The Katskhi pillar is a natural limestone monolith located at the village of Katskhi in the western Georgian region of Imereti, near the town of Chiatura. It is approximately 130 ft high and overlooks the little river valley of Katskhura, a right affluent of the Q’virila. The rock, with visible church wrecks on its top surface of around 150 m2, has been venerated by locals as the Pillar of Life, symbolizing the True Cross, and has become surrounded by legends.
It remained unclimbed by researchers and resurveyed until 1944 and was more systematically studied from 1999 to 2009. These studies showed the early medieval hermitage, dating from the 9th or 10th century. A Georgian inscription paleographic ally dated to the 13th century suggests that the hermitage was still extant at that time. Spiritual activity associated with the pillar started to recuperate in the 1990s and the monastery building had been restored within the framework of a state-funded program by 2009.
In historical records, the Katskhi pillar is first mentioned by the 18th-century Georgian scholar Prince Vakhushti, who reports in his Geographic Description of the Kingdom of Georgia: “There is a rock within the ravine standing like a pillar, considerably high. There is a little church on the top of the rock, but no one is able to ascend it; nor know they how to do that.”
No other written accounts of monastic life or ascents survive. A number of local legends surround the pillar. One of them has it that the top of the rock was connected by a long iron chain to the dome of the Katskhi church, situated at a distance of around 1.5 km from the pillar.
In July 1944 a group led by the mountaineer Alexander Japaridze and the writer Levan Gotua made the first documented ascent of the Katskhi pillar. Vakhtang Tsintsadze, an architecture specialist with the group, reported in his 1946 paper that the wrecks discovered on top of the rock were remains of 2 churches, dating from the 5th & 6th centuries and associated with a stylist practice, a form of Christian asceticism.
Since 1999, the Katskhi pillar has become the subject of more systematic research. Based on further studies and archaeological digs conducted in 2006, Giorgi Gagoshidze, an art historian with the Georgian National Museum, re-dated the structures to the 9th & 10th centuries. He concluded that this multifaceted was composed of a monastery church and cells for hermits.
The Discovery of the leftovers of a wine cellar also undermined the idea of exciting asceticism flourishing on the pillar. In 2007, a slight limestone plate with the asomtavruli Georgian inscriptions was found, paleographically dated to the 13th century and revealing the name of a certain “Giorgi”, responsible for the construction of three hermit cells. The inscription also makes mention of the Pillar of Life, echoing the popular tradition of veneration of the rock as a symbol of the True Cross.