Shushanik (ca. 440 – 475 AD) was the daughter of Armenian Sparapet Vardan Mamikonian and the wife of Varsken, the ruler of Southern Kartli. She is commemorated as a martyr by the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches every year on September 10.
Her biography is mostly known from the work “Martyrdom of Saint Queen Shushanik” by her confessor Iakob Tsurtaveli. As told by this work, in 466, Shushanik’s husband, who had been opposing the unifying policy of the king, departed to Persia to seek the support of Shah Peroz. Varsken would marry the Shah’s daughter, abandon Christianity, and adopt Zoroastrianism to receive the desired support.
Upon arrival in Armenia, Varsken learned that having found out about his decision, Shushanik hadn’t left her cell for three days and had been praying for the salvation of her children’s spirit. Varsken initially attempted to persuade her and then forced her to return to the palace. Shushanik agreed to leave her cell in order to not cause bloodshed.
Two days later, Varsken organized a feast, where he tried to convince Shushanik to abandon Christianity through her relatives. Having failed, Varsken beat up his wife and imprisoned her in one of the palace’s rooms.
During Shushanik’s imprisonment, priests secretly took care of her by bringing her food and water. During the Great Lent, when Varsken left for a campaign against the Huns, Shushanik was freed. She settled in a completely dark cell near a church.
Having returned from the war and having learned about his wife’s adherence to Christianity, Varsken dragged Shushanik over purposely scattered thorns all the way from the church to the palace, where she would be subjected to severe tormenting. Not achieving his goal once more, Varsken ordered to forever imprison Shushanik.
Over the years of her imprisonment accompanied by tortures, Shushanik was visited by people from all over Kartli, and each of them would receive what they had prayed for. Tsurtaveli mentions the numerous wonders committed by Shushanik during those years.
On the seventh year of the imprisonment, Shushanik fell severely ill and perished on the day of commemoration of Saints Cosmas and Damian. The relics of the martyr would be taken out from the fortress and buried near the church. There isn’t any uniform opinion on the date of the martyrdom: the year 475 comes from indirect evidence.