(The following is a guest post by Levon Avdoyan, Armenian and Georgian area specialist in the African and Middle Eastern Division.)
The feast of Easter is arguably the holiest of holidays for the various Christian denominations but especially for the Eastern Churches – among those, the Armenian Church. For it, Easter Week (Avag Shabat, the “Holy” or “Great” Week), begins on Monday preceding the crucifixion and ends on Sunday with the resurrection of Jesus, or Holy Easter (Surb Zatik).
It comes as no surprise, then, within Armenia’s rich Christian literary tradition, that its manuscripts and early publications are replete with stunning images dedicated to the various events of Easter Week. I merely wish with this blog post to present simply and with minimal description engravings and illuminations from four items among the rich collection of Armenian rarities in the custody of the Near East Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress.
In 1666, the first complete publication of the Armenian bible was published in Amsterdam. Edited by Oskan Erewantsʿi (Oskan of Erevan), it included select engravings by the renowned Dutch artist, Christoffel van Sichem, who had richly illustrated the Dutch Bible in 1657 with more than 1,000 images.
Among the Armenian manuscripts in the Near East Section are two richly illuminated missals, copies of the Armenian liturgy prepared for the use of the celebrants at the altar. Both were copied by unknown scribes in 1722 AD in the environs of Sebastia (Sivas) and Tʿokhatʿ of modern Turkey. Michael Stone, a former distinguished senior visiting fellow at the Kluge Center, and his late wife Nira, an art historian, had determined that both were products of the same workshop. However, each is adorned and decorated in different fashion. One depicts throughout its margins the actions of the bishops, priests and deacons at various moments in the liturgy, while the other concentrates on still yet ornately colored birds and devices.
Another item is one of the six leaves that came from a disbound 17th century Haysmawurkʿ (Lectionary/Synaxary), which is part of the Near East Section’s collection of calligraphy sheets acquired from the Armenian merchant and book dealer, Kirkor Minassian, in the 1930s.
I hope you will admire these images as much as I continue to.