of this holy treasure. They have done India proud by respecting faiths according to our tradition. The martyrdom of St. Queen Ketevan is a tale of courage and sacrifice. One part of the holy relics still remains in India as a reminder of our shared past. But the part that was recently returned to Georgia by Prime Minister Modi will definitely inspire generations to come,’ he said.
‘The presence of some relics in India and Georgia has created a bridge of faith between the two nations. I am hopeful that in the coming years, the people of both nations will cross that bridge of spirituality as well as friendship,’ he added.
According to Father Joaquim Loiola Pereira, Secretary to the Archbishop of Goa and Daman: ‘The Church in Goa has been closely following the search for Queen Ketevan’s relics, which were finally discovered in 2005 amid the ruins of the Church of Saint Augustine in Old Goa all thanks to the joint efforts of local archaeologists and Portuguese researchers.’
‘We are pleased that at long last, ‘part of the relics’ has been turned over to the Government of Georgia and its people, after having been in the hands of the Government of India since their discovery. Queen Saint Ketevan belonged to Georgia, so her relics should be kept there,’ he said.