Venice… The magnificent city of canals and art.
The home of many canals and bridges, tourist attractions, grand squares decorated with “courtesans” and musicians, and the famous Venetian masks.
Every time you walk by the streets of Venice you get the urge to stretch your hand and touch the bricks of the antique buildings and as you do, you can feel at the end of your fingertips the wet grains of sand that have fallen off the plaster.
Venice is a historically noteworthy city for Armenians, as, in 1512, Hakob Meghapart had published the first Armenian printed book “Urbatagirk” in the city. But, the first Armenian-Venetian relations date back to the 6th-7th centuries. Their inter-state relations had reached their peak during the Armenian Kingdom of Kilikia, thanks to Armenians merchants, sailors and shipbuilders. In the last two centuries, other than St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Doge’s Palace, the Renaissance art, the Rialto bridge and the numerous canals surrounding it, the most sight that Armenians are most drawn to is the island of St. Lazarus.
This is the island.
This is the Rialto bridge.
The Doge’s Palace.
St. Mark’s Cathedral.
The ship glides across the Adriatic sky-blue waters, swimming towards St. Lazarus. When you see the island, your heart swells with excitement. The first thing you notice at the bay when you get there is the “Armenia” ship. The St. Lazarus pilgrimage starts from the tribute to Mkhitar Sebastatsi, who’s tomb is located at the church, and ends with being in the room of Ghevond Alishan.
The founder was a clergyman named Mkhitar, who had arrived from Sebastia, thus, the name Mkhitar Sebastatsi. Before that, the island was owned by the local authorities and was used as a poorhouse.
After a lot of rambling, thanks to the goodwill of the local government, Mkhitar Sebastatsi finally settled and founded the congregation in Venice. which was later named after him. The Mkhitaryan Congregation still operates to date.
In the island, the gaps and openings that were used to transfer food and needs to people are still preserved. The island was also entrusted to become the torch-bearer during the 18-19th centuries. As Leo has described, the 18th century had become the century of Mkhitarists for Armenians.
Mkhitaryan friars brought an utterly new level of printing. Their main job was to include European research methods in different fields of Armenian studies. Armenian culture, history, theology, philosophy, language and literature’s major preservation center was located in Constantinople and moved to Venice’s St. Lazarus island in 1717.
The Congregation has existed for more than 300 years, during which many prominent scholars have visited and studied there, such as the English poet George Gordon Byron. It is known, that he had studied Armenian with Harutyun Avgerian.
It is exciting and unforgettable to be in such place, for this is the island where our culture, literature and language had developed thanks to devotees such as Mkhitar Sebastatsi, Ghevond Alishan, the founder and editor of “Bazmavep” Gabriel Ayvazovsky and many others. The Mkhitaryan Congregation has opened 25 schools, 5 of which are preserved to this day. There are 26 monks and clergymen in the Congregation who continue preserving the identity of Armenians.
And that is about all the evidence that has been kept in the island by the monks. The Mkhiatryan museum at the island summarizes valuable samples, one of the most exciting being the sword of Levon 5th, the king of Kilikia, which was made is Sis back in 1366. The Congregation’s gallery isn’t any less beautiful, filled with Ayvazovsky’s, Martiros Saryan’s, Garzou’s art pieces. As for the depository of manuscripts, there are more than 5000 parchment samples, and also, the tomes of Mkhitar Sebastatsi.
“The printing tools of Mkhitarists scares me more than the weapons of the Armenian soldiers”
The confession of Sultan Hamid best defines the role and the importance of Mkhitarists for each Armenian.
Venice’s Congregation continues to carry out the misson of Mkhitar Sebastatsi. A mission that was given to him by a divine power.