The Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, which is located in Zemo (Upper) Kala District and known as Anchiskhati, is the oldest preserved church in Tbilisi. Its plan, architectural design, and building technique suggest a date in the early Christian period. Seemingly, a note in the Georgian chronicle that mentions King Dachi of Iberia (ca 502-514) building St Mary's Church in Tbilisi refers to this church.
Anchiskhati Church from the North-West
Anchiskhati served as court church of the Catholicoses of Georgia. It suffered severe damage as a result of invasions and earthquakes in the late Middle Ages, and was restored in 1675 by Catholicos Domenti II. He also constructed a bell tower to the west of the church.
Bell tower of Anchiskhati Church
During the same period, the celebrated icon of the Savior was moved from Ancha Cathedral to Tbilisi in order to preserve it from Ottoman attacks, and it was placed in the Basilica of St Mary. Since then, owing to the fame of the icon, the church has been called Anchiskhati (i.e. the icon of Ancha).
The basilica has largely preserved its initial plan, apart from the original three pairs of cruciform piers that were replaced with two pairs of round columns in the seventeenth century. The old walls of the church are faced both internally and externally with large smoothly-hewn yellowish blocks. The restored vaults, arches, piers, and upper parts of the walls and cornices are made of brick.
West facade of Anchiskhati Church
The nave from the east finishes in a horse-shoe shaped apse that is flanked by rectangular chambers on both sides. The west door that now serves as the main entrance to the church is topped with an open lunette. On the lintel of the south door there used to be a relief of the Ascension of the Cross. Its two damaged fragments, a Greek cross and the figure of an angel, are set in the later masonry of the west façade. Only a few letters are preserved of an inscription that was made on the lower part of the relief, in which King Dachi was presumably mentioned.
Interior of Anchiskhati Church looking East
The interior of the church is covered with murals painted in 1683 by order of Catholicos Nicholas VI, and in 1813 at the request of Dean Dimitri Aleksi-Meskhishvili.
Anchiskhati Church circa 1910
After Georgia’s annexation by the Russian Empire and the abolishment of the Georgian Catholicosate, Russian church authorities repaired Anchiskhati church several times, and added a belfry and a small dome to it. These additions were removed during restoration works that were carried out between 1958 and 1960. During the Soviet period, the church building first housed the museum of crafts, and later a sculptor’s workshop. From 1989, religious services were renewed in Anchiskhati.