Mingrelia an Asiatic province of Russia, situated between the Black and Caspian seas, in the country formerly called Colchis. It covers a territory of 2600 square miles, inhabited by nearly 250,000 people. The country is mountainous, but is largely cultivated. Tobacco, rice, and millet are raised, and a great deal of silk, honey, and wine are produced. Mingrelia became subject to Russia in 1803, but was until 1867 governed by its own prince, called Dadian, who resided in the small town of Zoobdidee. The inhabitants of Mingrelia are generally inferior in appearance to the mountaineers of the Caucasus. We are told by travellers that they are an ignorant, superstitious, and corrupt people.
Religious Condition. — The Mingrelians are ostensibly members of the Greek Church, but their religion consists rather in outward practices and observances than in inward purity and heart devotion. Many of their practices are open to severe censure. They observe four Lents, comprehending (1) the forty-eight days before Easter; (2) the forty days before Christmas; (3) the month preceding St. Peter's day; and (4) a Lent devoted to the Virgin Mary, and observed for a fortnight. Their chief saint is St. George, who is also the special patron of the Georgians, the Muscovites, and the Greeks. Their worship of images is of such a description that even Romanists declare it deserving the reproach of idolatry. They offer them stags' horns, tusks of boars, pheasants' wings, and weapons, with a view of insuring a happy success to their wars and hunting expeditions. It is even said that, like the Jews, they offer bloody sacrifices, immolate victims, and, like our Western savages, feast on them in general assembly; that they kill animals at the tombs of their parents, and pour wine and oil over the graves, as the pagans did. They abstain from meat on Mondays, out of regard for the moon, and Friday is observed as a holiday. They are exceedingly thievish: theft is not regarded as a crime, but rather a proof of skill that disgraces no one; he who is caught in the act has nothing to fear beyond a trifling fine.
Introduction of Christianity. — Some ecclesiastical historians insist that the king, the queen, and the nobility of Colchis were converted to the Christian faith by a female slave, under the reign of Constantine (Socrates, lib. 1, c. 20; Sozomen, lib. 2, c. 7). Others assert that the Mingrelians were instructed in the Christian doctrines by one Cyrillus, whom the Sclavonians in their own tongue call Chiusi, and who is said to have lived about A.D. 806. Perhaps religion was extinguished altogether in these regions during the time that elapsed between the fifth and the ninth centuries. The Mingrelians show, on the sea-shore, near the Corax River, a large church, in which, according to their statement, St. Andrew preached; but this is to be taken "cum grano salis." In former times the Mingrelians acknowledged the spiritual supremacy of the patriarch of Antioch; but this supremacy has been transferred to the patriarchal see of Constantinople. Nevertheless they have two primates of their own nation, whom they call catholicos: one for Georgia, the other for Mingrelia. There were formerly twelve bishoprics. There are only six left at the present time, the other six having been changed into abbeys. The primate or chief bishop of Mingrelia, who resides at Constantinople, makes his appearance in Mingrelia only once in his life, and then only for the purpose of consecrating the holy oil, or chrism, which the Greeks call myron.
The statements of some travellers respecting the treasures of the primate and the bishops of the Mingrelians, the splendor of their garments, the extortions they commit, and the enormous sums of money they exact for mass, confession, ordination, etc., are rather at variance with the statements relating to the general poverty of the nation; there is likely to be exaggeration on both sides. What is said of the ignorance and corruption of the clergy in general may be more readily believed. The bishops who are very loose in their morals, are regarded as acceptable if they abstain from meat, strictly observe Lent, and say mass in conformity with the Greek rite. Priests are allowed to marry, not only before their ordination, but also afterwards, and even to take a second wife, with dispensation.
The observances at baptism are very peculiar. As soon as a child is born, the priest anoints his forehead, drawing a cross on it with the chrism. .The baptism is deferred until the child is two years of age, when he is christened by immersion in warm water; again unctions are made on almost every part of his body; holy bread is given him to eat, and wine to drink. The priests do not stick to the traditional form of baptism, and have been known to use wine for the christening of great people's offspring.
There are in Mingrelia monks of the order of St. Basil, who are called berres. They are dressed like Greek monks, and do not differ from them in their manner of living. Avery condemnable abuse is that parents are allowed to engage their children to this state, in their tenderest years, when they are themselves incapable of choice. There are also nuns of the same order; they wear a black veil, and observe the same fastings and abstinence as the monks; but they do not submit to claustration, and make no vows, being thus at liberty to leave-the monastic state when so inclined. The cathedral churches are adorned with painted images (no rilievi), covered, it is said, with gold and gems; but the parochial churches are sadly neglected. It is asserted that the Mingrelians are in possession of quite a number of precious relics, brought to them by the Greek fugitives, after the downfall of Constantinople among others they claim to have a piece of the true cross, eight inches long; but the statements of the Greeks and the Romanists, in the matter of relics, are somewhat subject to caution. The Theatins of Italy in 1627 established a mission in Mingrelia, and so have the Capuchins in Georgia, and the Dominicans in Circassia; but the small success which attended these endeavors caused the missions to be suffered to fall into decay, and finally to be abandoned. See Dr. J. Zampi, Relation de Mingrlie; Cerry, Etat present de l'Eglise Romaine; Chardin, Voyage de Perse; and especially Bergier, Dictionnaire de Theologie, 4:347 sq.