During my first week in Georgia, my classmates and I took a trip out to Sighnaghi, which is roughly a two-hour drive from Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. In Sighnaghi, we visited the Monastery of Saint Nino at Bodbe, which was built in the 9th century and renovated extensively in the 17th century. Saint Nino, who began preaching Christianity in Georgia in the 4th century, is one of the most respected and honored saints of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Bodbe Monastery currently serves as a nunnery, as well as a shrine for the relics of Saint Nino.
Now, I’ve been to my fair share of holy sites and have always gone out of my way to adhere to specific dress codes. With that being said, never did I think there would come a time when I would take off all of my clothes at such a site, especially not one of the most sacred religious locations in Georgia. Allow me to explain.
When visiting the Monastery of Saint Nino, guests have the opportunity to receive a symbolic blessing by dipping into a bath of holy water. My classmates and I decided to participate in this tradition, and started our trek down the hill to the natural spring where this activity takes place. The Monastery itself sits on the top of a high hill, and we had to walk down 667 steps to the bath. Once we got there, I was surprised by two pieces of information:
- We were required to remove all articles of clothing and dress in a white cotton gown during the bath (these gowns can be purchased on site for 10 Lari, or about $4.15 at the time we bought ours).
- The water was 5 degrees Celsius, or 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
Now, when it’s your turn to go into the water, you enter a small, dark room the size of a walk in closet, and get undressed. You slip into the white gown, which will take the blessing as well, so if you ever become ill, you can sleep in the gown to heal your illness. After your gown is on and your hair is let down, it comes time to brace yourself for the very cold water (and, trust me, the water is coooold). The small bath is in the shape of a semi-circle, and has steps and railings to assist you in stepping down into the water. The water comes up to your belly, so you have to proceed to dunk your entire body into the water and then climb out. The ritual requires you to repeat this process three times.
Once you’ve completed this process, your blessing has come full circle. The kind nuns who assist you throughout the process will give you a baggie to place your wet gown in, and you begin your hike back up those 667 steps.
My visit to the Bodbe Monastery was certainly one of my favorite excursions in Georgia. I have a particularly strong interest in ancient holy sites, so this monastery was a perfect way to spend my afternoon.
The Monastery of Saint Nino at Bodbe: The Beauty of Sighnaghi
Sighnaghi, Kakheti, Georgia
(Excursion included in the Policy and Conflict Program, Fall 2017)
Price of visit and lunch: 25 Lari