Santa Nino, the wine saint of Georgia

stnino

Santa Nino and her “living cross”

written by Michael Oudyn

I first heard the story of Santa Nino, the charming Georgian wine saint, over a nice glass of Georgian wine at a wine-tourism convention in Umbria .  Back in Barcelona my Georgian friend Nata Samushia enthusiastically confirmed the basic story and filled in a few details.

The consensus hagiography goes something like this.  Santa Nino was from Cappadoccia, in Turkey.  While in a religious trance the Virgin Mary  gave her a double mission: convert Georgia to Christianity and introduce the Georgians to wine.  She also gave her a cross made out of grapevines.  Once out of the trance the future santa secured the cross  with a lock of her own hair, forming “a living cross” of grapevine and human hair.  Once in Georgia she converted the Queen to Christianity.  But King Mirian III refused to give up his paganism and was on the point of persecuting the Christians until he was struck with blindness and “lost in  darkness ” while on a hunting trip.  He prayed to “Nino’s God” and “the light returned.”  He immediately called Nino to his palace, converted to Christianity, and declared Georgia a Christian kingdom, the second official one in history, the first being Armenia.   Georgians also adopted wine drinking with relish.  Later Nino retired peaceably to the monastery at Bobde where she died an old woman, peaceably in her bed.

Her plaited grapevine cross remains a sacred relic in the Bodbe monastery. It was used in baptizing, further linking Christianity to wine.  So wine, history,  and religion are linked in Georgia like in no other country.

Wine of course has always been huge in Christian symbolism; the wine of the holy communion is after all the blood of Christ.  The Resurrection itself has also been linked symbolically to wine.  Vines “die” in winter when all leaves disappear. Then they are “resurrected” in the spring.   Even the word wine may originally come from the Georgian word g’vino.  October is called Gvinobistve, the month of wine.

I find Santa Nino appealing for three reasons:  she is explicitly identified with wine;  she constructed a “living cross;”  she was never martyred. Somehow being rolled down an incline in a barrel pierced with swords or being burned alive for refusing to abjure the faith has always left me a little cold.  I prefer my saints to expire peacefully in bed.

 

St Nino

Santa Nino brought wine and Christianity to Georgia

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4 Responses to “Santa Nino, the wine saint of Georgia”

  1. Tom Oller Says:

    Georgians are famous for their hospitality, encouraging guests to eat and drink (St. Nino’s Georgian wine, of course!) until they burst. According to one story, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited Georgia and was feted until he couldn’t take it any more. His hosts were so outraged that (despite his position of authority) they threatened to kill him if he didn’t keep on drinking and eating.

    • michael oudyn Says:

      Thanks for the anecdote. I’ll pass in on to my Georgian friends who will swell with pride if they haven’t already heard this one.

  2. Nata Says:

    You see Mike Georgians not only drink more then Khrushchev they are so crazy they threatened to kill him, the big Boss of apparatchiki 🙂

    Your Georgian Friend !!

  3. michael oudyn Says:

    So have I been told, by you and your friends. One of these I have to go and see for myself!

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