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India hands over martyred queen's relics to Georgia

St. Queen Ketevan's body was buried in Goa after she was tortured to death by an Iranian king

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Published: July 12, 2021 07:38 AM GMT

Updated: July 12, 2021 07:52 AM GMT

India hands over martyred queen's relics to Georgia

An icon of martyr-saint Queen Ketevan (Image: Wikipedia)

In a rare diplomatic gesture, India has returned the relics of a Christian saint and Georgian queen killed in Iran for refusing to give up her faith 400 years ago and buried in Goa.

Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar handed over the relics of St. Queen Ketevan to his Georgian counterpart David Zalkaliani on July 10 during a two-day visit to Georgia.

Ketevan was the queen of Kakheti, a kingdom in eastern Georgia in the 17th century. Iranian King Shah Abbas I took her hostage after he conquered her kingdom in 1613-14.

She refused to convert to Islam or join the Iranian ruler’s harem and is believed to have been tortured to death on Sept. 22, 1624.

Some Augustinian friars in 1627 brought her body to Goa, then a Portuguese colony. It was buried and remained hidden inside the Augustinian convent in Goa.

The Georgian Orthodox Church declared her a saint soon after her martyrdom and later came to know that her body was moved to Goa. The relics were excavated and identified through DNA testing in 2015.

I hope that in the coming years the people of both of our nations will traverse that bridge, of spirituality as much as of friendship

In 2017, following the request of Georgia, her remains were sent to Georgia for public veneration for six months.

Zalkaliani said the Indian foreign minister’s visit would definitely strengthen ties between the countries and upgrade them to a “completely new level.”

“Delighted to welcome my Indian counterpart @DrSJaishankar on his first visit to Georgia, who has brought the relics of Georgia's Queen Ketevan,” the Georgian foreign minister tweeted.

Jaishankar, a former career diplomat, expressed hope that the presence of the saintly queen’s relics in India and Georgia would serve as a “bridge of faith” between the two countries.

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“I hope that in the coming years the people of both of our nations will traverse that bridge, of spirituality as much as of friendship,” said the minister, part of the government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"The martyrdom of St. Queen Ketevan is a story of courage and sacrifice. Her relics were taken to India by two devoted Augustinian monks who witnessed the last years of her life. One part of the holy relics still remains in India as a reminder of our shared past.” 

Jaishankar also thanked the “good people of Goa” for serving as “reverential custodians” of the holy treasure.

“They have done India proud by being true to our tradition of respecting faiths,” he said.

Historical studies claim India and Georgia shared close ties during the medieval age

Catholic stronghold Goa was a Portuguese colony for 452 years until 1962.

Historical studies claim India and Georgia shared close ties during the medieval age.

Georgian missionaries, travelers and traders visited India, while Udaipuri Begum, one of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s wives, was said to be of Georgian descent.

It is said that India’s Panchatantra — an ancient collection of fables — influenced some Georgian folk legends.

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