The history, in general, is filled with mysteries. And, in particular, it is true when you are trying to unveil the past of such mysterious countries as little Georgia squeezed between Russia, Turkey and Iran. High in the green mountains of Georgian province of Imereti there is an ancient village of Tskhrukveti (“Abode of Angels” if translated from old Georgian). And in Tskhrukveti there is a well-built old church partially destroyed and vandalized by the Soviet occupants in the early 20th century and restored by Georgian-Canadian businessman George Bitsadze whose origins go back to this village. And over one of the entrances to the church – there is a mysterious stone-carved сигн, the meaning of which is known neither to local residents, nor to the Georgian Orthodox priests whom I had a chance to ask about it. Most of the locals tend to believe that it is just a decorative element. But that explanation could hardly be found acceptable. Indeed, even nowadays they would not invest so much hard work and time into creation of a meaningless “decorative element” measured over a meter-and-a-half in diameter just above the church entrance, and in the Middle Ages that would be absolutely impossible.
So, what is that symbol that was placed above the gates of the mediaeval Georgian church by its builders? Even a cursory research leads to the conclusion that this sign is one of the ancient runic characters known as Odall – an Elder Futhark rune also known as Othal, Oepel, Opalan and Opila that since at least the early 3d century a.d. was used to denote the concepts of heritage, inheritance, estate, shelter, clan/family possession and even nobility. In the good old days (between the 3d and 8th century) in Northern Europe that sign had the same force as if there was a stone fence around the object marked with it. Everything that bore the sign of Odal was considered safe, protected, blessed and fruitful in various senses.
Given all this, however, the questions arise: How did this rune find her way into the mountains of Georgia and is it only St. George church in Tskhrukveti that bears its sign? Not at all! These runes can be found on the walls of ancient buildings in other parts of Imereti, in Upper Svaneti and throughout the Caucasus, including Russian North Caucasia. All this is not surprising, because the characters of this type are coming from pagan times, and their sacred meaning is not totally lost even today. These runes serve as the symbols of nature, the cult of fertility, as well as with the cycles of the Earth, Sun and Moon, etc... One may add to the above that the signs of this type, among them Bordzhgalo, starburst and swastikas,- were born during the same epoch and even earlier and are widely used in various religions.
Almost in any country of Europe and the Near East one can run across the runes or signs of runic type that have been often used both as alphabets and sacral symbols. These signs are older than any known written sources. Scandinavians attributed their appearance to the supreme god Odin, although old Germanic runes were often used in other cultures and eras. Nordic runes could have got to Georgia the very same way they found to Russia, Bulgaria, Greece and other countries. And, specifically, they could have easily to the mountains of Imereti and Svaneti through the trade routes, such as the Silk Road, that also served as the lines of cultural and political ties.
According to the historian Nana Burchuladze, the appearance of runic symbols in Georgia could possibly be connected with the arrival of the Vikings in the region in the 10th-11th centuries. For example, in the middle of the 11th century, King Bagrat IV of Georgia hired a few thousand Vikings to fight against Liparit Baghvashi, the Duke of Trialeti. And even before that both Georgian monarchs and the Governors of the eastern frontier provinces of the Byzantine Empire used the services of the Vikings in many battles. There is also an opinion that runes could have come to the Caucasus long before the arrival of the Vikings, and their origins could go back to our common ancient German-Baltic-Slavic-Caucasian Vedic heritage.
And, by the way, “the ancient Georgian cross”, also known as St. Nino Cross, which is still very popular in Georgia, looks very similar to the old Germanic rune Teyvaz (Teiwas, Tivaz), that traditionally served as the symbol of God, sacrifice and ultimate justice...
Andreas Andersen, Ph.D.
Please see some pictures of St. George Church in Tskhrukveti: