Onnik Yeganyan

The Old Collection of the Library of Etchmiadzin

(Translated into English by Gohar Topchyan)


The collection of Armenian manuscripts at Matenadaran is based on that of the former library of Etchmiadzin. Its history began roughly on the crucial day when the celebrated son of the Armenian people Mesrop Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet and laid the foundation for national literature.

Being the heart of the Armenian state and its spiritual life, at the dawn of the 5th century the capital city Vagharshapat became the intellectual center of the country. The graduates of its schools filled Armenia with the everlasting light of Mesrop Mashtots by bequeathing to the future generations a remarkable classical literature that always served as an endless source of hope and encouragement through the ups and downs of the rich history of Armenia.

Having become the newly-founded educational centre where the first translators were translating Syriac and Greek literature with incessant vigour and diligence and the earliest Armenian authors were composing their first works, Vagharshapat had to establish its own library (column 14).

The history, unfortunately, is too scant and provides almost no information about Vagharshapat’s library of the time and its manuscripts. However, it is not difficult to assume that they should have been first of all in Greek and Syriac and contained religious texts and theological, dogmatic works of the Christian Fathers, which were necessary for spreading and strengthening the new religion. Afterwards this collection must have been enriched by books brought to the motherland from Amida, Edessa and Samosata by Mesrop Mashtots and his pupils as well as those who had studied in Athens and Alexandria. Later on, Vagharshapat’s library would enrich with Armenian translations of those manuscripts and original works of the first Armenian authors.  Thus, in the first quarter of the 5th century, Vagharshapat’s library must have already had a rather rich collection of Greek, Assyrian and Armenian manuscripts.

The only reliable information regarding Vagharshapat’s library and its manuscripts is given by the 5th-century historian Ghazar Parpetsi in his Letter to Vahan Mamikonian where, denying the accusations of his enemies, he writes inter alia: “For they did not even give me back those Greek books, which now have become there food for worms. But then would those who live in that place really be enlightened by reading them, or would they enlighten others?” (Thomson, 259).

Even though this information refers to a time when Vagharshapat had already lost its former glory and was no longer a royal residence, it nevertheless testifies that there was a library in Vagharshapat even during that gloomy period and, together with Armenian manuscripts, it also accommodated “Greek books.”

However, no further information can be found as to what cultural role Vagharshapat played in the following centuries and whether the cultural life continued. Unfortunately, even manuscripts copied in Vagharshapat before the mid-15th century have not reached us.  

As we know, because of Armenia’s political instability and the frequent invasions and plunders of hostile hordes, the patriarchal seat was often moved to either Dvin or Ani, or to remote Cilicia.

“When the secular authorities of our nation weakened,” writes Simeon Yerevantsi, “and the enemies grew stronger and the outlaws often committed crimes, whenever the time was advantageous and wherever a favourable, suitable and safe place was found, our kings and princes, together with patriarchs, would settle there and fortify it.”

This circumstance, certainly, could not have a positive impact because it would interfere with the development of intellectual life in Vagharshapat which, being a cultural centre, was considered inferior to others at safer locations, such as the monasteries of Syunik, Vaspurakan and Cilicia.

Despite the foregoing, Etchmiadzin has always remained “the mother of faith and the head of all Armenian churches”, as it is corroborated by the 14th-century chronicler Mkrtich Metsopetsi in his True and Concise History of Mkhitar Vardapet. Therefore as such, no matter how humble and poor, Vagharshapat could nevertheless have never been completely deserted.

It is well known that some of the patriarchs, princes and kings of that time, especially when the patriarchal throne was in Dvin and Ani, during their extensive construction works also paid attention to Etchmiadzin, rebuilt, decorated it and appointed abbots there. For instance, in 485 the abbot of Etchmiadzin was Ghazar Parpetsi, in 565, Kyurion, in 596, Abraham, and in 618, Hovhanik (columns 15–16). 

At the beginning of the 9th century, under Smbat Ablabas Bagratuni (Smbat the Confessor), the Arab governor of Spk, plundered “The Holy Cathedral of Vagharshapat” together with many other monasteries. It is clear that only a prospering cathedral could be plundered. In 982, the Persian tyrant Ablhaj took down the cross from the cathedral’s dome. This once again proves that the Monastery of Etchmiadzin was still operating in the last quarter of the 10th century.

In the next centuries, when the patriarchal seat was moved to Cilicia, Etchmiadzin “was completely deserted until 1441,” as Simeon Yerevantsi writes. Even though there is no clear evidence, it may be assumed (as Garegin Hovsepian does on the basis of Mkhitar Sasnetsi’s pilgrimage to Etchmiadzin in 1281 and that of Stepanos Orbelian 20 years later) that even in the 13th–14th centuries Etchmiadzin, though unremarkable, was nevertheless not entirely abandoned.

The lack of historical evidence and the absence of literary works certainly testify to the inactivity of Etchmiadzin (especially after the patriarchal seat had been moved to Cilicia). However, this is not enough to assume that the intellectual life completely ceased to exist because, from this point of view, Etchmiadzin is not an exception. It is known that no literary works have reached us from Dvin, Ani and other centres which, during certain periods of Armenian history, were not inferior to Etchmiadzin in terms of their political and cultural roles.

Despite all this, we must nevertheless admit that especially after the patriarchal seat was moved to Cilicia, the role of Etchmiadzin was minimal in the ecclesiastical and cultural history of Armenia.

Many of the eminent figures of that time, such as Khachatur Kecharetsi, Stepanos Orbelian, Tovma Metsopetsi and others, wished for Etchmiadzin to flourish again and reacquire its former glory, and for the patriarchal seat to be moved back there. One of the vivid examples of this desire are the following lines from Stepanos Orbelian’s famous “Elegy” written in 1299 at the request of Khachatur Kecharetsi:

Where are you, my precious children?
Return to me, your erstwhile mother,
And as it behooves all children,
Look after your aged parent.

                                     (Sanjian, 275)

This desire, which had certain political implications as well, finally comes true and, after an interval of 1000 years (441–1441), in 1441, the patriarchal seat was moved from Sis to Etchmiadzin. Following this event, of course, construction works began in Etchmiadzin, new monks joined the monastery and Etchmiadzin with the neighbouring monasteries again became a prosperous intellectual and scriptorial centre. The numerous manuscripts copied in Etchmiadzin and the neighbouring monasteries between the 15th and 16th centuries attest to the revitalization of the intellectual life.

The never-ending Turkish-Persian invasions and wars of the 14th and especially of the first quarter of the 17th centuries, tax collections and plunders once again devastated Etchmiadzin. Under the patriarchate of Catholicos Movses (1629–1632), as Arakel Davrizhetsi reports, Etchmiadzin was in an extremely desolate state. Davrizhetsi writes: “Thus, the divine Holy See was completely devoid of property and robbed of treasures, there were no books, and neither services nor scripture readings took place.”

Catholicos Philippos Aghbaketsi (1633–1655), the successor of Catholicos Movses renovated the Monastery of Etchmiadzin by intensive construction works, built the bell tower, opened a school and ordered to copy numerous and various manuscripts. During his patriarchate, the Monastery of Etchmiadzin was enriched with golden and silver tableware (columns 17–18), clothes and acquired “books containing many writings for the spiritual and secular needs of the people,” as we read in a colophon of a manuscript copied in 1663. Arakel Davrizhetsi, referring once again to the construction works of Catholicos Philippos, writes: “And especially, the Holy See of Etchmiadzin in this way was established more firmly and enriched with church vessels, gold and silver, expensive garments, as well as with numerous excellent learned works.”

The construction works undertaken by Philippos Aghbaketsi gained more impetus and expanded under his successor Hakob Jughayetsi (1655–1680). The latter not only made sure that the monastery was filled with expensive tableware but also took care to expand the library. Thanks to him, many learned archimandrites were working at the Monastery of Etchmiadzin; among them was Stepanos Lehatsi who not only greatly enriched Armenian literature with original works and new translations but also taught many students. In reference to the construction works of Hakob Jughayetsi, the same colophon reads the following: “Thanks to this, the cathedral obtained tableware, numerous vessels and many books, as well as a great number of manuscripts experts and students.”

The colophon of Stepanos Lehatsi’s translation (1662) of Dionysius the Areopagite's works illustrates in an eloquent manner the splendour that the Monastery of Etchmiadzin had achieved under Hakob Jughayetsi. Here the translator, explaining the incentives behind the new translation of this work, writes that it was completed “...at the request of the benevolent brothers who were educating themselves at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin ... as at the time there were many prominent, learnt and skilled archimandrites; one of them was Arakel Vardapet, a distinguished scholar and author, who has beautifully and accurately written the chronicle of patriarchs and kings for eternal memory.”

These testimonies are confirmed by hundreds of literary works written or copied in the 17th century in Etchmiadzin, part of which (57 manuscripts) today occupy an honourable place in Matenadaran’s rich collection of manuscripts. The activities of Stepanos Lehatsi and his students were especially fruitful, since many of the above-mentioned manuscripts are the products of their efforts.  

At that time, Etchmiadzin’s Matenadaran or, as the contemporaries called it, library, was already an organised institution and had its own “librarian” or today’s “matenadaranapet.” The first one known to us was a student of Stepanos Lehatsi, Nerses Sarkavag, who wrote the following in a manuscript copied in 1662: “May you remember me as Nerses the Librarian and the one who copied this book.”

It is difficult to determine till when the library of Etchmiadzin remained organised and for how long and to what extent it was of service to monks and students. However, judging from an extensive and valuable colophon of a manuscript copied by Stepanos Dashtetsi in 1714, at the end of the century, during the catholicosate of Nahapet Urhayetsi (1691–1705), it was no longer “the library of Holy Etchmiadzin” but rather the personal library of the catholicos, whose doors were probably closed for monks and academics. When speaking about using Nerses Lambronatsi’s works, Stepanos Dashtetsi writes: “...It was with great desire and difficulty, and without the knowledge of the archimandrites, that I took them from the library of the thrice blessed Ter Nahapet at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin...” (columns 19–20).               

The next century was one of the gloomiest periods in the history of not only Armenia but also of the Monastery of Etchmiadzin and its library.  However, throughout the 18th century Etchmiadzin never ceased to be a productive and prolific scriptorium where numerous manuscripts were written and copied (around 144 of them are now in Matenadaran). The library remained in a rather organised state, which is proven by old seals found in numerous manuscripts with the inscription “The book belongs to Holy Etchmiadzin” (see, e.g., MS. 686, fol. 222v, 667, fol. 388v, 6392, fol. 1r, etc.). However, the Turkish-Persian destructive wars, the brutality of the local Persian rulers, the frequent plunders, as well as many high-ranking clergymen’s disinterest in learning emptied the monastery and its library from manuscripts and knowledge-hungry monks to the extent that at the end of the century very few manuscript treasures remained from the former thousands and no scholar was left. 

The first quarter of the 19th century, especially the first decade, was not any more favourable for the library of Etchmiadzin or for Etchmiadzin in general. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Russian-Persian wars and later the Russian-Turkish wars, as well as the conflicts between Catholicoi David and Daniel and their followers completely devastated the economy of Etchmiadzin and its library.

In 1804, before the conquest of Etchmiadzin by the Russian army, Catholicos David, with his followers’ help and the Persians’ support moved the most valuable part of Etchmiadzin’s treasures to the fortress of Erevan in order to save them from the Russians. The treasures included numerous superb manuscripts which were never returned. But when the Tsarist army unexpectedly left Etchmiadzin and retreated, the Persian troops completely plundered the unprotected Etchmiadzin, especially its monastery. The library’s manuscripts were also plundered and later sold “in loads and thousands” at the squares of Tabriz.

Tsitsianov’s army too had not left empty-handed and during retreat had taken many treasures belonging to Etchmiadzin to Tiflis. They were kept “at the imperial depository together with the imperial treasures and were registered one by one.”

Even though there is no specific information about stolen manuscripts, it can be assumed that many were among those treasures. This can be proven not only by the subsequent appearance of a number of manuscripts with Etchmiadzin’s seal in various libraries and private collections in Russia (some of them were later returned to Matenadaran) but also by the fact that after the war many manuscripts were among the items that were returned to Matenadaran thanks to the efforts of Catholicos Daniel.

During those years the library of Etchmiadzin was emptied and deserted to the extent that when in 1814 Nikolay Petrovic Rumyantsev wrote to Etchmiadzin requesting copies of manuscripts for his library, Nerses Ashtaraketsi bitterly replied with the following letter: “However, we are unlucky, because in recent days our rich library of the Ararat See of Holy Etchmiadzin has been plundered in such a way that Yeprem himself, the Patriarch of All Armenians, made utmost efforts to fulfil the wish of Your Excellency. But to this day he has been hardly able to acquire only two Histories of Armenia, one by Vardan Vardapet Bardzraberdtsi and the other by Mattheos Yerets Urhayetsi, one copy of each, the first written in 1432 and the second in 1688. And by order of His Holiness, in 1814 a copy of each manuscript was made here in Tiflis, presenting the authorial text faithfully in all respects. I am sending these to you. Yes, it would really be good luck if the library of the Ararat See heard the sweet voice of your wish and request in the former days of its richness. But since the general violence in this land has deprived the Haykazean See and particularly its local division here of its former glory, I beg you to accept kindly those two booklets as a gift and especially as a token of our diligence” (columns 21–22).                 

Later, on a different occasion, Catholicos Hovhannes Karbetsi also spoke about the desolate state of Etchmiadzin’s library. In his Bull N 98 of April 14, 1833, addressed to Professor Clossius at the University of Dorpat, he writes the following: “Because of endless conquests and massacres, the Armenian nation and her literature were exhausted and destroyed to the extent that from thousands of books barely a thousand have remained from our ancestors. From the time when my motherland rested under the beneficent reign of the Russian emperors, the Armenians have undertaken to collect their literature.”

When the disastrous conflict between David and Daniel finally came to an end and Daniel took the patriarchal seat (1807–1808), he began to bring together the dispersed monks, returned part of the stolen property and treasures and carried out reforms. He wanted to “restore the splendour of the destroyed Mother See” but the resumed Russian-Persian military actions and the death of the catholicos prevented the realisation of this plan.

However, what Daniel was unable to accomplish due to circumstances was achieved in the days of Catholicos Yeprem (1809–1827). During his patriarchate, as Mser Mseryan writes, “until the year 1827 the land of Ararat, together with the Mother See of Etchmiadzin, was in peace and quietness, for there was neither any trouble of war from anywhere nor captivity, plunder and levy of taxes.”

In this relatively peaceful period, Yeprem managed to restore the monastic economy of Etchmiadzin and to carry out some construction work and renovations. He also made sure that the plundered library of Etchmiadzin was once again enriched not only by acquiring new manuscripts but also by bringing back stolen literary treasures.  One of the missions of his envoys, who were sent to Western Armenia, Persia, Russia and India to preach, was to “take care of obtaining oldest manuscripts for the library of the Mother See.”

During Yeprem’s patriarchate, Etchmiadzin’s library was once again revived. The manuscripts were sealed with the inscription “The book belongs to the library of Holy Etchmiadzin, 1813”, which shows that the library was put under the tutelage of a special official. The fact that the library already had 1809 manuscripts when Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi visited Etchmiadzin from Crimea in 1828, testifies to the ardent efforts of those years put towards collecting manuscripts.

Unfortunately, today it is impossible to determine which manuscripts already belonged to Etchmiadzin and which ones were acquired from other places and individuals. Etchmiadzin’s library, just like other Armenian monasteries, did not regularly keep a record of the manuscripts, at least no such record has reached us or been mentioned. In regard to Etchmiadzin’s library, the evidence suggests that the manuscripts were in a state of negligence and the library was in a severe disorder because of which numerous excellent manuscripts either rotted or were alienated over time, becoming the property of many other libraries and individuals. Two such manuscripts (which are not unique) bearing the seal with the inscription “The book belongs to the library of Holy Etchmiadzin, 1813” (columns 23–24) after a long journey were brought to Matenadaran only in 1924, together with the rich and valuable collection of the Lazaryan Institute. Referring to those two manuscripts, Mesrop Ter-Movsisyan wrote: “In May 1902 I made a list of the Armenian manuscripts of the Lazaryan Institute. There I came across two manuscripts which had been purchased from the H. Enfiyachyan library and donated to the Institute. Both bore the seal of our library.”

A vivid evidence of Etchmiadzin’s library being plundered by its own people is given by Manvel Vardapet Gyumushkhanetsi. In his work entitled The Etchmiadzin Library was Organised, he writes with bitterness: “Before us this library was collected by Arakel called Chapi, a clerk of the Holy Illuminator Church of Galata, Constantinople. When coming to the See, he took his beloved manuscripts to Constantinople and elsewhere. After that, in 1819, Grigor Vardapet Vardazaryants Ashtaraketsi, a corrector and instructor at the printing-house of Etchmiadzin, had the library at hand together with his pupil Yeznak, son of Mirze Thadeos. A hundred of beautiful and useful works of the library are in his possession. Also, I found Yakob Vardapet Kayinean’s Commentary on the Song of Songs in the house of the mentioned Yeznak, as if it was a present from us. I wished to leave in Etchmiadzin other Armenian works as well, but since I was afraid that they would fall into such perfidious hands, in 1830 I took them to the island of Sevan and gave them to pious clerics for their delight.”   

From 1828 on, a new phase started for the history of the whole Eastern Armenia as well as of the Etchmiadzin library when the Russian army conquered Yerevan and banished the Persians from the khanates of Yerevan and Nakhijevan to the other side of the Arax River.

The liberation of Eastern Armenia from the Persian yoke and its unification with Russia not only saved a considerable part of the Armenian nation from physical annihilation but also created opportunities for the rise of its economic and cultural life.

These favourable conditions enabled the Catholicoi of Etchmiadzin not only to think about the revival of the monastery’s deteriorated economy but also to take care of the library’s organization and enrichment.

For the first time, by order of Nerses Ashtaraketsi, Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi took charge of the library’s organisation with the help of Dionysius Vardapet Yerevantsi, Hovhannes Vardapet Georgian Shahriartsi (Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants) and Mser Dpir Grigoryan (Mser Mseryan).

Mser Mseryan, who witnessed the unorganised state of Etchmiadzin and, especially, the library, wrote the following about the measures Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi had taken: “The library was above the refectory and contained numerous printed and handwritten, old and new books. Having had no protector and having fallen into the hands of ignorant people, the library remained neglected, as a result of which many excellent manuscripts were lost, the half of them rotted. This lasted till the year 1828 of our Lord, when Manvel Vardapet Gyumushkhanetsi arrived from Crimea and saw the desolate state of the library. He restored and organised it with my and two other vardapets’ support, by order of Archbishop Nerses, who held the overall authority in Etchmiadzin as the successor to Patriarch Yeprem.”

Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi himself speaks in detail about the unorganised and desolate state of Etchmiadzin’s library in his work entitled The Etchmiadzin Library was Organised, where, inter alia, he writes: “After such people had interfered in the library’s affairs and destroyed its integrity, we found it in a disorderly state, deprived of manuscripts of whose existence in the Mother See we had learned from afar from our scholarly fathers. Besides these, manuscripts which had not been regarded as valuable enough and were devoid of even moth-eaten covers, before the previous intrusion (columns 25–26) had been taken to Venice and other places, where they were kept with due care, wrapped in boxes to preserve their magnificence. During the previous unworthy intrusion, the library had been turned into a sort of fruit storage. Important, beautiful and new books seemed to have been suffered plunder; they had fallen down from their shelves and were in a disorderly and careless state.”

Together with his collaborators, Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi in a short amount of time organised Etchmiadzin’s library and made a list of the manuscript collection. Referring to his own efforts, at the beginning of his manuscript list he writes: “In 1828, since April 25th, by order of Archbishop Nerses, the highest authority, Etchmiadzin’s library was handed over to me so that I could, to the extent possible, properly and correctly organise it by numbering. We started first of all to organise the manuscripts alphabetically and numbered them.”

On another occasion, referring to his work at Etchmiadzin’s library, he says: “Together with such polite and clever people [he meant his above-mentioned collaborators – O. Y.] and with much effort, in 3 months, by the given order, we organised them alphabetically and numbered them so that the claimer could easily find the searched-for manuscript by the notes provided by us.”

Referring to Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi’s services at Etchmiadzin’s library, an anonymous scribe, who prepared a fair copy of the list, gives a bit more information (he was most likely one of Gyumushkhanetsi’s collaborators): “In the year 1828 of our Lord, by order of the supreme Archbishop Nerses, the head of the church, Manvel Vardapet put in order the library of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. With the help of several literate clergymen of the monastery, the library was cleaned from dust and useless trash; all the books were organised alphabetically, labelled (as sermons, commentaries, correspondence etc.) and numbered, so that the educated reader could easily find them, as can be clearly seen from the list included herein.”

As can be concluded from the quotations, the manuscripts of Etchmiadzin’s library were catalogued and numbered for the first time in 1828. The separate materials included in the collections were identified, brief annotations were prepared and attached to the sides of the manuscripts.

The most important aspect of this activity in Etchmiadzin’s library was that having been finally registered, the library’s manuscripts had their catalogue, which though did not contribute much to Armenian Studies but still gave some idea not only about the quantity of the manuscripts but also about their content.

What value does the catalogue have today? Fortunately, its rough and fair copies are preserved in MS N 3801 of Matenadaran, which constitutes the complete collection of the manuscript lists of Etchmiadzin’s library made in different periods.

In this catalogue, four groups (each numbered separately) of 1809 manuscripts (which were in Etchmiadzin’s library during that period) are enumerated in the following order:

a.     The Bible: NN 1–25;

b.    Four Gospels: NN 1–88 (in fact, the number of Gospels was 83 instead of 88, because the figures 82–85 were accidently overlooked in the list);

c.     Menology: NN 1–13;

d.    Other manuscripts: NN 1–708, organised alphabetically according to content (the real amount of manuscripts of this group is 1608 because manuscripts with the same content are grouped and organised under a single number. So, for instance, 40 prayer books are listed under N 19, 19 mass books under N 86, 57 hymnals under N 428 and so forth) (columns 27–28).

The manuscripts are simply enumerated in the catalogue, without any necessary bibliographical data. Only the dates of the manuscript copying are given, but not in every case. The scribes and the places of copying are also rarely specified. Only the main contents of the collections are mentioned, according to preferences. Any categorization of the manuscripts is completely out of question.

With this catalogue, today it is extremely difficult to accurately determine which manuscripts those are and under which numbers they are now kept at Matenadaran, especially because none of the numbers and explanatory leaflets attached to the manuscripts by Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi have survived. However, having used the limited bibliographical data included in the catalogue, the notes and seals preserved in the manuscripts, and many other means, it has been possible to identify the present-day numbers of 1642 manuscripts out of 1809 listed in the catalogue. Some of the other 167 manuscripts could still be in our Matenadaran, but the larger part and the more valuable ones (the date, the place and the scribe of many, by the way, are mentioned in the catalogue) we should consider as lost or look for them in the manuscript collections of other libraries.

In the same year (1828), Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi also made a catalogue of printed books of the library of Etchmiadzin, which is entitled A List of Printed Books in Alphabetical order. 2856 printed books on this list are mentioned under the numbers 1–285 with very limited bibliographical data (place, date, etc.).

Aside from organizing the library of Etchmiadzin and creating lists of manuscripts, Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi evidently made sure that the manuscripts could not be taken out of the library without special permission. This was not to the liking of many monks, who previously had unrestricted access to them and took the manuscripts to their cells (which was one of the main reasons for their loss and alienation).

Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants’s letter, written in 1829 in response to the suggestion of Abraham Vardapet, a teacher from Bayazet, contains such a hint. He had requested to be given an account of “worshiped holy items” in the Mother See. “Please write to the gracious Father Manvel,” Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants responded, “or to someone who will not spare when asked for the necessary books.”

His efforts were also great with regard to collecting manuscripts which belonged to the library of Etchmiadzin but had already been alienated. In his work The Library of Etchmiadzin Was Organized, we read that he had “found in the boxes of monks four hundred eighty important and useful manuscripts which were organized alphabetically.”

Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi also thought about finding and returning manuscripts which were stolen from the library of Etchmiadzin during the Russian-Persian war and were taken to Persia. In reference to this, he writes in his above-mentioned work: “We learnt about rare books, which were stolen from the maternal heart of this library and taken to Persia. We wanted to send an envoy who would request the return of the books to their proper place. But time disobeyed us. Now there are several boxes in Karabakh with books from Tovma Vardapet, who was a legate in India and passed away in Chisinau in 1828. The boxes are imprisoned in Karabakh and if an educated patriot visits them, maybe it will be possible to get them back, just like a separated child is returned to where he came from.”

This remarkable intention of his was never accomplished because, as he puts it, “time disobeyed us.” Very soon he was forced to not only abandon his position as the head of the library but also leave Etchmiadzin for Sevan. In the future, as you will see, Gyumushkhanetsi’s plan was partly fulfilled when, by orders of the catholicoi of those times, several searches were made for the manuscripts formerly belonging to Etchmiadzin, which had been taken to Persia and Karabakh (columns 29–30).

After Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi’s resignation from his position as the head of the library and departure from Etchmiadzin, his established order in the library unfortunately did not last long. As is corroborated by A. Sedrakyan and A. Yeritsyan, very soon the library of Etchmiadzin once again succumbed to “disorder and impropriety.”

In 1823–1833, for a short period of time (barely ten years), Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants was assigned head of Etchmiadzin’s library and printing house. In this short period, Shahkhatunyants obviously could not have accomplished a lot, especially considering that the relationship between the supporters of Nerses Ashtaraketsi (Shahkhatunyants was one of them) and Catholicos Hovhannes Karbetsi was extremely strained. In his response to Baron Rosen dated January 28, 1834, the Catholicos even blamed Shahkhatunyants for the disorderly state of the library, writing that “Vardapet Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants, the head and manager of the library and printing house, instead of improving the state of affairs which had been assigned to him, because of idleness or cunning unwillingness, started to ruin the order which had been established before him.”

This accusation of Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants was unfounded and resulted from the complete discontent that Karbetsi’s illegal activities and imprudent deeds had brought about. It is known that Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants was one of the few learnt vardapets and, as you will see shortly afterwards, his contribution, not only to the library of Etchmiadzin but also to the mission of collecting Armenian manuscript treasures, was considerable. Still, the above-mentioned “accusation” once again confirms the fact that indeed, after the departure of Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi, the library was once again in an extremely dire state, a circumstance that Karbetsi used for accusing and punishing the vardapet who had disrespected him.

That the library was indeed in an extremely poor state is also confirmed by the fact that when Nicholas I visited Etchmiadzin in 1837, the rich library of the monastery was not shown to him “because the books were haphazardly laid in boxes and kept in the dressing room covered with dust.”

In 1837, by order of the Synod, Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants was assigned to create a catalogue of printed and handwritten books of the library. In 1833, while Shahkhatunyants was still the head of Etchmiadzin’s library and printing house and noticed that Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi’s catalogue was incomplete, he made an alphabetical list of the books which had been left out of it in 1828. This catalogue was entitled “The list of works which corresponded to the numbers of the first list but were not alphabetically organised among them, because having been incorporated in clusters, they were left out of the alphabetical order. For that reason, they have now been taken out of the catalogue, organized alphabetically and included separately in this small list with the numbers of those books where they can be found. February 1833.”

The need to create a new list apparently did not arise so much due to Gyumushkhanetsi’s catalogue being incomplete (as you will see below, the list made by Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants in 1837 barely differs from the previous one) but rather because the 931 manuscripts acquired during the previous 9 years (1828–1837), without being duly processed, without their contents being studied, and without even being properly numbered, were randomly scattered in various corners in a very desolate state.  

Shahkhatunyants created a catalogue which he entitled “A List of Books of the Library of the Mother See, Made in 1837.” This list, in an unorganised manner, gives a simple (columns 31–32) enumeration of the 2740 handwritten and 2298 printed books which were available at Etchmiadzin’s library in 1837, without bibliographical information. Not even the consecutive numbers of the manuscripts are given. As to the state of the manuscripts, they still remained partially in boxes and partially on the floor.

In May 1838, on Hovhannes Karbetsi’s invitation, the senator Baron Hahn visited Etchmiadzin to be present at the Blessing of the Holy Chrism on June 5. During this visit he got closely acquainted with the daily lives of the clergy, inquired into the state of the library and the manuscripts and asked the Catholicos, insisted in fact, that the library be organized in a few days and that the manuscripts be taken out of the boxes and arranged in a fire-proof room. At the same time, he raised the question of urgently preparing a catalogue of manuscripts and providing him with a copy.

At Baron Hahn’s request, Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants and Hovhannes Khrimetsi created a catalogue in a few days and gave him a copy. 

As to what a catalogue made in a few days could look like and what academic value it could have, is clear in itself. 

This is the catalogue that Baron Hahn took with him to St. Petersburg and delivered to academician Brosset who published its Russian and French translations in 1840.

This bilingual catalogue, prepared by Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants and published by Brosset, which, by the way, should simply be considered a revised version of the one made in 1837, did not have a particular academic value.

Kerovbe Patkanian, referring to the academic significance of the catalogue, incidentally noted: “Of course, the publication of such a list could not please anyone.”

Despite all its flaws, however, for the first time the catalogue drew scholars’ attention to the manuscript treasures of the library of Etchmiadzin, and as such, it is worthy of appreciation.

The catalogue was thematic and contained 353 manuscripts and 167 printed books, with no bibliographical data. The numbers of the library were not mentioned either. With this catalogue, the interested individual could learn what material there was in general but could never determine in which manuscripts and how many copies were available. From then on, the catalogue stirred great interest towards the manuscript treasures of Etchmiadzin’s library, and its incompleteness necessitated the preparation of a more comprehensive and detailed list. Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants, thanks to the exhortations of Brosset and others, undertook this mission.

In 1848, Brosset visited Etchmiadzin and stayed there for 40 days. He got closely acquainted with the monastery of Etchmiadzin, its relics, as well as the handwritten and printed books of the library. During that time Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants had already started creating the so-called comprehensive and detailed catalogue of the manuscripts of Etchmiadzin’s library and had already made the lists of Bibles, Gospels and manuscripts containing historical material, which, together with others, were provided to Brosset with unlimited permission to access the manuscripts.

Brosset wrote that 4 different catalogues were put at his disposal: two general (namely, the list prepared by Gyumushkhanetsi in 1828 and that of Shahkhatunyants created in 1837) and two specific (namely, the unfinished thematic catalogues of Shahkhatunyants). In this regard, by the way, Brosset was highly critical of Wagner who claimed that “the published catalogue was insufficient and the monks did not declare everything.” Brosset noted that the monks were not obliged to show everything to every visitor (columns 33–34).

At the same time, referring to the valuable manuscripts of Etchmiadzin’s library, Brosset remarked that after the library of the Mekhitarist Congregation in Venice, Etchmiadzin’s matenadaran was the richest in Armenian literature, followed by the library of Paris, the library of the Mekhitarist Congregation in Vienna, the Royal Library of Vienna and finally that of Vatican. 

With the help of Shahkhatunyants, Brosset translated on the spot the latter’s above-mentioned thematic lists into French, which he then published with a special study in Saint-Petersburg (1849) in his work entitled “Rapports sur un voyage archéologique…

Brosset highly appreciated Shahkhatunyants’s undertaken work and expected it to be accomplished some day so that he could publish it. On this occasion, in his letter addressed to Shahkhatunyants on August 14, 1848, he wrote: “You know how I appreciated your fine work on a detailed description of the handwritten books of Etchmiadzin’s library, with the list of historical writings and biblical manuscripts having been completed. Of course it is your property and without your permission no one can use it. But I hope that for your own sake and for the glory of your motherland you would not refuse to send me the full or partial catalogue, once it is ready.”

The anticipated catalogue of manuscripts which, according to Brosset, Shahkhatunyants had already begun in 1837, remained unfinished. The reason is not known. Perhaps it was Shahkhatunyants’s illness (as Brosset believed) or his extreme occupation with various activities, or the fact that when Nerses Ashtaraketsi became catholicos, he did not deal with the library’s condition at all and completely neglected it (as is corroborated by Shahkhatunyants’s biographer A. Sedrakyan).

On this occasion, he writes: “We could rightly expect that the person who paid attention to the library as archbishop already in 1828 (referring to Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi’s catalogue made by his order), would perfectly improve its condition during his patriarchy. However, for reasons incomprehensible to us, the Great Patriarch neglected Etchmiadzin’s library.”

MS N 3801 of Matenadaran, which, as we have already mentioned, is a collection of different lists of manuscripts, contains the originals of those sections of the so-called comprehensive and detailed list (created and uncompleted by Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants), which were published by Brosset in 1849 in St. Petersburg.

This catalogue, which is entitled “A Comprehensive List of the Books of the Library of the Mother See of Etchmiadzin and All the Sections and Authors Contained in the Same Collections”, consists of two separate registers. The first register includes the Holy Scriptures (the Bible and the Gospels) while the second contains historical material. The following material is described:
a. The Bible: NN 1–33.
b. Four Gospels: NN 28–164 (in fact, 136 Gospel manuscripts are described, since N 68 has been skipped).
c. Historiography: NN 1–63.

Out of the 232 manuscripts described, 221 are today in Matenadaran; 7 of the missing 11 manuscripts were Gospels and the other 4 were highly valuable historiographic works, which, according to a source, were taken from the library by Karapet Vardapet Shahnazaryan and never returned.

To form an idea about the description method of manuscripts on this list, it will suffice to mention that it literally resembles the “General Catalogue” prepared by Daniel Vardapet Shahnazaryan and published by Hakob Karenyants in 1863 in Tbilisi (columns 35–36).

The following substantial difference can be observed when comparing the above-mentioned catalogue created by Shahkhatunyants with that of Brosset published in St. Petersburg (1849) in the report about his trip. The number of Bibles on Brosset’s list is 27, while Shahkhatunyants has 33. The number of Gospels is 30 and 136 accordingly, whereas there are 63 historiographic works on both lists. 

It should be assumed that Shahkhatunyants completed his catalogue of Holy Scriptures after 1848. The list was unfinished during Brosset’s visit to Etchmiadzin and after its finalization he did not have the chance to use it.

That indeed Shahkhatunyants’s catalogue (just like the previous one) and the one published by Brosset in 1849 were incomplete and did not have particular academic value is also confirmed by the fact that when the crown prince Alexander visited Etchmiadzin in 1850 and got acquainted with the manuscript treasures kept at the library, he stated the need to have systematic and orderly lists of manuscripts.

However, Nerses Ashtaraketsi, who, as we have already once noted, for unknown reasons had not paid attention to the matter, also ignored the crown prince Alexander’s remark.

Together with pointing out that the manuscript catalogues were incomplete and non-academic, we must acknowledge Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants’s significant contribution as the head of the library (1833–1834, 1837–1849) not only to Etchmiadzin’s library in general but also to collecting Armenian manuscripts in particular.

Already in 1838, when he visited the Diocese of Shamakh as the patriarch’s envoy to organize an eparchial consistory, he received a special order from Catholicos Hovhannes Karbetsi to obtain manuscripts for Etchmiadzin’s library. Unfortunately, it is unknown how many manuscripts he acquired and from where. In 1847, by Nerses Ashtaraketsi’s order, he left for Tiflis to purchase manuscripts from booksellers.  Next year, in 1848, thanks to his vigorous efforts, a substantial part of the manuscripts of the St. Stepanos Nakhavka (Proto-martyr) Monastery (Maghardavank) were brought to Etchmiadzin, including the famous Gospels with an ivory cover.

With regard to moving the manuscripts of Maghardavank to Etchmiadzin, A. Sedrakyan wrote: “For an unknown reason, the sent vardapet (Makar Vardapet Ter-Petrosyan) did not take all of the manuscripts from the monastery’s rich library to Etchmiadzin. To this day, part of the remaining manuscripts are rotting and being eaten by moths where they were left, while another part has already been alienated and is in the hands of others.”

Our Matenadaran houses the monastery’s catalogue of handwritten and printed books compiled by Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants. 125 handwritten and 98 printed books are included in this catalogue entitled: “These are the books of the Saint Nakhavka Monastery, listed by name”. 69 manuscripts were brought to Matenadaran in 1848, one in 1868, another in 1893. The remaining 54, as it can be concluded from A. Sedrakyan’s testimony, have either been destroyed or alienated.

The following are the current numbers of the 71 manuscripts included in the catalogue, which are now in Matenadaran:  33, 82, 93, 104, 117, 141, 142, 164, 192, 226, 254, 287, 302, 309, 327, 328, 339, 340, 359, 369, 382, 387, 472, 542, 543, 618, 619, 634, 635, 648, 680, 780, 864, 914, 947–976, 983–985, 987, 1144, 1158, 1322, 1337, 1352, 1353, 1362, 1501–1504, 1512, 1513, 1516, 1517, 1558–1561, 1568,1569, 1658, 1748. 1957, 2196, 2331–2333, 2374, 2380, 2673, 3139 (the last two manuscripts have been included in the Gevorgyan collection – the first since 1868 and the second since 1893).

As we have seen, Nerses Ashtaraketsi neglected the crown prince Alexander’s suggestion to improve Etchmiadzin’s library and to create systematic and academic lists of manuscripts. During his three-year tenure (1849–1851) as the head of the library, Makar Teghuttsi, too, did not accomplish much in terms of organising the library (columns 37–38).

This state of affairs remained unchanged until 1858 when Matteos K. Polsetsi became Catholicos, finding the library “in a confused state”, so that “everyone’s heart ached with compassion at the sight of it”.

When the crown prince Alexander ascended the throne in 1855, he once again focused his attention on Etchmiadzin’s library. On September 9, 1860, Kruzinshtern, the administrator of the Viceroy of Caucasus, addressed Catholicos Matteos in a letter: “During the Emperor’s visit to Etchmiadzin, it has pleased His Highness to take notice of the collection of books and manuscripts in the monastery, which remain unknown and of no use to research due to a disorderly and unorganised state. Among them are treasures not only of Armenian but also of other Eastern literature and history. In order to make them known, His Imperial Highness commands that an expert be selected, who will classify the manuscripts and printed books of Etchmiadzin’s monastery according to language and content, prepare systematic lists, underline the oldest and most content-rich examples and send such lists to the Ministry of Public Education.

It is a strange, yet undeniable truth that during those years foreign intellectuals and state officials showed more interest in the manuscript treasures of Etchmiadzin’s library than the clergy of Etchmiadzin. And if ever attempts were made to bring the library to an orderly state, it was always at the instigation of foreigners and as a temporary measure.

Referring to the reasons why foreigners were interested in Etchmiadzin’s library, Kerovbe Patkanyan writes: “Among Armenian libraries, Etchmiadzin’s monastery undoubtedly is the most significant. The monastery’s library has long been famous for highly regarded thanks to its rich and diverse manuscripts. This reputation has led many to believe that such an old and renowned monastery could house not only Armenian but also foreign manuscripts, and this assumption would certainly urge many to get more closely acquainted with the manuscripts. But these aspirations could not have come true for a long time for the simple reason that in Etchmiadzin, as well as in all of Armenia, libraries as such had long ceased to exist. Instead, there was a sort of repository, where manuscripts and books were haphazardly piled upon one another, suffering from humidity, mice and especially the neglectful attitude of their guardians. And throughout centuries there had hardly been anyone who could have known exactly what was in the library”.

The above-mentioned order of Emperor Alexander II obliged Catholicos Matteos I to seriously deal with the organization of Etchmiadzin’s library. On September 30, 1860, by Order N 1845 of the Synod, Daniel Vardapet Shahnazaryan was appointed head of the library and assigned to take care of its organization and the preparation of an orderly catalogue. Daniel Shahnazaryan was aided by Andreas Vardapet Vehapetyan and Sukias Vardapet Parzyan, assistant Hakob Sarkavag Syunetsi and secretary Nikoghayos Ter-Hovsepyan. In his note N 500 of October 9, 1860, Catholicos Matteos I communicated the news of the appointment to the general affairs manager of the Viceroy of Caucasus, informing him that by the supreme order, the organization of the library and the cataloguing of the manuscripts had already began.

Indeed, in a short period of time, the library was put in order. Hakob Karenyants, who visited Etchmiadzin in 1861 and had a closer (columns 39–40) look at the library, writes the following: “We have heard countless times about the miserable state of Etchmiadzin’s library, they even said that snakes and scorpions had nested inside the manuscripts. But I have witnessed quite the opposite. Therefore, fellow Armenians, ignore the negative rumors and for the first time listen to good tidings. Etchmiadzin’s library, a magnificent stone building adjacent to the residence of the Catholicos, is divided into two major halls with clean and luminous windows. Inside these rooms, new and beautiful full-height shelves with individual locks made of red wood are installed. They contain all the books: while in the first hall you can find printed books, the second one houses the rare treasures of our nation – our manuscripts. I examined several very large books and did not find any humidity or dust, much less snakes or scorpions.”

The catalogue was completed at the end of December 1861 and it was presented to the Catholicos on January 10, 1862. In May 1863, the Catholicos sent the catalogue to Tbilisi, to Hakob Karenyants, who had promised to publish it at his own expense during his visit to Etchmiadzin in 1861. Karenyants fulfilled his promise and by the end of 1863 published the catalogue which to this day is known as “The Karenyants Catalogue”.

The original catalogue, which is now kept in our Matenadaran’s collection of Armenian manuscripts under the number 4570, has the following title page: “General Manuscript Catalogue of the Library of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin; by Order of the Catholicos of All Armenians Ter-Ter Matteos, the God-Chosen Patriarch and the Knight of Two Empires, Russian and Ottoman. Compiled by Daniel Vardapet Shahnazaryants Taronetsi and Andreas Vardapet Kostandnupolsetsi from the Congregation of Holy Etchmiadzin. Holy Etchmiadzin, 1862”.

All the 2338 manuscripts, which were once at Etchmiadzin’s library, are described on the original list under the numbers 1–2331. The noticeable difference of 7 numbers between these two figures is caused by the following mistakes: firstly, NN 1115 and 1333 have been skipped over (-2); secondly, 7 manuscripts included between numbers 1209–1210, 1239–1240, 1297–1298, 1593–1594, 1730–1731, 2230–2231, 2287–2288 were not numbered (+7); finally, numbers 1413 and 2123 are repeated (+2). The manuscripts that figure on this list correspond to those included in Karenyants’ printed version. In the printed version, 2338 manuscripts are under the numbers 1–2340. The difference of 2 numbers is the result of the following mistakes: numbers 1593 and 1594 are repeated (+2); the current manuscripts NN 1902 and 1921 have been given duplicate numbers on Karenyants’ list: 1680, 1681 and 1791, 1792; lastly, numbers 1976 and 2309 have been skipped over (-2).

2333 from the above-mentioned 2338 manuscripts are now in our Matenadaran (in fact, the actual number of manuscripts is 2334 because volumes I and II of N 43 (Karenyants’ list) are now presented as separate items under numbers 374 and 375. One of the missing 5 manuscripts (number 334, according to Karenyants) was gifted in 1880 to Emperor Alexander II by Catholicos Gevorg IV on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his coronation. The other 4 (1659, 1660, 1734, 2031, as per Karenyants’ list) were considered lost already in 1892. This fact is communicated by the head of the library, Sahak Amatuni, in his explanatory note to the Synod dated August 28, 1892. It is also corroborated by the record of December 14, 1897 (columns 41–42), when the newly-appointed head of the library, Garegin Hovsepyan, accepted the manuscripts from the former head of the library, Sahak Amatuni.

The following are the current numbers of the 2333 (in reality, 2334) manuscripts in Matenadaran, described on Karenyants’ list: NN 1–46, 48–54, 58–96, 98–136, 138–189, 191–432, 434–487, 489, 491–504, 506–551, 553–555, 557–777, 779–831, 833–858, 860–912, 914–977, 979–1005, 1007–1017, 1019–1047, 1049–1112, 1117–1170, 1174–1212, 1214–1241, 1245–1257, 1259–1307, 1309, 1310, 1312–1476, 1478–1497, 1500–1653, 1637–1652, 1654–1791, 1793, 1794, 1796–1850, 1852–1912, 1914–1986, 1988–2228, 2230–2374, 2380–2382, 3777, 7345.

Even though the “General Catalogue”, compiled by Daniel Vardapet Shahnazaryan and published by Karenyants, has many flaws and mistakes, it is, nevertheless, the only complete published list that summarizes the old part of the rich collection of Etchmiadzin’s library.

It is pointless to blame Daniel Shahnazaryan for the catalogue’s flaws because it was virtually the first attempt of this kind and was only backed by Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants’ and Manvel Gyumushkhanetsi’ similar endeavours.

It seems that the head of the library Daniel Shahnazaryan did not establish a very strict order inside the institution. Understandably, under those circumstances stealing of manuscripts was also a possibility, not only at the hands of the enemy, but also “by the librarians themselves”. Because of this negligence, only 2338 manuscripts were left in the library in 1862, i. e. 402 units less than the 2740 manuscripts the library had according to Shahkhatunyants’ list compiled in 1837 (not counting those that could have been acquired over the years).

In this regard, Kerovbe Patkanian wrote years later: “Until the middle of this century, manuscripts were being stolen and the best copies, in terms of content and aesthetic value, were circulating from hand to hand. Even today, many private and public collections bear the traces of Etchmiadzin’s seal. The oldest copies of the histories of Kaghankatvatsi and Sebeos, which were in the monastery’s library in the 50s, are no longer there, as I personally checked in 1877 during my visit to Etchmiadzin.”

In the following 5 years (1863–1867), thanks to Grigor Vardapet Musheghyan’s service as the head of the library, Etchmiadzin’s collection of Armenian manuscripts was enriched with other 44 items (the amount of manuscripts actually equals 45 because the current NN 1498 and 1499, as volumes I and II of the same work, were registered under N 1796). In the beginning of 1868, the number of manuscripts reached 2382 (2383).

Here are the current numbers of the 44 (45) manuscripts acquired in a five-year period (1863–1867): NN 47, 55–57, 97, 137, 190, 433, 488, 490, 505, 552, 556, 778, 832, 859, 913, 1006, 1018, 1048, 1113–1116, 1171–1173, 1213, 1242–1244, 1258, 1308, 1311, 1477, 1498, 1499, 1636, 1653, 1792, 1795, 1851, 1913, 1987, 2229.

The incorporation of the mentioned 44 (45) newly-acquired manuscripts into the catalogue significantly disturbed the order of numbers on Karenyants’ list and resulted in numerous errors. The problem was that instead of having been numbered in a way that would necessarily continue Karenyants’ list, they were categorized thematically and alphabetically and integrated in the corresponding sections. In order to put an end to this chaos (which, by the way, lasted for about two decades), in 1892 Sahak Amatuni, the head of the library, renumbered the manuscripts from beginning to end, made rearrangements and compiled a brief catalogue (columns 43–44). On this occasion, in his declaration (dated August 28, 1892) addressed to the Synod, Amatuni writes: “After tormenting my morbid self there, in the cells of the library in order to change the numbers of all manuscripts, which were printed and glued on their covers, I alone also compiled this catalogue, which I present to the Synod for consideration, so that every librarian should keep this numbering in the future”.

However, it is fair to mention that in the 70s (most likely in 1878), a similar undertaking was also completed by the head of the library, Nerses Vardapet Khudaverdyan. But because of the lack of an appropriate catalogue, his work produced no results.

Thus, the manuscript collection of Etchmiadzin’s library ended up with two catalogues, each numbered totally differently.

A.  The printed “General Catalogue” by Hakob Karenyants: NN 1–2340.

B.   The newly renumbered brief catalogue by Sahak Amatuni: NN 1–2383.

The first one is known in philology as the “General Catalogue” or the “Karenyants Catalogue”, while the second one is introduced as the catalogue “of Etchmiadzin”, “Etchmiadzin’s manuscripts” or “Etchmiadzin’s library”. Its numbers are referred to as “Etchmiadzin’s old numbers” since 1913, when the “Gevorgyan” and several other collections were grouped and numbered accordingly. It should be noted that these names were often confused with each other, something that was inevitable, considering that the same work had three different numbers. So, it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find a given manuscript, especially because additional bibliographical information was missing. The task was also difficult since the numbers of Karenyants’ catalogue were not preserved on any of the manuscripts.

In literature (in Garegin Hovsepyan’s works, among others), both numbers are frequently listed together in fraction form: Karenyants’ number in the numerator and that of Amatuni in the denominator, or the other way around. From 1913 on, it is also possible to find the following fraction form: Amatuni’s number (sometimes together with that of Karenyants) in the numerator and the current number in the denominator.

It is worth mentioning that only the manuscripts included in Karenyants’ and Amatuni’s catalogues are part of “The Collection of Etchmiadzin’s Library” or simply “Etchmiadzin’s Collection”, and should not be confused with a number of highly valuable collections that were added to Etchmiadzin’s library in the following fifty years (1868–1913). These were grouped and numbered not earlier than 1913, as already mentioned, and are known in philology by their previous “addresses.” These catalogues will be discussed later on.

As it has been noted, in the beginning of 1868, Etchmiadzin’s library had 2382 manuscripts (2383 according to Amatuni, because volumes I and II of NN 43 and 1796 are now registered accordingly under NN 374, 375 and 1498, 1499 (+2), while manuscript N 276 (N 269, as per Karenyants), which had been lost, was erroneously registered under N 371 (-1) once found, instead of being reassigned its previous number. Matenadaran received 2378 manuscripts out of those 2383. One of the 5 remaining manuscripts, N 341 (N 334, as per Karenyants’ list), was gifted to Emperor Alexander II by Catholicos Gevorg IV on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his coronation. The other 4: NN 1701, 1702, 1776, 1796 (NN 1659, 1660, 1734, 2031 on Karenyants’ list), as already stated in relation to Karenyants’ catalogue, were already lost in 1892.

The aforesaid 2378 manuscripts of Etchmiadzin’s former library have the following current numbers in our Matenadaran: NN 1–997, 979–2374, 2380–2382, 3777, 7345 (the last two are some of the few manuscripts which had been alienated and later returned to Matenadaran).

In order to give complete information about Etchmiadzin’s main collection, we should add that 48 folios from MS N 263 (N 352 and N 359, according to Karenyants and Amatuni respectively) (columns 45–46) were brought to Matenadaran in 1938 (N 209 in the 1938 collection) and received the number 8690. It is not known when and where the folios got separated from the manuscript. In 1960, the 48 folios were reunited with it. 

Unfortunately, there is no specific information with regard to how the collection of Etchmiadzin’s library was enriched. As we have seen, it has a long history with ups and downs. However, just like the different Armenian manuscript collections around the world (Jerusalem, Venice, Vienna, New Julfa, etc.), our Matenadaran’s collection as well (including its core: the rich collection of Etchmiadzin’s former library), as Brosset puts it, “came together little by little, without major difficulties, thanks to the donations of clergymen and secular people, as well as the merging of the collections of the monasteries which are now in ruins.”

Here we first of all mean the manuscripts which were written or copied by Etchmiadzin’s clergymen in loco, i. e. at Etchmiadzin. Secondly, we should include those which were copied in other places at the request of monks or by order of the catholicoi specifically for Etchmiadzin’s library. Thirdly, we should take into account the donations of not only clergymen but also of believers, as well as the manuscripts that were brought from different monasteries and churches.

It is impossible to determine the components and the current numbers of a collection which slowly accumulated in four hundred twenty years (1441–1862). It is impossible especially because, having been repeatedly subjected to plunder and destruction, the number of manuscripts at the library decreased. In peaceful times, when the manuscripts were gathered and intermixed, they lost the traces of their former belonging. It is also difficult since the library was in no habit of marking in separate registers from where, how and when the manuscripts were acquired. Only in rare cases such information can be found in books, which is extremely insufficient for uncovering the layers of the library’s rich collection.

As we have mentioned, Etchmiadzin’s library first of all included the manuscripts copied in Etchmiadzin. Today, there are 321 manuscripts copied in Etchmiadzin among the Armenian manuscript collections of various museums around the world, 101 of which are in the collection of Etchmiadzin’s library: NN 2, 25, 26, 31, 47, 59, 75, 109, 111, 119, 126, 131, 138, 205, 350, 399, 435, 442, 444, 446, 450, 464, 499, 509, 637, 664, 873, 930, 978, 1002, 1056, 1072, 1073, 1088, 1162, 1212, 1221, 1222, 1224, 1226, 1228, 1278, 1350, 1405, 1423, 1425, 1441, 1446, 1458, 1512, 1532-1534, 1549, 1674, 1678, 1691, 1703, 1708, 1740, 1754, 1801, 1804, 1808, 1813, 1817, 1822, 1825, 1826, 1833, 1835, 1837, 1841, 1891, 1894, 1900, 1917, 1927, 1934, 1972, 1993, 2000, 2027, 2096, 2124, 2162, 2186, 2216, 2220, 2222, 2224, 2228, 2263, 2286, 2289, 2309, 2319, 2377, 2340, 2356.

After Etchmiadzin, the second largest part of manuscripts in the collection is from Hovhannavank. For centuries, Hovhannavank was considered a significant scriptorium and intellectual centre. Today we have manuscripts that were copied there between the 11th and 18th centuries (not counting the intervals). Hovhannavank played an especially important role from the second quarter of the 17th century when, after the destructive Russian-Turkish war, a long period of peace was established in the country. This was “the time of Catholicos Movses Syunetsi (1623–1632)”, as Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants writes, “who after renovating all the buildings ... took care of erecting a school at the holy monastery of Hovhannavank. He gathered pupils and appointed as their teacher Melikset Vardapet who had come there from the Monastery of Lim”. The subsequent catholicoi also did not neglect Hovhannavank, thanks to which for a long time (columns 47–48) it remained one of the cultural centres of Armenia.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine which manuscripts belonged to the monastery and how many there were. In general, very few manuscripts copied in Hovhannavank have reached us (around 20 manuscripts, 15 of which are now in Matenadaran). 12 out of 15 have been included in Etchmiadzin’s collection and have been numbered thusly: 152, 380, 541, 1316, 1363, 1404, 1479, 1522, 1526, 1531, 1660, 1662.

69 manuscripts from the St. Stepanos Nakhavka Monastery (Maghardavank) of Darashamb are also part of Etchmiadzin’s collection. We have already mentioned their numbers and noted that those manuscripts were brought to Etchmiadzin in 1848 by Makar Vardapet Ter-Petrosyan, thanks to the efforts of Hovhannes Shahkhatunyants.


Sadly, it is unknown what manuscripts from other monasteries were included in Etchmiadzin’s library. However, a piece of information is provided by Makar Teghuttsi’s biographer, according to which, “part of the current manuscripts of Holy Etchmiadzin’s library have been acquired by the Patriarch from the cells of Iran’s [he means the manuscripts brought from Darashamb – O. Y.] and Russia’s different monasteries”. Thus it can be concluded that the collection also contained manuscripts from Georgia, Nor Nakhijevan and Bessarabia. Though there is no written record of this, it can be assumed that they must have been the 44 manuscripts left out of Karenyants’ list, which were brought to Etchmiadzin in 1863–1867. This assumption is based on the fact that the period coincides with Makar Teghuttsi’s leadership of the Diocese of Georgia and Imereti.

Donations of religious and secular individuals are a considerable part of the collection of Etchmiadzin but unfortunately we don’t have information about many of them. The following are the names of the individuals and the current numbers of those donated manuscripts about which we have information (columns 49-50).

List A

Etchmiadzin’s Main Collection

Abghutyan Hovsep, 1801 – 6 (NN 530, 924, 1092, 1093, 1287, 2081). The 9 manuscripts of Hovsep Abghutyan were included in the Gevorgyan Collection (see List B)

Grigor Vardapet, 1811 – (N 1002)

Catholicos Yeprem, 1809–1827 – 7 (NN 372, 413, 453, 460, 462, 1017, 1213)

Zakaria Yepiskopos Oshakantsi, 1808 – 1 (NN 1706)

Tadeos Vardapet – 1 (N 486)

Taghiadyan Mesrop – 1 (NN 2021)

Tovmas Vardapet, 1811 – 6 (NN 1003, 1005, 1006, 1021, 1134, 1146)

Izmirlyants Matteos – 1 (N 980); two manuscripts were included in the Gevorgyan Collection (See List B)

Khndryan – Papazyan Stepannos, Constantinople, 1859 – 1 (N 1496)

Korganov Ivan – 1 (N 986)

Hovhannes Hamadantsi, Tabriz – 1 (N 429)

Hovhannes Vardapet Vanahayr, St. Gayane Monastery, 1862 – 1 (N 1016)

Manvel Vardapet Gyumushkhanetsi, 1831 – 1 (N 1163)

Minas Tiratsu Nakhijevantsi, 1812 – 1 (N 454)

Reteos Vardapet, 1795 – 5 (NN 1201, 1233, 1255, 1365, 1391)

Ter-Grigoryan Maghakia, Constantinople, 1859 – 3 (NN 1009-1011)

Philippos Vardapet, 1812 – 1 (N 1282)