Georgia, a tiny Christian kingdom, lying on the border of the expanding and fiercely Shia Safavid Empire, was conquered by Shah Abbas I the Safavid ruler snd the captured queen was brought in chains to Isfahan where according to Augustinian sources she was imprisoned for 11 years. Shah Abbas i gave her the unenviable choice between death or life in his harem and the valiant queen chose martyrdom. Her son Teimuraz, for whose safety and protection, the Queen offered herself as hostage to the Safavid emperor, composed a hagiographical text, The Book and Passion of Queen Ketevan and after the Independence of Georgia from the Soviet Union Queen Ketevan has been reinvented as a heroic, national symbol and has become the symbol of nationhood, a role that the deeply religious and spiritual Queen Ketevan would have found both repugnant and distasteful. The horrific torture inflicted on the Queen which include tearing her eyes out with red hot pincers, cutting parts of her body and breaking evey limb before she ultimately died was witnessed by some Augutinian friars who secretly took her body for burial to Goa which was part of the Portuguese empire. The seventeenth century records speak of the interment of her bones near the window of the transept of the great Cathedral built by the Augustinian order in Goa, now a UNESCO world heritage site. Since the Independence of Georgia the Archaeological Survey of India has been carrying out excavations at the site in order to identify the bones of the queen who was canonized in the nineteenth century. The Queen was martyred in 1624 and a few years later her bones were taken out of Persia.
Fortunately for historians there is a great deal of contemporary evidence relating to the burial of the queen in the Cathedral at Goa. However it was only from 1989 that Indian archaeologists started looking in earnest for the bones. The interest taken by the ASI stemmed from the political and diplomatic pressure put on India bu Georgia. Is is necessary for the bones of the martyred Queen to be returned to Georgia just to serve the political and ideological needs of the Government in power there. Edward Shevardnadze was the politician who initiated the search for the bones. In 1994 a stone reliquary was found embedded in the wall of the transept and had the windows survived the closest would have been the second window and since that discovery there has been a great deal of public interest over this relic. The Archaeological Survey of India only identified it as the bones, perhaps of a woman and it bore unmistakable marks of great trauma. The Georgians were convinced that it was the bone of their Great Queen Ketevan and they carried the relic to Tiblis where it was received with all the honour due to a Head of State. In the rewriting of History which will inevitable result when the past gets so heavily encrusted with the ideological demands of the presnt, will be forgotten one inconvenient truth: Queen Ketevan had invited Shah Abas I to invade and help her son get the throne and wanted the Safavids to guarantee the security of her son. That however does not justify or mitigate the horrible death she was bore.
In a stunning new development, Indian scientists were able to confirm the remains of the queen by extracting the mitochondrial DNA and comparing it with the descendants of the queen in Georgia. Since mtDNA is passed only along the female line, this confirmation is almost accurate and we know that the Queen did not have an identical twin. The Uib strand in the DNA sequence is not found in the Indian population but is statistically very pronounced in the Georgian population.
The identification of this relic is indeed a remarkable instance of how important the skills of a historian are in the reconstruction of the past.