Georgian Oligarch May Try to Buy Jerusalem’s Jvari Monastery

An unnamed Georgian billionaire may try to buy the Jvari Monastery in Jerusalem for several million dollars, according to media outlet Business Press News.

A source close to the proposed offer would not go on record regarding the man’s identity, but also refused to deny that he may be billionaire oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s controversial former Prime Minister and founder of the country’s ruling Georgian Dream party.

Maya Panjikidze, Ivanishvili’s spokeswoman, later refused to comment on the matter to RFE/RL’s Georgian service.

The 11th century Jvari Monastery – also known as the Holy Cross Monastery – is located in West Jerusalem’s Nayot neighborhood near the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

Though the monastery was originally built as a Georgian Orthodox church, the structure and grounds that house the complex were sold to the Greeks in the 12th century due to debt.

The complex currently houses a group of Greek Orthodox monks and falls under the ecumenical jurisdiction of the Jerusalem Patriarchate.

The monastery contains a fresco of famed medieval Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli. It was damaged several times by unknown vandals in 2004. The Israeli government later restored the image, which is the only known existing contemporary likeness of Rustaveli.

Ivanishvili’s attempt to acquire the monastery would follow in the footsteps of fellow Georgian oligarch Arkady Patarkatsishvili, who died in 2008. The wildly flamboyant Patarkatsishvili had previously tried to purchase the monastery in 2006, but was unable to secure the necessary backing.

The ownership issue regarding the Jvari Monastery goes back hundreds of years. Successive Georgian governments have made several attempts to reacquire the complex from its current tenants since the mid-1990s.

By Ana Akhalaia

Edited by Nicholas Waller

16 March 2016 15:39