Monday, March 3

Retracing how a Georgian Queen ended up in Goa

This was a fascinating story about how a Georgian Queen from the Eastern Caucasus region ended up in Goa, India. I quote the main bits from here.

In the year 1613, the emperor of Persia, Shah Abbas I led an army to conquer the Georgian kingdom and Queen Ketevan became his prisoner. The queen was held in Shiraz, southern Iran for approximately ten years, but in 1624, the emperor sent soldiers to convert her to the Islamic faith and to force her into his harem. However, she resisted his orders and as a consequence was tortured and strangled to death on 22 September 1624.

Ruined bell tower of the church of Our Lady of Grace within the St. Augustine convent in Goa.  Image: Ramesh Lalwani (Flickr, used under a <a href=''>CC BY 3.0</a>)<br> <img width="88" height="31" alt=""src="">

Ruined bell tower of the church of Our Lady of Grace within the St. Augustine convent in Goa. Image: Ramesh Lalwani (Flickr, used under a CC BY 3.0)

Remains taken to Goa

In 1623, a year before her death, two Augustinian friars had arrived in Shiraz to start up a mission and succeeded in gaining the queen’s trust, becoming her confessors. At some point after her death these same friars unearthed the remains of Ketevan and hid them. In 1627, some of these remains (the right arm) were taken to Goa and kept in a black box or stone sarcophagus on the second window along the Epistle side of the chapter chapel in the St. Augustine convent.

Over time the convent had been enlarged and rebuilt in places, but in 1835 the church underwent partial demolition, and in 1842 the main vault collapsed. After this episode, the convent rapidly became ruinous and valuable artefacts belonging to the religious complex had been either sold or lost.

Despite the fact that the exact location of the queen’s relics is mentioned in a Portuguese document, all efforts to find them had proved unsuccessful due to difficulties in the interpretation of the convent layout. However, a ground map of the convent was reconstructed on the basis of the literary sources and the help of local historians. After a topographical survey within the convent was carried out, the chapter chapel and window were finally located.

As per the literary sources, the relic box of Queen Ketevan was expected to be at the second window of the chapter chapel towards the Epistle side. Therefore, this area was systematically explored in 2004 for a stone sarcophagus, which was found broken into pieces due to the collapse of the wall. Whilst clearing the rubble the team also found an arm bone. Two other bone relics were recovered from outside the second window area, within intact stone boxes.

More proof

While the archaeological and historical data were consistent with the relic being the remains of Queen Ketevan, the archaeologists needed to somehow conclusively prove that the bone belonged to her. They approached the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad who isolated DNA from the bone. Based on the sequence variation in the mitochondrial DNA, they assigned a haplogroup U1b to the sample.

After surveying the mitochondrial DNA sequence of 22,000 individuals from the Indian sub-continent, none of them belonged to U1b haplogroup. However, two out of 30 Georgians analysed have the same haplogroup, suggesting that the bone excavated in Goa is likely to be the remnant of Queen Ketevan of Georgia.

I found the story deeply moving. how this lady ended up on Goa. Her Wiki entry is very interesting as well. She seems to be a very brave woman. She seems to have actually led the Kakhetian nobles against an ursurper’s attempts to take the crown. She was tortured with red-hot pincers in 1624 and died.

William Forsyth composed a whacking big poem called as the Martyrdom of Kelavane (1861) and thankfully its fully available online here. Here’s the first few lines

Know ye the story of Queen "Kelavane ? 
She was no daughter of the days of joy;
Her tears were countless as the stars of heaven.
The radiant beauty and the queenly graee,
That glorified the morning of her y-ears,
Were sighed away in sorrow long ere noon.
The fervour of her solitary faith,
That burn*d like some lone beacon of the sea,
With no kind ndghbourhood of hopeful hearts.
Kept shining through the tempest all night long.
Until it faded in the dawn of heaven.
And so it was, because she stood alone
This is what she looked like
Nice boots :)

It was good to read about another lady from Iran who was given succour in India…Like the Zoroastrians.

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