Many people have been martyred for their faith. Some are well known, and people regularly pay homage to them as saints. Others like Queen Ketevan are almost forgotten.
Ketevan lived in the 17th century. She was queen of Kakheti in Eastern Georgia, by virtue of her marriage to Prince David I. Following his death in 1602, his brother Constantine I murdered his father Alexander II the reigning king, with the help of the Iranian Shah Abbas I of Persia. The brave queen rallied the Kakhetin nobles against Constantine’s forces and vanquished them.
Shah Abbas I of Persia was a ruthless man. He was determined to wipe out Christianity from Eastern Georgia. Churches were razed to the ground, statues broken and crosses destroyed. Gold jewellery and precious stones were carried away for his queens and concubines. Almost 60,000 Georgians were slaughtered and many more, deported to Persia.
In 1614, Queen Ketevan went to the Shah with two requests. One was to stop his forces from invading Kakheti and more importantly, to help enthrone her son who was underage, as king of Kakheti, while permitting her to function as regent.
But instead of help, she was taken hostage and held captive in Shiraz for many years. He ordered her to renounce Christianity and convert to Islam because he wanted her in his harem. When Ketevan stubbornly refused to do so, she was subjected to horrendous torture. Burns were inflicted on her body by red hot irons. Finally after years of imprisonment, she was strangled to death with a bow string on 22nd September 1624.
The St. Augustine Catholic missionaries witnessed her gruesome death. Four months later, her body was exhumed. Part of her remains was interred in the Alaverdi Monastery in Georgia. The rest of it was carried to Goa in India, where it was preserved in a vault of black stone, in the church attached to the Augustinian monastery.
The Augustinians abandoned the monastery in 1835, as Georgia withheld support to all religious groups. The church crumbled in 1931, leaving just a part of the church tower standing erect. In 1991, the Russian Embassy made a formal request to India for her remains, as there was renewed interest by the Church to give Queen Ketevan a proper burial in her own country. The Archaeological Survey of India got to work excavating the ruins of the Augustinian church and monastery. The relic hunt ended only in 2013, when a few bone fragments were unearthed from below the window of the church. Genotyping of the mitochondrial DNA of the fragments ruled out the possibility of them being of Indian origin. However, that particular DNA was common in people living around Georgia.
Ketevan was canonized as a saint by the Georgian Orthodox Church. She was a fearless woman who showed the world that her religion was of incalculable value and was worth any sacrifice. Georgians celebrate her feast on the 13th of September every year.