Jaishankar formally hands over relics of 17th century Georgian Queen St. Ketevan to Georgia

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Tbilisi (Georgia), Jul 10 (PTI) External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Saturday attended the formal handing over ceremony of the holy relics of 17th century Queen St Ketevan to Georgia, nearly 16 years after they were found in Goa, describing such historical objects as a 'bridge of faith' between the two countries.

Jaishankar is on a two-day visit to Georgia, a strategically important country situated at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

'Today is a special day, not only for Georgia but also for India. I have the honour to hand over the holy relics of St. Queen Ketevan to the people of Georgia,' Jaishankar said at the ceremony at the Sameba Holy Trinity Cathedral.

'I consider myself blessed that the purpose of my first visit to Georgia is such an auspicious one,' he said.

Jaishankar handed over the relics of St. Queen Ketevan to the government and the people of Georgia at a ceremony in Tbilisi in the presence of Beatitude Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.

St. Queen Ketevan was a 17th century Georgian Queen. Her relics were found in 2005 at the St. Augustine Convent in Old Goa, on the basis of medieval Portuguese records, people aware of the matter said.

'The presence of some of the relics in India and Georgia is a bridge of faith between our two countries. 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,' Jaishanakar said.

The relics are believed to have been brought to Goa in 1627 and interred in St Augustine Complex.

At the instance of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, carried out DNA analysis that confirmed its authenticity, the people cited above said.

In 2017, at the request of the Georgian government, India sent the relics to Georgia for an exhibition for six months.

'The holy relics were preserved at the St Augustine Church in Goa since the 17th century. Given the immense spiritual value that this relic holds for the people of Georgia, we had kept this sacred heritage as our own. Its return is a testimony to our warm and friendly relations,' Jaishanakar said.

'I particularly thank the good people of Goa who have been such reverential custodians of this holy treasure. They have done India proud by being true to our tradition of respecting faiths,' he said.

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, he said.

'One part of the holy relics still remains in India as a reminder of our shared past. But the part which has now come back permanently to Georgia due to a decision made by Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi will surely inspire generations to come to this land,' Jaishankar added. PTI MPB NSA AKJ NSA

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