Ketevan, "the Martyr" (1565 – September 13, 1624) was a queen of Kakheti, a kingdom in eastern Georgia. She was killed at Shiraz, Iran, after prolonged tortures for refusing to give up the Christian faith and embrace Islam.
Ketevan was born to Prince Ashotan of Mukhrani (Bagrationi) and married Prince David of Kakheti, the future David I, king of Kakheti from 1601 to 1602. After David’s death, Ketevan engaged in religious building and charity. However, when David’s brother Constantine I killed his reigning father, Alexander II, and usurped the crown with the Safavid Iranian support in 1605, Ketevan rallied the Kakhetian nobles against the patricide and routed Constantine’s loyal force. After the uprising, she negotiated with Shah Abbas I of Iran to confirm her underage son, Teimuraz I, as king of Kakheti, while she assumed the function of a regent.
In 1614, sent by Teimuraz as a negotiator to Abbas I, Ketevan effectively surrendered herself as an honorary hostage in a failed attempt to prevent Kakheti from being attacked by the Iranian armies. She was held in Shiraz for several years until Abbas I, in an act of revenge for the recalcitrance of Teimuraz, ordered the queen to renounce Christianity, and upon her refusal, had her tortured to death with red-hot pincers in 1624. Portions of her relics were clandestinely taken by the St. Augustine Portuguese Catholic missioners, eyewitnesses of her martyrdom, to Georgia where they were interred at the Alaverdi Cathedral. The rest of her remains are reported to have been buried at the St. Augustine Church in Goa, India. Several expeditions from Georgia have arrived in Goa, and searched in vain for the exact location of her grave.
Queen Ketevan was canonized by Zachary, Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia (1613–1630), and September 26 was instituted by the Georgian Orthodox Church as the day of her commemoration.
The account of Ketevan's martyrdom related by the Augustinians missioners were exploited by her son, Teimuraz, in his poem The Book and Passion of Queen Ketevan as well as by the German author Andreas Gryphius in his classical tragedy Katharine von Georgien (1657). The Georgian monk Grigol Dodorkeli-Vakhvakhishvili of the David Gareja Monastery was another near-contemporaneous author whose writings, a hagiographic work as well as several hymns, focus on Ketevan's life and martyrdom.
Relics and Archaeological Findings
The importance of Queen Ketevan for the Georgian people has led to a relic "hunt" during the last decades. Notably in Goa, and since 1989, various delegations coming from Georgia have worked together with the Archaeological Survey of India to try to locate Ketevan's grave within the ruins of the Augustinian convent of Our Lady of Grace, at Old Goa, Goa. All these efforts were thwarted, because the teams were unable to interpret correctly the Portuguese documents that provided for clues as to Ketevan's burial place.
These historical sources stated that Ketevan's palm and arm bone fragments were kept inside a stone urn beneath a specific window within the Chapter Chapel of the Augustinian convent.
In May 2004, the Chapter Chapel and window mentioned in the sources were found during a collaboration work between Portuguese and Overseas Citizen of India architect Sidh Losa Mendiratta and the Archaeological Survey of India, Goa-circle (at the time when Nizammudin Taher was superintendent archaeologist). Although the stone urn itself was missing, its coping stone and a number of bone fragments were found close to the window mentioned in the Portuguese sources.
Indian scientists have conducted a DNA analysis on the bone fragments found during this excavation, but the mystery of Ketevan's relics continues, since a matching analysis would be necessary from supposed relics existing in Georgia.