Christian History Project. This site contains the text of 12 volumes on the history of mankind over the last 2,000 years written from a 'collectively-denominational' Christian perspective.

St Nina |
Triumph of a slave girl

St Nina is drawn from Chapter Seven, beginning on page 208, of Volume Three, By This Sign of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit www.TheChristians.info.

Both fact and fantasy no doubt lie behind the story of how a young woman’s faith brought ancient Georgia to Christ

St Nina - Triumph of a slave girl

St Nina – Triumph of a slave girl
With a cross made of vine branches in her hand, Nina leads a group of converts into the waters of the Kura River that runs through the ancient kingdom of Georgia. Her preaching and missionary efforts led to the conversion of thousands, followed by the whole nation, earning her the title “Equal to the Apostles.”

An enchanting account is preserved in both history and legend about the conversion of the people in the ancient land of Iberia, today called Georgia, on the east coast of the Black Sea, south of the Caucasus Mountains.

In the fourth century, during the time of King Mirian III, a young Cappadocian woman known as Nina had been captured and brought to Iberia as a slave, and impressed all who saw her with her prayerful and chaste conduct. She simply told people she worshiped Christ as God.

One day, a mother brought a sick child to Nina, who wrapped the child in her cloak and invoked the name of her Lord, and the child was cured.

When Nana, queen of Iberia, heard of the child’s miraculous cure, she went to Nina, hoping that the maiden would cure her illness, and once again, in the name of Christ, the maiden effected a miraculous cure.

The queen told the king, Mirian, about her, but he was unconvinced. However, as the story goes, while on a hunt, Mirian became lost in the mist, and a thick cloud or a solar eclipse darkened the sky. The frightened king’s thoughts went to his wife and her new Savior Jesus Christ, and he vowed to believe. Instantly, the mist lifted, the clouds dissipated, the darkness passed. The royal conversion was complete.

The king and queen then took instruction in the faith from Nina. They proclaimed their conversion throughout the land, and many of the people followed their lead. In the ancient capital of Mtskheta (see map page 131, G2), the king began to build a church, but the builders were stymied by their inability to raise the main pillar, which remained stubbornly at an angle. The scene was set for Nina’s next miracle. Throughout the night, she stayed at the construction site and prayed. In the morning, when the king and his people returned to the site, the pillar stood upright above its pedestal, and then settled into its base, perfectly balanced, securing the cathedral of the Living Pillar.

The king then felled a tree sacred to the pagans, where in days past, animals were said to go to heal their wounds, and had the wood fashioned into crosses. He sent an emissary to Constantine, asking that bishops and priests be sent to Iberia. Seeing Iberia embrace Christianity, Nina retreated to a cave on a mountain at Bodbe, where she died and was buried. Her tomb is still located in the local cathedral.

Whatever its veracity, the story of Nina is singularly free of the more hair-raising elements so tragically common in the history of Christianity. It has a luminous, uplifting quality that perhaps helped make its original source, the church history written by Rufinus in about 403, an early best-seller translated into Greek, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic, Arabic and Ethiopic. A durably popular and revered saint, Nina is also claimed by the Armenians, and is often cited as a close relative of St. George, by devout if unverified sources.

The scrupulous historian Cyril Toumanoff, in Studies in Christian Caucasian History, works diligently to nail down the dates of the conversion of King Mirian and the people of Iberia. By comparing (and testing the reliability of) seventh- and eighth-century sources with the date of a solar eclipse which fell on Wednesday, July 17, 334, Toumanoff is able to come close to the historically cited 330 for the conversion of the king, and he further endorses 337 as the year Iberia officially adopted Christianity as the state religion. He establishes Nina’s arrival in Iberia in 324, and calculates that she began preaching in 328, and died in 338, fourteen years after her arrival. That would mean that Georgia has been a Christian outpost on the edge of Asia Minor since the time of Constantine.

There is no way of knowing the reliability of Rufinus’s own source, an Iberian prince named Bakur; but the cathedral of the Living Pillar, destroyed by Tamerlane in the early fifteenth century and rebuilt, remains a tangible testimony to the power of prayer. And St. Nina’s own tomb remains in Bodbe Cathedral, built in 850 on the original site of her church.

The haunting story of the simple slave girl was, however, embellished by the chroniclers of antiquity. Nina acquired many adventures and distinctions over the centuries. In one story, the Blessed Virgin gives her a cross of grapevine wood and sends her to convert the Georgians; in another, Nina becomes one of thirty-eight virgins captured by the lecherous King Tiridates of Armenia (see page 196), and she is, miraculously, the only one to escape. She has also been elevated to the status of Roman princess, and transformed into a niece of the patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem (who, unfortunately, didn’t live until the next century). It is often in her elaborated form that she rests in the hearts and imaginations of contemporary Georgians.

Nina has fortified the Iberians/Georgians throughout their turbulent history. Despite centuries of cruel persecution by Persian, Arab and Turkish invaders, and of course by its own native son, Soviet Russia’s Joseph Stalin, Georgia continues to follow the lead of St. Nina. Seventy percent of its population of about five million remains Orthodox Christian today. Thus does the story of the faith of a humble slave girl triumph over the vicissitudes of history.

This is the end of the St Nina category article drawn from Chapter Seven, beginning on page 208, of Volume Three, By This Sign. To continue reading more about St Nina from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at www.TheChristians.info