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Nikortsminda Church of St. Nicholas

The Church of St. Nicholas is erected on a small elevation in the village of Nikortsminda (Racha region). 

According to the inscription on the west wall of the Church, it was built in the latter years (1010-1014) of the reign of King Bagrat III (975–1014). The Church is preserved almost in its original condition, although traces of the restoration that was carried out in the 16th century are evident on its façades.

The Church of St. Nicholas is a central-domed structure (cross-shaped from the exterior) with five apses radially disposed around the dome, and a rectangular west cross-arm with lateral compartments. The south and west porches were added a little later.


Nikortsminda. Church of St. Nicholas


The Church is faced with hewn stone, and is remarkably richly adorned. Decoration of the façades consists of blind arcading, carved ornamentations and figural reliefs. Sculptural compositions are concentrated at the gables of the walls and in the tympanums of the entrances. The gables of the east and south façades feature the Transfiguration, flanked by images of the mounted Holy Warriors and the Second Coming. A relief depicting Christ enthroned is located at the top of the west wall.


Nikortsminda. St. Nicholas Church. The Second Coming. Photo: N. Natsvlishvili


The tympanums of the entrances bear images of: the Ascension of the Cross, half-length figures of the Archangels, and Christ standing between the mounted Holy Warriors. The latter, as well as the Holy Warriors on the eastern façade, are identified as St. George killing the emperor Diocletian and St. Theodore killing the dragon.


Nikortsminda. St. Nicholas Church. The Archangels in the tympanum of the northern entrance. Photo: N. Natsvlishvili


In addition to these compositions, the Church is adorned with a wide range of ornamentations, as well as real and fantastic animal figures. Sculptural decoration also appears in the interior of the south porch.


Nikortsminda. St. Nicholas Church. The vault of the south porch. Photo: Z. Tsertsvadze


Nikortsminda Church is primarily noteworthy on account of its architectural structure and sculptural decoration, which mark the heyday in the evolution of medieval Georgian plastic arts. 

 

The wall paintings that completely cover the interior of the Church are chronologically quite distant from the original structure of the Church, and date from the 17th century. Certain sections were renovated during the 18th and 19th centuries.


The program of the murals in the main space of the Church is quite extensive. It consists of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, as well as images of numerous individual saints, and clearly reflects the traditions of post-Byzantine art. Yet there are also themes typical of medieval Georgian wall paintings, such as the Ascension of the Cross depicted in the dome, and the Deisis in the conch of the main apse.


Nikortsminda. St. Nicholas Church. View under the dome. Photo: Z. Tsertsvadze


Nikortsminda. St. Nicholas Church. View towards the east. Photo: Z. Tsertsvadze


The drum of the dome features portrayals of the Prophets and the Holy Bishops, Abraham’s Sacrifice, the Hospitality of Abraham, the Ascension of Elijah, Elijah fed by the Raven, the Nativity of the Virgin, the Dormition, and the Miracle at Cana. 


Nikortsminda. St. Nicholas Church. Abraham’s Sacrifice. Photo: N. Natsvlishvili


The Celestial Liturgy and rows of the Holy Bishops are depicted on the wall of the main apse. 


Nikortsminda. St. Nicholas Church. Celestial Liturgy. Detail. Photo: N. Natsvlishvili


The four other apses of the Church are decorated with Christological scenes that are displayed in the upper zones. A large composition of the Last Judgment takes up the entire western cross-arm.


Nikortsminda. St. Nicholas Church. The Ascension of Christ. Photo: Z. Tsertsvadze


What distinguishes the murals is the large number of donor portraits that occupy almost all the lower zones of the Church. They portray members of the local nobility – the Tsulukidze family, who are well-known from historical documents. The principal donors are depicted in the north-west apse holding a model of the church. 


Nikortsminda. St. Nicholas Church. Portrait of the Donors. 


Stylistically, the murals at Nikortsminda Church are typical examples of post-Byzantine painting. Despite their homogenous character, the differences in figure rendering, facial types, and coloring indicate that a group of painters were responsible for these wall paintings.

The west and south porches are also adorned with wall paintings that were executed in the 16th and 17th centuries.


Ketevan Mikeladze

Art Historian