Friday 11 March 2011

Island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice

The Island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni

San Lazzaro degli Armeni is a small island in the Venetian Lagoon lying immediately west of the Lido; completely occupied by a monastery that is the mother-house of the Mekhitarist Order, the island is one of the world's foremost centers of Armenian culture.

The island's isolation, at some distance from the principal islands which form the actual city of Venice, made it an ideal location for the quarantine station and leper colony founded there in the twelfth century, receiving its name from St. Lazarus, patron saint of lepers. Abandoned in the sixteenth century, in 1717 it was given by the ruling council of Venice to a group of Armenian monks who had escaped from Turkish persecution. In 1712 they had placed themselves under the protection of the Pope, and eventually made their way to Venice. Mekhitar and his seventeen monks built a monastery, restored the old church, and enlarged the island to its present 30,000 square metres, about four times its original area.

Its founder's temperament and natural gifts for scholarly pursuits immediately set the Mekhitarist Order in the forefront of Oriental studies: the monastery published Armenian historical, philological and literary works and related material, renowned for their scholarship and accuracy as well as for the beauty of the editions, on its own multilingual presses, which shut down in 1991, although an eighteenth century printing press can still be seen in the museum. S. Lazzaro houses a 150,000-volume library, as well as a museum with over 4,000 Armenian manuscripts and many Arab, Indian and Egyptian artifacts collected by the monks or received as gifts.

The monastery, with its gardens noted for its peacocks, also has a long tradition of hospitality to scholars and students, among whom Lord Byron, who studied Armenian there during much of the year 1816, is remembered by a permanent exhibition.

In May 2005 the Monastery played host to around 200 members of the Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem who made their way to Venice for an international gathering comprising a number of organisational, spiritual and social events.

The 49th Grand Master of the Order, HRH Prince Charles-Philippe d'Orléans, Duc d'Anjou, presided at full day meetings of the Grand Magistry and the Governing Council of Heads of Jurisdictions on the Island of San Lazzaro, which has historical connections with the Order of St Lazarus since the first home of the Order was the hospital of St Lazarus in Jerusalem which had been established by Armenian monks. A Commandery of the Order was erected on the island in the twentieth century.

Many members of our own Grand Priory were present on 20 May 2005 when the Abbot-General, His Grace Elia Kilaghbian, was installed as Commander of the Eternal Commandery of San Lazzaro by the Grand Master during an Armenian rite Mass in the Abbey Church.

Mass in the Armenian rite during which His Grace Abbot-General Elia Kilaghbian
was installed as Commander of the Eternal Commandery
of San Lazzaro.

His Grace Abbot-General Elia Kilaghbian with HRH Prince Charles-Philippe d'Orleans

and His Eminence László Cardinal Paskai, OFM.