Armenian Jerusalem
 

The late 1920s were a watershed in the history of the

Armenians in the Holy Land. It was during this seminal

epoch that the Armenian community laid the

groundwork for a school of its own, the Tarkmanchatz,

which has given the world more than its quota of

luminaries (including Ohan Durian, the great

composer) as well as a large library, both institutions

gifts of Calouste Gulbenkian, who was known in oil and

financial circles as Mr Five Percent, a reference to his

stake in the Iraq Petroleum Company.

     The   library   ranks   as   one   of   the   most   important   in   the   Armenian diaspora.   It   boasts   close   to   100,000   volumes,   of   which   less   than half   are   in   Armenian.   The   rest   are   mainly   in   English,   French,   and German,    as    well    as    quite    a    few    dead    languages,    including hieroglyphics.    The    library    subscribes    to    almost    every    single Armenian-owned   publication   in   the   world,   making   it   an   invaluable repository   of   Armenian   culture   and   literature.   Almost   every   single Armenian-owned   newspaper   and   magazine   published   anywhere   in   the   world   is   represented here.   Among   the   rare   treasures   on   display   in   the   library,   are   an   Armenian   bible   printed   in Amsterdam   in   the   middle   of   the   17th   Century,   and   a   delightful   facsimile   of   the   Egyptian Book   of   the   Dead,   which   includes   the   haunting   litany   from   the   papyrus   of   the   Royal   Mother Netchemet,   with   its   perennial   refrain:   "I   have   done   no   hurt   unto   man,   nor   have   I   wrought harm unto beasts . . . I am pure - I am pure - I am pure."                And   hidden   under   a   veil   of   dust,   away   from   prying   eyes,   you   will   come   across   a   curious tome,   titled   the   "Vetz   Hazariah"   (the   six   thousand)   to   which   access   is   denied   to   all   but   a handful.   From   what   little   we   knew   about   it,   it   is   a   treatise   on   magic   and   the   occult.   One man   we   know   who   had   read   the   book   used   to   dress   entirely   in   blue,   dangle   a   sword   from   his belt,   and   take   long   walks   across   the   roofs   of   the   St   James   convent,   like   one   possessed.   He never   talked   to   anyone.   Perhaps   because   no   one   dared   approach   him. They   were   all   afraid   of what   he   might   say   or   do:   what   secret   knowledge   or   power   he   had   gleaned   never   actually came to the test.                For   years,   the   library   had   been   out   of   limits   to   everyone   except   scholars   and   the   clergy. It   was   only   when   Father   Anoushavan   Zeghchanyan,   a   linguist   who   knew   more   than   a   dozen languages,   became   curator   that   he   threw   its   doors   wide   open.   One   of   his   dreams   was   to compile   a   comparative   grammar,   as   he   called   it,   encompassing   Armenian,   English,   French and a host of other languages, but he did not live to realize it.                It   was   this   self-effacing   clergyman   who   also   introduced   us   to   the   delights   of   French   at   the Tarkmanchatz   school.   The   education   proved   invaluable   to   me   when   I   later   went   to   the College Des Freres high school, run by friars belonging to the Catholic De La Salle order.               A   few   minutes   walk   away,   through   the   labyrinthine   alleys   of   the   Convent,   the   tiny   chapel of   St   Thoros   stands   guard   over   some   of   the   Patriarchate's   most   precious   treasures:   a   trove   of over 4,000 illustrated manuscripts.                For   nearly   all   his   adult   life,   the   late   Archbishop   Norayr   Bogharian   had   lavished   special care   and   attention   on   these   priceless   relics,   his   ceaseless   efforts   resulting   in   the   compilation of   a   dozen   grand   catalogs   listing   every   one   of   the   manuscripts,   with   occasional   excerpts culled   from   them,   and   a   full   physical   description,   as   well   as   a   brief   summary   of   the   contents of    each.    The    manuscripts    are    inaccessible    to    the    general    public.    However,    bona    fide researchers   who   meet   the   stringent   scholarly   demands   of   the   Patriarchate,   may   be   allowed to study the manuscripts, on the premises.                The   Queen   Keran   gospel   (1272),   a   masterpiece   of   miniature   illustration,   the   work   of Thoros   Roslin,   one   of   the   Armenian   nation's   greatest   medieval   artists,   occupies   place   of honor   among   the   panoply   of   manuscripts   that   include   not   only   sacred   tests   but   also   homilies and treatises on medicinal herbs.                I   am   one   of   the   privileged   few   who   had   been   granted   access   to   this   incomparable   marvel. I   had   never   had   a   chance   to   get   up   real   close   and   personal   to   the   manuscripts   before,   while   I was   working   as   press   officer   and   secretary   to   the   Patriarch,   but   on   my   latest   return   to Jerusalem from Sydney where I live, that opportunity presented itself.                I   gazed   in   speechless   wonder   as   the   library   custodian   carefully   opened   pages   of   the manuscript   for   me   to   photograph.   She   touched   each   of   the   sheets   with   an   almost   religious awe   and   trepidity,   fearful   of   leaving   a   smudge   there,   and   thus   desecrating   this   priceless masterpiece.                     The   colors,   agelessly   pregnant   with   pigments   several   centuries   old,   seem   alive,   vibrating with an intensity of passion that strikes the soul.                The   manuscript   gospel,   along   with   hundreds   of   others,   have   lain   in   undisturbed   solitude for   centuries,   shaken   out   of   their   desultory   concealment   only   occasionally   to   enjoy   a   brief respite   from   obscurity   for   the   express   purpose   of   delighting   the   eyes   of   some   visiting   high- ranking dignitary, or a bona fide researcher.                But   if   the   Armenian   Patriarchate's   Grand   Sacristan,   Archbishop   Nourhan   Manoogian, succeeds   in   realizing   his   dream,   Queen   Keran   will   shed   her   veil   of   obscurity   and   be   reborn   in her vaunted glory.                He   confided   his   dream   to   me   as   we   stood   in   his   office   leafing   through   the      facsimile   of   an ancient manuscript, a gift from the Pope.                "This   is   what   I'd   like   to   do,"   he   said.   "Reproduce   the   Queen   Keran   gospel   in   brilliant facsimile,   in   all   the   glorious   illustrations   of   Toros   Roslin,   a   memorable   treasure   for   libraries, museums and researchers around the world."                Although   Nourhan   realizes   that   a   an   exact   facsimile   will   be   an   expensive   exercise,   he   is comforted   by   the   expectation   of   intense   demand   for   it   from   discerning   collectors,   museums, and others.                Experts   note   that   the   technology   is   certainly   available   in   such   a   highly   advanced   IT location like Israel, but believe costs might be lower abroad.               The   manuscript,   perhaps   the   most   elegant   produced   during   the   Mediaeval   ages,   contains, in   addition   to   canon   tables   and   richly   decorated   headpieces,   thirteen   full-page   miniatures illustrating    the    main    events    in    the    life    of    Christ    and    a    hundred    and    three    marginal miniatures.                But   the   most   remarkable   aspect   of   the   manuscript   is   the   inclusion   of   portrays   of members   of   the   royal   family:   Queen   Keran   herself,   her   husband   King   Levon   III   and   their   five children,   are   portrayed   as   supplicants,   with   the   Virgin   Mary   and   St   John   the   Baptist   shown interceding on their behalf.                Scholars   attach   particular   importance   to   these   illustrations   as   they   cast   a   light   on   the fashion of the royal court of the age.      
Gulbenkian library
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian
Loading