Remains of a Georgian Queen Lost Three Centuries Ago, Found in Goa
Twenty-six years ago, the Government of India and Georgia, along with a posse of historians, archaeologists and priests, came together to recover a fragment of history lost in time – the mortal remains of a Georgian queen, believed to be in an old church in Goa.
The Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) Hyderabad Circle, after two decades of research and tests, has now concluded that the remains of Georgian Queen Ketevan were indeed at the St Augustine Church in Goa, bringing to light the 17th century connection between Georgia and the coastal state.
The legend of Queen Ketevan resonates in the popular history of Georgia. She was the queen of Kakheti during the 1600s when her city was attacked and her husband killed. The Persian ruler Shah Abbas seized the kingdom and took Ketevan as a prisoner.
Ketevan was kept hostage in Shiraz until 1624, when Abbas offered her a proposition – to convert to Islam. A devout follower of Georgian orthodox church, Ketevan chose to die instead. Legend has it that she died a martyr’s death, strangled after her skin had been peeled off with hot tongs. She’s popularly hailed as ‘Ketevan the Martyr’.
A Portuguese friar St Augustine was at the time in Shiraz. Ketevan was believed to have drawn some comfort from him.
The Augustinians hoped that Ketevan would be canonised into a saint, given that she had given up her life for her faith in the church.
For that, her remains were smuggled out of Shiraz to be taken to a safer location, but an accident caused her remains to fall into a river and the relics were washed away.
From contemporary accounts, however, it was known that her right arm had been brought to Goa in 1627 to be interred in the St Augustine complex.
Excavations recovered two bone fragments in the St Augustine complex and the investigation from there on brought ancient DNA testing to India for the first time. It took several years to even ascertain if the bone fragments belonged to a Georgian woman, let alone the Queen they had been looking for for three centuries.
Ketevan was canonised as a saint in the Georgian church and has inspired several works of art, films and research projects. The process of concluding that the remains found in Goa are hers is one of the biggest archaeological breakthroughs for India.
(With inputs from PTI, Livemint)