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Patriarchate over fire in Vardzia

By Tea Mariamidze
Monday, November 14
The Patriarchate of Georgia stated that the fire-damaged unique wall paintings of the 12-13th century cave city of Vardzia could be easily restored to their original look by specialists.

The Patriarchate released a special statement regarding the recent incident in the cave complex, and expressed readiness to co-operate with more experts and scientists in the future, in order to restore the damaged cultural heritage.

The fire broke out at the Saint Mary church located inside one of the caves on November 1 and left the unique wall paintings covered in soot.

The exact cause of the fire is unknown. However, the Head of the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, Nikoloz Antidze, stated it was allegedly a lit candle that caused the fire.

Damage of a cultural heritage site would normally incur sanctions, but as it is under the ownership and responsibility of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church, no sanctions will be applied. This regulation affects heritage sites under the ownership of any religious communities in Georgia.

However, the Patriarchate said in its statement that the responsibility does not lie only with the Church, and if there had been installed fire-control radars and ventilation windows, the fire could have been prevented.

Furthermore, the statement underlines that despite the fact that some churches have the status of cultural heritage, their primary function is to conduct religious services there.

Georgia’s Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection and the Patriarchate have cooperated for many years regarding protecting of religious cultural heritage sites and a special joint council has been set up between the Cultural Heritage Protection Agency and the Patriarchate in the wake of the tragic fact.

After the incident, the Minister of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia, Mikheil Giorgadze, stated the control on cultural heritage sites should be tightened to avoid similar facts in the future.

The Minister noted that the specialists believe that paraffin candles used at the churches can gradually damage wall paintings and their frequent usage should be avoided.

Moreover, Georgia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili stated that the Presidential Fund would allocate finances to cover the costs of the restoration works in Vardzia.

A group of experts has scheduled restorative works from 2017, and the finances from the Presidential Fund will be spent on conservation of the paintings, which according to the specialists is necessary.

Vardzia is a cave monastery complex in southern Georgia, thirty kilometers from the town of Aspindza in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region.

The place is very popular among tourists and visitors, however the damaged part is closed at present until it is fully restored.