City archaeologist discovers relics of Georgian Queen Ketevan in Old Goa

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 06 Oct 2017 09:32:20

By Shirish Borkar,

WHAT is bygone is not forgotten. A zealous quest coupled with untiring efforts can bring out history even from the ruins. Archaeology has helped in bringing out many hidden mysteries. One such mystery was solved in the historical strata of old Goa when modern day science and a desperate desire helped in establishing the fact that an excavated long bone from the ruins of St. Augustine Church Complex in 2004 is of 17th Century Queen Ketevan of Georgia.

Playing a big role in this discovery is a Nagpurian, Nizamuddin Taher, Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Nagpur Circle. He and his team were at the forefront in this research and establishing provenance of the relic to be that of the martyred Saint Queen.



The research undertaken by the archaeologists could be equated with the efforts of finding the cause of death of Queen Cleopatra (snake-bite) or knowing the cause of death of Napoleon (arsenic) by analysing his hair.

Who was Queen Ketevan
Queen Ketevan of Kakheti, a kingdom in Eastern Georgia was spouse of David I and mother of Teimuraz who ruled the region in early 17th Century. In 1613, the emperor of Persia Shah Abbas I, led an army to conquer Georgia and took Queen Ketevan as prisoner. From 1614 to 1624, the Queen remained in Shiraz as the prisoner of Shah Abbas I. In 1624, the Persian Emperor ordained that the Queen should adopt the Islamic faith.

When the Queen resisted his wishes, she was forced, tortured and finally strangled to death in September 1624.
In 1623, two Augustinian friars -- Ambrosio dos Anjos and Manuel da madie de Devs -- had arrived in Shiraz to start a mission and they gained the Queen’s trust and became her confessors. After her death these friars unearthed the remains of the Queen and hid them for three years in their monastery at Asfahan. In 1627, part of these remains (her right arm and palm) were brought to Goa and kept in a black box (stone sarcophagus) on second window of the apostle side in the Chapter Chapel in St. Augustine Complex.

During 17th century, Queen Ketevan being a devout Orthodox Christian, was bestowed Sainthood by the patriarch as she had resisted conversion and died as a martyr.

Found in Old Goa

Father Giorgi had come to Goa on more than six occasions with different delegations including Indologists, to retrieve the bone relics of Queen Ketevan at the St. Augustine Complex in Old Goa. ASI started working on the project in 1988 and five different teams were associated with the assignment. Finally, the site where the relics were kept within the black box (Stone Sarcophagus) was located by Nizamuddin Taher. Its provenance was established by cross reference of the archaeological data with historical reference and confirmed by ancient DNA analysis. The analysis was conducted by the scientists at centre for Cellular and Modular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad.

The saliva specimens of Georgian citizen were provided through the efforts of Father Giorgi and David Koridze, a banker by profession, as there were no blood relatives or legacy of ancestry of queen from the female lineage or direct descendants for cross checking or matching the genetically sequenced DNA specimen.

The research has been authenticated by an international publication in a reputed journal ‘MITOCHONDRION’ published from USA and having a high impact factor. The research undertaken by Taher has been independently verified and authenticated by three missions undertaken by the Georgian delegations since 2006 which included priests, archaeologists, cameramen and prominent citizens of Georgia. They visited the St. Augustine Complex and also gleaned the diorama installed in the Archaeological Museum in Old Goa by archaeologist and researcher Nizamuddin Taher. They also met local people, press and senior ASI officials.

The Georgians highly appreciated the work undertaken at the site by Nizamuddin Taher and his team comprising fellow archaeologist Abhijit Ambekar, photographer, draftsmen, skilled workers and the students from CLC Caucasus International University, Georgia in excavating the bone relics and interpreting the discovery.

Taher to be conferred PhD

All the facts were taken into consideration while recommending honorary Doctorate for incumbent Taher in the field of social science (Archaeology and Research) and on the recommendation of Darpan Parashar, Advisor on International Relations attached to the University. The CLC Caucasus International University, Georgia is now conferring PhD to Nizamuddin Taher for the research undertaken, also considering and critically evaluating the site-specific conservation undertaken at the site which is a world heritage property by adopting a Minimum Intervention Module. The conservator has also taken up in-situ preservation of the fallen remains to maintain the ruins as ruins, to enhance the romance of the past.

Early attempts for relics

Attempts were made from 1988 but it failed to locate the relics of Queen Ketevan from within St. Augustinian Complex. Father Razmadze Giorgi, Dean of St. Ketevan Church in Georgia, and his team comprising eminent citizens of Caucasus region and the Patriarch of the orthodox church of Georgia had taken up as their life mission to trace the elusive relics by scouting the historical literature.

On getting a clue that the parts of her remains are scattered in different geographical regions like Asfahan, Rome (Vatican), London, Belgium and India, Fr Giorgi and team requested the Government of India and also the Government of Goa to help in tracing the place where the bone relic of Queen Ketevan might have been placed.
The relics that were given to Teimuraz, the son of Saint Ketevan, were lost during the medieval period 17th-18th Century during the frequent shifting of articles and goods in the war-torn Georgia.
The country was in constant turmoil as it was a buffer state between the Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Persia.