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The Lavra of Otkhta Eklesia, Murals of the Main Church

Building: The Lavra of Otkhta Eklesia
Layer of the Murals: One Layer
Date/Period: 980s
Donor(s): David Kuropalates
Painter(s): Unknown
Building Gallery


of the Donor(s)

The establishment of the text of the inscription is impossible.


of the Painter(s)


The whole chancel and some sections of the hall are covered with murals.



In the chancel apse painting is distributed in five registres. The conch represents the Savior standing on a pedestal and contained in an oval mandorla; above Christ’s figure, the conch keystone shows a dove coming out of the sky segment – symbol of the Holy Spirit. On both sides of the dove, beyond Christ’s mandorla, there are hosts of angels clad in robes and capes holding open scrolls (relatively better preserved are the first figures on both sides; only the halos and contours of the bodies of the rest are extant). In the second row below the host of angels there are three figures of seraphs on each side; in the third row, along the Savior’s shoulder, there is a host of flying angels (only the image on the left of Christ has survived).

The second registre is occupied by Hetoimasia. In the center a trapezoid throne is inscribed in a medallion and held by two angels. A cross is rested on the throne. On both sides of the throne, at a whole length of the registre, two hosts of angels – five on each side- are depicted facing each other. They are full-length figures, slightly bent at the waist, clad, with their hands stretched forward in supplication. The inscriptions preserved between the angels’ figures have survived in small fragments and it is impossible to identify the text.

A frontal figure of the Virgin standing on the pedestal is depicted in the center of the third registre; the full-length image of Mother of God is represented with raised hands against the background of a draped veil, in front of a backed throne; she is flanked by full-length frontal figures of angels dressed in royal clothes, holding a scroll (presumably, Acts 1:10-11) in the right hand and a sphere in the left; they are facing the Virgin.

St. John the Baptist is represented left of the Virgin (on the south), next to an archangel; the Forerunner is represented frontally, with full body, with raised right hand and an open scroll in the left hand. The whole area of the registre next to the Virgin and the Forerunner is occupied by a row of apostles. They are depicted with full body, frontally, holding a scroll or a book.

The third and the fourth registres are separated from each other by an ornamental frieze – a line of garland coils. In some places between the sprouts and leaves of the ornament small figures clad in tunics are inserted.

The fourth registre is dedicated to the images of prophets and church fathers; eight figures are depicted on each side of the window; in addition, four images of prophets are represented on each side immediately next to the window, and four church fathers along them on both sides of the registre. The prophets are shown frontally, with their right hand raised and holding an open scroll in the left. South and north of the window figures of St. David and St. Solomon are the first; out of other prophets, it is possible to identify only the third figure in the row south of the window – even the text on the scroll of St. Amos is discernable (Amos 9:11-13). The inscription of the scroll has survived fragmentarily with the fourth figure too, but it is impossible to identify its content.

Church fathers are depicted frontally with their right hands raised in blessing and a closed book in the left hand; only on the south the third image in the row of the church fathers is holding a half open codex.

The chancel window is also fully ornamented with murals. Personification of Zion encircled in the flourished medallion is depicted in the center of the window arch (()Ⴍ||ႬႨ Zion). Two horns of abundance are depicted symmetrically with the medallion on the rest of the area of the arch.

A half-figure of a woman with a halo with an inscribed cross is another personification; on the head of the figure is an angular crown with a raised middle part looking like a basilica. She is holding a model of a church in her left hand – an image of Otkhta Eklesia.

On the south jamb of the window is St. Moses the Prophet (ႫႭႱႤ || O(άγιος)Moses). He is standing on the top of Mount Sinai; with his both hands stretched forward on the left he is receiving the torah given to him by the right hand of God.

A prophet is depicted on the northern jamb of the window too: it is King Melchizedek of Salem. The frontal figure is portrayed next to the communion chancel; in his left hand stretched forward he is holding a tray, and with his right hand he is pouring liquid from a chalice onto the chancel. The saint is represented with a headdress set with precious stones. Near the figure graphemes of the inscription can be observed, but it is impossible to read the text.

Bottom of the fourth registre is also bordered with a broad frieze decorated with a garland-type ornamental motif similar to that of the upper registre.

The fifth registre is dedicated to the scenes of the Twelve Great Feasts. Compositions are arranged in accordance with the narrative of the Gospel and are ‘read’ from left to right (north to south).

The first scene on the northern edge of the apse is the Annunciation (only upper parts of the angel and the Virgin have survived). It is followed by the Meeting of St. Mary and St. Elizabeth; the third is the scene of the Nativity, from which only the upper part has been preserved – baby Jesus wrapped in cloth, St. Joseph’s halo and fragment of the manger. The last, fourth scene on the northern section of the window – the Presentation – is partly destroyed: only the upper part of the ciborium, fragments of St. Simeon the Righteous and the Holy Mother are visible.

Relatively better preserved are two scenes on the southern half of the apse – the Baptism and the Transfiguration. The following composition – the Crucifixion – is hardly discernable. The row of the scenes ends with two unified themes – Holy Women at the Tomb of Jesus ([…] ႬႤႪႱႠ ႺႾႡ Anointing chrism […]) and Appearance of Christ to the Holy Women. The mural is fragmentary here too – images of the three myrrh-bearing mothers, the tomb and the Savior are difficult to make out.

The painting of the apse is bordered by a double ornamental framing at the bottom.

The half-length figure depicted south of the chancel, on the area between the entrance to the diaconicon and the window arranged above it is crowned. The secular person is covered with nimbus.

North of the chancel, above the entrance of the prothesis, on the same section, in the upper part of the right-angled framing is a medallion, while below it is a six-line historical inscription whose text is not legible due to its poor condition.

The lower pair of the chancel capitals are decorated with a line made up of blue, red and white diagonal strokes.



In the hall, among the columns separating the central and the northern naves, only the southern face of the second column from the east is decorated with painting; at a height of about six meters is depicted a frontal figure covered with nimbus and holding a long-handled labarum in the right hand (the upper body and part of the head are not discernible).


Nicole Thierry, Jean-Michel Thierry, “Peintures du Xe siècle en Géorgie méridionale et leurs rapports avec la peinture byzantine d’Asie Mineure“, Cahiers archéologiques XXIV (1975): 73–113.

Nicole Thierry, “Le souverain dans les programmes d’églises en Cappadoce et en Géorgie du Xe au XIIIe siècle”, Revue des etudes géorgiennes et caucasiennes 4 (1988): 138–9.

Wakhtang Djobadze, Early Medieval Georgian Monasteries in Historic Tao, Klardjeti and Šavšeti (Stuttgart, 1992), 158–70.

Nana Alek’sidze, Davit’ Khoshtaria, “Akhali tsnobebi tao-klarjet’is sidzvelet’a shesakheb (1990 ts’lis ek’speditsia)” [“New Material on the Antiquities of Tao-Klajet’I (Expedition of 1990)”], Literatura da khelovneba [Literature and Art] 1 (1991): 137–42.

Nana Alek’sidze, “Ot’kt’a eklesiis mokhatulobis t’eologiuri sap’udzvlebi” [“Theological Backgrounds of the Ot’kht’a Eklesia Murals”], Literatura da khelovneba [Literature and Art] 1 (1991): 103-22.

Zaza Skhirtladze, “The Mother of All the Churches: Remarques on the Iconographic Programme of the Apse Decoration of Dort Kilise”, Cahiers archéologiques 43 (1995): 101–16.

Ekaterine Privalova, “Zogiert’i shenishvna tao-klarjet’is mokhatulobat’a shesakheb” [“Notes on the Murals of Tao-Klarjet’I”], Ts’elits’deuli [Annual] II (1996): 5–14.

Zaza Skhirtladze, Otkht’a eklesiis p’reskebi [The Frescoes of Ot’kht’a Eklesia] (Tbilisi, 2009), 111–2, ill. 110.

Mariam Didebulidze, “Shua saukuneebis k’art’uli kedlis mkhatvrobis dzeglebi tao-klarjet’shi” [“The Monuments of the Georgian Medieval Wall Painting in the North-East Turkey”], Sak’art’velos sidzveleni [Georgian Antiquities] 19 (2016): 36–41.