According to some Jewish scholars, Abraham was believed to be the first human to realize there was just one God.
A capital “G” deity. A sole creator. A main man above. The cause of all things giant and all things tiny. Thanks largely to Abraham, some 14 million Jewish people believe in this God still today.
Abraham felt the existence of this singular God early (by age 3, according to Jewish texts), and by young adulthood, he’d convinced his father to stop selling idols in the marketplace. Instead, he began inviting locals into the family tent, to tell them about this God. Abraham was pretty convincing. His tent was a frequented place. As such, it’s frequently mentioned in subsequent texts.
Then … in both Christianity and Judaism … Jesus was born in a manger, lacking a crib for a bed. We all recall this, right?
Well … here’s what I learned yesterday. That manger and that tent that Abraham sat around in? They are both supposedly hidden inside a giant, snow-covered mountain called Mt. Mkinvari. It’s about 10 miles from where I sit typing this. And … AND … it’s the same mountain Prometheus was chained to in mythological times for stealing fire! People round these parts believe that this holy hideout is filled with not only relics, but pounds-upon-pounds of treasure too.
I was a Religious Studies major in college. However, this is the first I’m hearing of Prometheus’ shackle point being not only a cavern full of diamonds, but also the realm of Abraham’s tent and the most prominent prop from the Nativity story.
Naturally … I have a few questions.
If I studied world religion for four years, how come I was never asked to write a paper on a mountain this pivotal in three belief systems?
Wouldn’t a tent and a manger have disintegrated by now?
Wasn’t the manger just a feed trough?
Does that mean Mary and Joseph actually stole the feed trough from the people who owned that barn after Jesus was born in it?
Mt. Mkinvari is the seventh highest peak in the Caucasus Mountains and the third highest mountain in Georgia. This sucker is quite a trek from Bethlehem … even with a fast car and much less the average donkey.
How did the manger and a tent and some treasure get all the way up here? I should also probably mention that Mt. Mkinvari is a dormant volcano.
If this relic-packed rock erupts one day, does every devout Georgian have an emergency plan for a hailstorm of buried treasure and fiery bits of old tent?
I’ll probably never locate answers to any of these very pressing questions. I tried asking a Georgian over a round of Grappa shots … but no one speaks English anywhere in this town.
Nevertheless … if you’re headed to Georgia, make some plans for the three-hour drive up to Kazbegi and Mt Mkinvari. You’ll want a 4-wheel-drive truck after leaving the last main city of Mtsteka. The drive is pastoral, curving alongside the Aragvi River and the massive Zhinvali Reservoir, until eventually the altitude begins to strip away your breath – more thanks to the view than the thin air.
Mother Nature made the Scottish Highlands. Then she took a round of steroids, stayed up all night and created Kazbegi, Georgia. Green, lush, and intimidating, this landscape is littered with random white horses, which seem to have sprouted from the Earth, with no owners or purpose.
Well … no purpose other than making me point and scream, “Whoa! Look at that magical white horse! UNICORNS! GAME OF THRONES! THE NEVERENDING STORY!”
Shortly after that white-horse-freakout, we pulled into the tiny, almost-Russia town of Stepantsminda. We booked a room (which we knicknamed The Hobbit Hole) above Shorena’s Restaurant for $30 per night. It’s a great place to stay, but don’t expect luxe. You’ll get a bed and free breakfast. And … if you’re nice … one too many rounds of Grappa, courtesy of Rudolph who runs the joint. (Still hurting)
Stepantsminda is a weird enough place to come just for the town, but most travelers haul up here to check out the Gergeti Monastery.
You can’t toss a pebble in Georgia without hitting a monastery. They’ve been building them since 300 AD and there are so many, it’s actually frustrating to use a paper roadmap. It’s littered with little monastery symbols. There isn’t even room to tell you where to eat and sleep. At one point two days ago, we quit stopping for them.
“Once you’ve seen one monastery in Georgia, you’ve seen ‘em all!”
Gergeti is the exception to this road-trip rule.
The Gergeti Trinity Church and Monastery was built in the 14th century. It sits above Stepantsminda (population approx. 6,000) on a mountain that’s 2,170 meters high. There are three ways to access it.
Way 1: Hitch a ride in one of the ancient Ladas, left over from the Soviet Era.
Way 2: Walk the truck road for around 2 hours on foot.
Way 3: Hike the trail. It’s a scramble that runs you straight up the face of this sucker in an hour and some change. We did it, and it definitely burned off all the Georgian cheese bread I’ve been munching.
At the top, you can tour the beautiful, stone grounds of Gergeti and chat with the monks. It’s the best view of Mt Mkinvari, and although no one has found the tent or the manger hideaway yet, it’s easy to understand why monks built their house of worship here more than half a millennia ago.
The view is intense … no matter what you believe in. All clouds and sky, steep drops and rolling hills filled with wild cattle … it’s an awesome reminder that this planet of ours is in charge. We do not run this show. When it comes right down to it … we don’t stand a chance. We are allowed to be here by the grace of the landscape, and our tiny attempts to carve it up are as laughable as two ants tackling a Porterhouse steak.
These moments of humility are always a good thing. Visual backhands to the soul. A breath-stopping view can really make you feel like a kid again, in the cosmic sense. I sat for a minute with my feet dangling off the edge, stretching my small fingers out to touch blue, clear sky. It’s a blessing to realize how tiny your own existence is in the grand scheme of things.
And who am I to really say? Maybe Prometheus did exist. This location would be suitable punishment for pilfering fire. And who knows? Maybe the stolen manger is tucked behind Mkinvari’s snowy rock face. I hope it’s just to the right of an old tent and big, fat pile of diamonds.