20.06.2008 -

The Mashtots Matenadaran Ancient Manuscripts Collection

Documentary heritage submitted by Armenia and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 1997.

The Mashtots Matenadaran, an Institute of Scientific Research on Ancient Manuscripts, named after the immortal creation of the Armenian alphabet in 405 and founder of the Armenian school Mesrop Mashtots is situated on one of the north-west scenic hills of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.
The collection of approximatly 17,000 manuscripts includes almost every sphere of Armenian ancient and medieval science and culture - history, geography, philosophy, grammar, law, medicine, mathematics, literature, miniature and others, as well as manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Greek, Syrian, Latin, Ethiopian, Indian, Japanese, etc.

This collection has a centuries-long history; the nucleus of its manuscript fund is made up by the Echmiadzin Patriarchate Matenadaran. According to the 5th century historian Lazar Papetsi, the Echmiadzin Matenadaran existed as early as the 5th century. It took a particular importance after 1441, when residence of Armenian Supreme Patriarch moved from Sis (Cilicia) to Echmiadzin.

Hundreds of manuscripts started to be copied in Echmiadzin and nearby monasteries, especially in the 17th century. And little by little, the Echmiadzin Matenadaran became one of the richest manuscript depositories in the country. In one of the hishatakarans (colophons) of 1668, it was noted that in the time of Philipos Supreme Patriarch (1633-1655) the library of the Echmiadzin Monastery was enriched with numerous manuscripts. The manuscript procuring was widely practised during the rule of Hakob Djughayetsi (1655-1680).

Unfortunately, in the course of the 18th century, Echmiadzin was subject to repeated attacks of hostile forces. At the beginning of the 19th century only a small part of that great collection of manuscripts remained in the Matenadaran.

A new page was turned in the history of the Echmiadzin Matenadaran after eastern Armenia joined Russia in 1828. The Armenian culture workers began to gather new manuscripts and put them in order with revived faith. In 1892, the Matenadaran had 3,338; in 1906: 3,788. On the eve of World War I: 4,060. In 1915 the Matenadaran received 1,628 manuscripts from Vaspurakan, Lim, Ktuts, Akhtamar, Varag, Van, Tavris, etc.

On 17 December 1929 the Echmiadzin Matenadaran was decreed state property. The 4,060 manuscripts which had been taken to Moscow in 1915 for safekeeping were returned in April 1922. 1,730 manuscripts were added to this collection between 1915 and 1921.

Soon the Matenadaran received collections from the Moscow Lazarian Institute of Oriental Languages, the Tiflis Nersessin Seminary and Tiflis Armenian Ethnographic Society, the Yerevan Museum of Literature, etc. A significant part of the manuscripts was from Erzerum, Nor-Nakhitchevan (Rostov on Don), Astrakhan, etc.

In 1939 the Echmiadzin Matenadaran was transferred to Yerevan to facilitate the safety and subsequent research of the manuscripts.

3 March 1959 the Matenadaran was reorganized into the Institute of Scientific Research on. Attached to it were established departments such as scientific preservation of manuscripts, their cataloguing, their research, the special departments for publication and translation of manuscripts. Thanks to tenacious efforts, the Matenadaran can now put a number of catalogues, guide-books, notations and card indexes at its user's disposal.

The funds of the Matenadaran are the following: the Manuscript Fund, the Archives, the Library and the Department for the publication of texts. To keep the priceless treasures of ancient culture, to extend their lives, the Restoration and Bindery Offices were set up; special means have been worked out by making use of the achievements of native and foreign science. Historians, philologists and scientific workers of different fields make ample use of the many-sided studies on various spheres of medieval history of culture.

Efforts conducted by the Matenadaran specialists since 1959 have enabled them to publish more than two hundred books, among them there are valuable Armenian sets of works, as well as volumes of the scientific periodical "Banber Matenadaran" (Herald of the Matenadaran). As an aid to scholars, volumes 1 and 2 of the brief Catalogue of the Armenian Manuscripts in the Matenadaran were published in 1965 and 1970, containing detailed indexes of contents, colophons, fragments, as well as lists of names of toponyms.

In the course of the last two decades, the Matenadaran has published a great number of old Armenian literary monuments, among which especially noteworthy are the  hishatakarans" (colophons of Armenian manuscripts); volumes of short chronicles and Persian Fimans (Decrees); works of old Armenian historians - Koriun (5th century), Eghisheh (5th century), Sebeos (7th century), Hovhannes Mamikonian (7th century), Kirakos Gandzaketsi (13th century), "History of Georgia" (Kartlis Tskhovrebah); the Armenian translations of a few Greek authors - Theon of Alexandria (1st century), Zeno, Hermes Trismegistus (3rd century); works of Armenian philosophers - Davit Anhaght (5th-6th century), Hovhan Vorotnetsi (14th century), Grigir Tatevatsi (14th century); works of the medieval poets - Hovhannes Erzingatsi (13th-14th century), Khachatur echaretsi (14th century), Martiros Krimetsi (17th century), Naghash Hovnatan (18th century), Paghtasar Dpir (18th cent.), etc.

Preservation work achieved by the Matenadaran brought instant recognition to this great Armenian manuscript depository. Individuals both in Armenia and foreign countries often donate manuscripts and preserved fragments to the Matenadaran.

 Suffice it to mention Harutiun Hazarian from New York, who has donated 397 Armenian and non-Armenian manuscripts; Rafael Markossian of Paris who bequeathed 37 manuscripts to his homeland; Varouzhan Salatian of Damascus who, in memory of his parents, donated 150 manuscripts; Arshak Tigranian of Los Angeles; Karpis Jrbashian and George Bakirjian of Paris and many, many others.

Appreciable are those who, having in their possession only one manuscript, have given it away nonetheless. 95 year old Tachat Markossian of Gharghun village (New Julfa, Iran) sent to the Matenadaran in 1969 a manuscript dated 1069 A.D., copied in the Narek Monastery, having as prototype Mesrop Mashtots' 5th century Gospel. Hovhannes Bostanian of Lyon, France, lived through the genocide (1915) without parting with the only manuscript he possessed which he personally brought and presented to Matenadaran 52 years later, in 1967. Julien Hovsepian of New York had only one fragment of a rare miniature painting, but he gave it to the Matenadaran.

Every piece and fragment of Armenian culture is significant and the staff of the Matenadaran zealously endeavours to save them all from permanent loss. It is with this purpose in mind that efforts are being strengthened at home and abroad to bring back those manuscripts still in the hands of individuals. Many dedicated devotees of Armenian manuscripts and relics, young and old, are involved in the search recovery and preservation of Armenian cultural wealth. The administration of the Matenadaran also places great emphasis on the acquisition of microfilms of Armenian manuscripts kept in foreign museums and libraries in order to complete scientific research and publications of Matenadaran.

On-going projects to improve the means of preservation of the manuscripts include a tunnel 100m in length and 30m wide which was dug in the early 1980s under the hill on which the Matenadaran is built. Its primary purpose is to house the 17,000 manuscripts and several thousand fragments stored on the depositary.

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