Georgia has a long tradition of cave settlements. Uplistsikhe, its oldest city, was carved out in a cliff overlooking the Mtkvari River between the 5th and 6th century BCE. With the diffusion of Christianity in the 4th century CE and the subsequent initiation to asceticism by the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers returning from Cappadocia in the 6th century CE, numerous rock-cut hermitages proliferated across the country, such as the renowned monasteries of David Gareja and Shio-Mgvime, or the communities at Zedazeni and Garedzhi.
Through centuries, deserts and mountains of Georgia offered refuge and protection to the monks in a grim and hostile land: a territory of passage between East and West, land of endless conflicts, incursions, and plunders through centuries. These earliest forms of monasticism were often loose aggregations of hermits departing from cities to live in scattered caves for contemplation, gathering around a small church for the eucharist's celebration, a water source, and occasionally a communal kitchen. Reconsidering the paradigmatic example of the royal monastery of Vardzia, what follows are a series of thoughts about its extreme form of collective living, where the hermit's cells, rhythms, and actions were physically and mentally bound together by the depth of the mountain, a commonly agreed rule, and practice of asceticism.
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