Matenadaran is the certificate of our people’s nobility, our visiting card in the family of nations that have created the world civilization. Strangers bow down before our ancient manuscripts kept here.
Matenadaran is a research institute and museum of ancient manuscripts, a center with a unique and original collection. This place has become one of the symbols of Armenia today.
“We are delighted with the ancient cultural glory of Armenia. This kind of collection of manuscripts in China is in a very small number, “says Mao Dong, a Chinese state-political figure.
Matenadaran is named after the great Armenian scholar Mesrop Mashtots, who created the Armenian alphabet in 405.
It is one of the world’s oldest and most rich manuscripts’ house. There are over 23,000 manuscripts, amulets, fragments and 300,000 archival documents. They cover nearly all of the ancient and medieval science and culture spheres.
This institution of cultural heritage has saved many original texts which have not been preserved in their mother tongue and are only present in Armenian translations.
Matenadaran was founded on March 3, 1959, on the basis of the State Manuscript House (Matenadaran). It consists of the following divisions:
- Bibliography and textual criticism
- Old bibliography (V-XIII cc)
- Medieval bibliography and documents (XIV-XVIII cc) and miniature study
- The preservation, rehabilitation, and copying divisions of manuscripts and archival documents
- There is also a large Armenologic library.
The word Matenadaran in Grabar language meant “library”. It was a place adjacent to the manuscript house. Several Armenian monastic complexes also had Matenadarans, such as Haghpat and Sanahin monastic complexes.
MATENADARAN FOUNDATION HISTORY
The history of Matenadaran begins with the invention of Armenian alphabet (405) and holds the name of its founder, Mesrop Mashtots.
The first information about Matenadaran came to us from the 5th century. According to Ghazar Parpetsi, there was a bookhouse adjacent to Echmiadzin’s Catholicosate. There were Armenian and Greek books.
Together with the writing houses of the nearby monasteries, the Etchmiadzin bookhouse became very important especially after 1441. This was the year when the Catholicosate moved from Sis (Cilicia) to Echmiadzin.
In Etchmiadzin and nearby monasteries, people were copying hundreds of manuscripts, especially in the 17th century. Many of these manuscripts still exist in today’s Matenadaran.
Gradually, the Echmiadzin monastic bookhouse became one of Armenia’s richest bookhouses. The task of obtaining manuscripts reached to a wider extent during the reign of Hagop Jughayetsi (1655-1680).
In the Middle Ages, however, the danger of extinction and destruction by the foreign invaders has always been a threat for the manuscripts.
According to Stepanos Orbelyan, in 1170, Seljuk Turks looted about 10,000 Armenian manuscripts in the fortress of Baghaberd. Meanwhile, according to the records of Kirakos Gandzaketsi, foreign invaders captured Karin in 1242 and looted many manuscripts from the local matenadaran(manuscript house).
The state treasure house of the capital of Cilicia(Sis) also had the same fate. The Egyptian hordes have destroyed it in 1298. Along with the treasures, they plundered numerous records. An Arabic manuscript told about that story. Arakel Davrizhetsi recorded the plunder of the Echmiadzin bookhouse in the XVII century. The last time the Echmiadzin Matenadaran was destroyed was in 1804. Nerses Ashtaraketsi testified about this.
In the 18th century, unfortunately, the enemies have repeatedly attacked Etchmiadzin. At the beginning of the 19th century, there was only a small number of manuscripts remaining from the former rich Echmiadzin Matenadaran.
After the accession of Armenia to Russia (1828), a new era of enrichment of Matenadaran’s manuscripts began. In 1828, there were 1809 manuscripts, and in 1914, the number was 4660. From the end of the 19th century, the historical-philological works, which started by using the materials of the Echmiadzin manuscript house, stopped because of the 1914-18 World War.
Numerous records have survived thanks to the Genocide survivors. However, there are about 31,000 Armenian manuscripts in the libraries and museums of Yerevan, Echmiadzin and many cities around the world (Jerusalem, Venice, Vienna, New Jugha, Beirut, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tbilisi, Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, etc.)
On December 17, 1920, by the Decree of the ASSR, the Etchmiadzin Matenadaran became nationalized. Also, on February 5, 1921, the Cultural Institute was founded on the basis of the Matenadaran. It is the first scientific institution in Armenia.
The manuscripts of Matenadaran moved to Moscow during the war years for security purposes. Therefore, they returned back to Etchmiadzin by the order of the Government on March 6, 1922.
In 1939, Matenadaran moved from Echmiadzin to Yerevan’s Public Library.
Yerevan Manuscript Library After Mesrop Mashtots (Matenadaran)
The following people were responsible for the Echmiadzin Matenadaran:
Nerses Sarkavag (1662), Isahak Sarkavag (1766), Grigor Vardazaryants (1819), Manvel Gumushkhanets (1828-30). Then – Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants, Makar Hovbyants, Daniel Shahnazaryants, Grigor Mushegyants, Nerses Khudaverdyan, Sahak Amatuni, Garegin Hovsepyan, Mkhitar Vardapet, Mesrop Ter-Movsisyan, Husik Movsisyan, Gevorg Chorekchyan.
After 1920, the directors of Matenadaran were A. Ter-Hakobyan, K. Ghazaryan, A. Hasratyan, H. Manvelyan, E. Torosyan, G. Abov, V. Nalbandian, L. Khachikyan, A. Arevshatyan (since 1982).
The tasks of Matenadaran as a research institute are the following:
- The preservation, restoration, and copying of ancient manuscripts;
- Collecting handmade monuments;
- Making the main list of Armenian manuscripts;
- Study and publication of the most important original texts as well as monuments of Armenian miniature art;
- Publishing the medieval Armenian sources of global importance in Russian and European languages;
- The popularization of the manuscript culture of the Armenian nation through the publicly available booklets.
The largest repository of the Armenian manuscripts is the Matenadaran of Yerevan (after Mesrop Mashtots). It is a scientific-research institute-museum of ancient manuscripts. The establishment took place in 1921 on the basis of the Echmiadzin Matenadaran. It is also the first scientific research institution in Armenia. In addition, the original name was “Cultural-Historical Institute”.
In the 1920-30s, the collection of Matenadaran was enhanced due to the manuscripts brought from Vaspurakan and Taron, collected from Armenian monasteries and churches of the USSR, from the Lazarian Seminary in Moscow. Also, Armenian Ethnographic Company of Tiflis, Nersisyan School, Nor Nakhichevan, Nor Bayazet, Karin, Tavriz Prelacy, Yerevan State Museum. In addition, manuscripts from other places as well as donations or sells by various individuals also contributed to the enhancement. All these manuscripts have been listed and described.
In 1962, Matenadaran was named after Mesrop Mashtots. There are over 17,260 manuscripts. Out of them, over 11,180 are whole Armenian manuscripts. The rest are fragments of Armenian manuscripts, amulets, also new and foreign manuscripts (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Assyrian, Ancient Greek, Greek, Latin, Russian, etc.) More than 100,000 documents are in the archive fund.
In 1965-70 a short list of Armenian manuscripts of Matenadaran was published in two volume. Also, in 1984, Volume A of the “Armenian Manuscripts List of Matenadaran”. Now, B, C, and D volumes are available for printing. Since 1959, Matenadaran has published more than 150 books.
MATENADARAN IS A UNIQUE MUSEUM
Since 1941, the scientific journal “Herald Matenadaran” has been published (in 1941 and 1950 – “Collection of scientific materials”). Also, publications of “Armenian Culture”, “Armenian Miniature” (in Armenian and foreign languages) took place. They represent the medieval Armenian culture.
For their rich collection of Armenian manuscripts are famous: Venice and Vienna (about 7600 units), St. Hakobyants Monastery of Jerusalem (about 4000 units), Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin (over 1200 units), Zmmar monastery (Beirut, around 1600 units), New Jugha (more than 700 units).
The oldest complete manuscript that reached to us is the “Gospel of the Holy Mother”, copied in the 7th century. Three Armenian presidents have given their oath by putting their hand on the manuscript book.
The largest Armenian manuscript is belongs to 1200-1202. It is the “Homiliarium of Mush” (55.3 cm x 70.5 cm), the weight is 28 kg. Meanwhile, the smallest manuscript is “Calendar” in 1434 (3 cm x 4 cm), weight is 19 g.
“Fifteen centuries keep silent in these walls, and I hear their silence.”
Derenik Demirchyan, writer
“It is impossible not to bow to the old and medieval culture of the native Armenian people. I find it impossible to not to be proud of its magnificent historical past. It is impossible not to be happy that my contemporaries have been studying these precious materials with such love and devotion. I do not doubt that Yerevan will become one of the cultural centers in the near future … “
Levon Orbeli, Physiologist
“The old and sacred books of wisdom continue to live here as dried roses, which are still full of invisible seeds.”
Pablo Neruda, Chilean writer
In 1945, by the design of architect Mark Grigoryan, the construction of the Matenadaran building in Yerevan began. The construction came to an end in 1957. The old building of the Institute is in a shape of a cube. It was built with grey-bluish basalt, on the hill overlooking Yerevan. It is right on the northern end of Mashtots Avenue, below the Mother Armenia Memorial.
The building is in neo-Armenian style. The architect is Mark Grigoryan. Monumental stairs lead to the statues of Mesrop Mashtots and Koryun. At the entrance, the statues of Toros Roslin, Grigor Tatevatsi, Anania Shirakatsi, Movses Khorenatsi, Mkhitar Gosh, and Frik decorate the front of the building.
At the entrance, you can see the first ever sentence translated into Armenian. That is:
“To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding”
These are the words of Proverbs 1: 2 of Solomon.
Cross-stones also decorate the sides of the building. The inside of the building is also basalt, but other stones, such as marble, have also been used in the interior. In the entrance hall, there is a mosaic depicting the Battle of Avarayr by Hovhannes Khachatryan.
The construction of the new building of Matenadaran started since 1987. However, the construction stopped due to the huge earthquake of December 7, 1988.
The construction began again
On May 14, 2009, construction works of the new building of Matenadaran (architect Arthur Meschian) started. The opening of the new science building took place on September 20, 2011, in the framework of celebrations dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Armenia’s independence. Matenadaran’s new building’s surface is three times the size of the old complex.
The new building covers 11,358 square meters. It is special for the preservation, restoration, and digitization of scientific research, manuscripts, archival documents, and fund.
The central building has been completely rebuilt and renovated, transforming into a museum complex. It also has numerous exhibition halls, auditoriums, a hall for scientific conferences and reports as well as a scientific laboratory.
The oldest manuscripts date back to the 5th and 6th centuries. The oldest illustrations and miniature paintings are in the Echmiadzin Gospel. It dates back to the 6th century.
Even during the shortest visit to Matenadaran the important role and significance of the Armenian language and Armenian writings in the world culture will become clear.
More Details on Matenadaran
Over the last decades, the collection of foreign-language manuscripts of Matenadaran has begun to grow rapidly.
The oldest Armenian monuments are parchment fragments of the V-VI centuries, as well as complete manuscripts of VII and later centuries, old-timbered logs and parchments were found in caves.
Matenadaran’s printed books division includes Armenological and Oriental literature. Both Armenian and foreign Armenologists are using them.
Matenadaran is in close contact with foreign scientific and museum institutions that are dealing with manuscript culture issues. The museum also does an exchanging activity of books and music tapes.
Matenadaran is also a sightseeing site, every year thousands of Armenian and foreign guests visit and get the opportunity to see the unique samples of the spiritual culture of the Armenian people.
The rise of the reputation of Matenadaran greatly contributes to the collection of manuscripts. Hence, the Armenians living in the far and near abroad donate the relics of the Armenian manuscript culture, and sometimes even foreign-language writings.
Our ancestors worshiped manuscripts for centuries. Today, for every Armenian Matenadaran represents a sacred value without which we will not only lose our national face but also will become unqualified people.