Near the village of Katskhi, in the Imereti region of western Georgia, there is a 40-meter-high natural rock monolith called Katskhi Pillar.
The first mention of it in the historical record appears in the work of the eighteenth century Description of the kingdom of Georgiawritten by the cartographer, historian and geographer (as well as a prince) Vakhushti, who lived between 1696 and 1757. There it is said:
there is a rock within the ravine that rises like a pillar, considerably high. There is a small church on top of the rock, but no one is able to climb it, nor do they know how to do it.
Indeed, the church, which still exists, was built sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries, although no one knows how or why. What is known is that the place was inhabited by Christian hermits at least until the fifteenth century. In fact, the remains of the latter were found during the first documented ascent of the pillar.
This took place in July 1944, when a group led by the mountaineer Alexander Japaridze and the writer Levan Gotua reached the top of the pillar, discovering the remains of two medieval churches associated with practices stylites (those medieval hermits who spent their lives on top of columns or pillars).
However, subsequent research casts doubt on the idea of extreme asceticismsince they found that the pillar complex would have been made up of a monastery church with cells for hermits, but also a small cellar.
In 1995 a monk applied for permission to restore the buildings and live in the pillar, which was granted. An iron staircase was then installed and access was allowed (for men only), although it seems that it has recently been declared inaccessible by the authorities.
In any case, the restored church, a small chapel just 15 feet by 12 feet, was dedicated to Saint Maximus the Confessor, and the monk in question, named Maxime Qavtaradze, stayed on to live in the pillar, as as numerous media collected in 2013, although the image of a tomb at the foot of the pillar, dated 2014, seems to indicate that he died the following year.
As in many other places in Europe, it seems that the pillar was already a center of worship long before the arrival of Christianity in Georgia in the fourth century, the second country to declare it an official religion after Armenia.
Many tourists come to Katskhi just to see the pillar, and most agree on two things: from below the site is truly impressive; and the memory of the monasteries of Meteora always emerges.
Eurasianet / Description géographique de la Géorgie / The Telegraph / Wikipedia.