MUMBAI, India – Relics from a Georgian queen were handed over by an India government official to the people of Georgia at a ceremony in Tbilisi on Saturday.

Queen Ketevan was from Kakheti, a kingdom in eastern Georgia, and was martyred in 1624 by the Persians for refusing to convert to Islam.

India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar handed over the relics in the presence of Beatitude Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, and Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.

The queen’s martyrdom was witnessed by Portuguese missionaries who took part of her remains to Goa, then a Portuguese colony in India, in 1627. Although Georgia is an Orthodox country – and Ketevan is a saint in the Orthodox Church – most records of her martyrdom were taken down by Catholic missionaries, and her death was depicted in religious art in Portugal and India.

For decades, Georgian and Indian scholars have worked to find the location of the relics within the ruins of the Augustinian convent of Our Lady of Grace.

After studying the original Portuguese records, her relics were discovered in 2005, and confirmed after a DNA analysis was carried out by the CSIR-Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad.

In 2017, India sent the relics to Georgia for exhibition for six months, which was extended to a year.

“Considering the persistent request from the Georgian side for permanent transfer of the holy relics and also taking into account the historical, religious and spiritual sentiments that are attached to the St. Queen Ketevan by the Georgian people, the Indian government decided to gift one part of the holy relics to the government and people of Georgia,” a government official told the Sunday Express.

At the July 11 ceremony, Jaishankar said it was a special day, “not only for Georgia, but also for India.”

“I have the honour to hand over the holy relics of St. Queen Ketevan to the people of Georgia. I consider myself blessed that the purpose of my first visit to Georgia is such an auspicious one,” the Indian foreign minister said.

“The holy relics were preserved at the St. Augustine Church in Goa since the 17th century. Given the immense spiritual value that this relic holds for the people of Georgia, we had kept this sacred heritage as our own. Its return is a testimony to our warm and friendly relations. I particularly thank the good people of Goa who have been such reverential custodians of this holy treasure. They have done India proud by being true to our tradition of respecting faiths,” he said.

“The martyrdom of St. Queen Ketevan is a story of courage and sacrifice. Her relics were taken to India by two devoted Augustinian monks who witnessed the last years of her life. One part of the holy relics still remains in India as a reminder of our shared past. But the part which has now come back permanently to Georgia due to a decision made by Prime Minister Modi will surely inspire generations to come in this land,” Jaishankar continued.

“The presence of some of the relics in India and Georgia is a bridge of faith between our two countries. I hope that in the coming years, the people of both of our nations will traverse that bridge of spirituality as much as of friendship,” he said.

Father Joaquim Loiola Pereira, Secretary to the Archbishop of Goa and Daman, said the Church in Goa had been keenly following the search for Queen Ketevan’s relics.

“We are glad that, at long last, at least ‘part of the relics’ were handed over to the government and the people of Georgia by the Government of India, in whose possession they have been since their discovery. Queen Saint Ketevan belonged to Georgia and Georgia is where her relics should be,” he told Crux.