Saint Nino

Saint Nino was a woman who preached Christianity in the country of  Georgia. According to tradition, she belonged to a Greek-speaking Roman family from Cappadocia, It is believed she was a Saint George and came to Georgia from Constantinople. According to legend, she performed miraculous healings and converted the Georgian queen, Nana, and eventually, the pagan king Mirian III of Iberia, who, lost in darkness and blinded on a hunting trip, found his way only after he prayed to “Nino’s God”. King Mirian declared Christianity the official religion around 327,  Nino continued her missionary activities among Georgians until her death.

Her tomb is still shown at the Bodbe Monastery in Kakheti, eastern Georgia. St. Nino has become one of the most venerated saints of the Georgian Orthodox Church and her attribute, a grapevine cross, is a symbol of Georgian Christianity.

Nino was born inthe Roman province of Cappadocia.  The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have different traditions.  According to the Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, she was the only child of a famous family. Her father was Roman general Zabulon and her mother Sosana (Susan). On her father’s side, Nino was related to St. George, and on her mother’s, to the patriarch of Jerusalem, Houbnal I.

During her childhood, Nino was brought up by the nun Niofora-Sarah of Bethlehem Nino’s uncle, who was the patriarch of Jerusalem, oversaw her traditional upbringing. Nino went to Rome with the help of her uncle where she decided to preach the Christian gospel in Iberia, known to her as the resting place of Christ’s tunic. According to the legend, Nino received a vision where the Virgin Mary gave her a grapevine cross and said:

“Go to Iberia and tell there the Good Tidings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and you will find favor before the Lord, and I will be for you a shield against all visible and invisible enemies. By the strength of this cross, you will erect in that land the saving banner of faith in My beloved Son and Lord.”

Saint Nino entered the Iberian Kingdom in the Caucasus from Armenia, where she escaped persecution at the hands of the Armenian King Tiridates III. She had belonged to a convent preaching Christianity in the Armenian Kingdom. All except Nino were tortured and beheaded by Tiridates. All 35 of the virgins were canonised by the Armenian Apostolic Church, including Nino, as St. Nune.

The Roman Catholic tradition says Nino was brought to Iberia as a slave Nino arrived in Georgia about 320. There she placed a Christian cross in a  small town and started preaching the Christian faith in she reached the capital. The Iberian King Mirian III and his nation worshiped the gods Armazi and Zaden. Soon after the arrival of Nino in Mtskheta, Nana, the Queen of Iberia requested an audience with her.

Queen Nana,  had some knowledge of Christianity but had not yet converted suffered from a severe illness.  Nino restored the Queen’s health, won disciples from the Queen’s attendants, including a Jewish priest and his daughter.  Nana, the queen officially converted to Christianity and was baptized by Nino herself. Mirian, the king, didn’t tolerate his wife’s religious conversion and threatened to divorce his wife if she did not leave the faith. While on a hunting trip, he was suddenly struck blind as total darkness emerged in the woods. In a desperate state, King Mirian uttered a prayer to the God of St Nino:

If indeed that Christ whom the Captive had preached to his Wife was God, then let Him now deliver him from this darkness, that he too might forsake all other gods to worship Him.

As soon as he finished his prayer, a light appeared and the king hastily returned to his palace in Mtskheta. The King of Iberia gave up idolatry because of St Nino’s teachings and was baptized as the first Christian King of Iberia. Soon, the whole of his household and the people of his Kingdom adopted Christianity. In 326 King Mirian made Christianity the state religion of his kingdom, making Iberia the second Christian state after Armenia.

In 334, King Mirian had the first Christian church in Iberia built.  It was completed in 379.  The  Svetitskhoveli Cathedral now stands there. .

After the conversion of Iberia to Christianity Nino, withdrew to the mountain pass. St Nino died soon after.  King Mirian has a monastery built there, where her tomb can still be seen in the churchyard.  Nino is one of the most popular name for women and girls in the Republic of Georgia.