Matenadaran – The Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts is an incredibly rare and exclusive treasure due to its collection of manuscripts and the activity that it now exercises. It holds the history of Armenian and foreign nations’ written cultures.
The word “Matenadaran” means “holder of manuscripts,” or “manuscript collector”. Today, however, the Armenian public associates the word “Matenadaran” with our nation’s spiritual and cultural richness and pride, embodied in the structure of the manuscript repository.
The necessity of the existence of Matenadaran was recognized since the 5th century, when, after the creation of Armenian alphabet by Mesrop Mashtots, the first Armenian translations were made and historians began writing down the history of the Armenian people. In the same century, the first ever old seminary building, or “manuscript holder,” was made in Vagharshapat, near the Echmiadzin Catholicosate, about which Ghazar Parpetsi writes. Besides Echmiadzin, in Armenia’s other regions and other nations with large Armenian populations, thousands of manuscripts were written and copied, later kept in matenadarans of monasteries and convents.
The Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, or the Matendaran, was created based on creating and preserving manuscripts of the miniature painting schools of the Echmiadzin Catholicosate, Armenia, and other nations. However, the Armenian manuscripts are held today in the Manetadaran make up only a small portion of old Armenian manuscripts, as many were stolen and destroyed throughout the centuries. Various historians have provided evidence for this. Stepanos Orbelyan notes that in 1170, Seljuk Turkish forces occupied Baghaberd Fortress and plundered and burnt approximately 10,000 manuscripts of Tatev and surrounding monasteries. Kirakos Gandzaketsi tells that in 1242 AD, foreign conquerors from the Matendaran in the city Karin (also known as Erzurum, located in Western Armenia) stole many manuscript rolls. In 1298, the invasions by the Egyptian Mamluks, led to the destruction of Cilicia’s (capital city’s) Sis state treasury. The last time the Echmiadzin matenadaran was destroyed in 1804, as written by Nerses V Ashtaraketsi.The Echmiadzin Matenadaran was transferred to Yerevan’s Public Library in 1939. To facilitate the safety and research of the manuscripts, the construction began in 1945 and finished in 1957, designed by architect Mark Grigoryan. Only 20 years later, on March 3, 1959, according to the decision of Armenian Government, the Matenadaran was reorganized into an institute of scientific research with special departments of scientific preservation, study, translation and publication of manuscripts. In 1962, the institute was named after Mesrop Mashtots.
The main building of the Matenadaran has grown to implement more exhibitions, functioning also as a museum complex. The former 2 exhibition halls have transformed into 12. A new side building, which has been operating since September 21, 2011, has been built for the scientific departments. The new structure was designed by architect Arthur Meschyan.
The Matenadaran has consolidated about 23,000 manuscripts, including almost all areas of ancient and medieval Armenian cultural and sciences – history, geography, grammar, philosophy, law, medicine, mathematics, cosmology, chronology, divination literature, translated and national literature, miniature painting, music and theater. The Matenadaran also holds manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Greek, Ethiopian, Syrian, Latin, Tamil, and other languages. Many originals, lost in their mother languages and known only by their Armenian translations, have been saved from loss by medieval translations.
While research work continues in the Matenadaran, the institution continues to collect manuscripts through donations and purchases. Donors of the Matenadaran either make material donations or donate manuscripts. The names of the donors are recorded in the Donor’s Periodical. The donors receive information about news of the Matenadaran regularly and are invited to special events. On behalf of the Matenadaran, the donors are rewarded a special certificate, and as a symbolic gift, Grigor Narekatsi’s “Book of Laments”, and, in precious instances, the St. Mesrop Mashtots Medal.
Generous donors’ names which are worth remembering include: Harutiun Hazarian from New York, who has donated 397 Armenian and non- Armenian manuscripts; Rafael Markossian from Paris has bequeathed his motherland 37 manuscripts; Varouzhan Salatian from Damascus donated more than 150 manuscripts in memory of his parents; Arshak Tigranian from Los Angeles; Karpis Jrbashian, George Bakirjian and Varderes Karagozyan from Paris; Avo Hovhannisyan and Grigor Aghazarian from New Julfa; Mihran Minassian from Aleppo; Suren Bayramian from Cairo; the “Phoenix” nationwide charity foundation; Rouben Galichian from London donated the Matenadaran old maps and a private atlas collection and many others. In 1969, the 95-year-old Tachat Markossian of Gharghun Village (New Julfa, Iran), sent a manuscript to the Matenadaran, dated 1069, copied in the Narek Monastery, having as prototype 5th century Gospel, written by Mesrop Mashtots.