A treasure trove of Armenian knowledge, the Matenadaran houses one of the world’s richest old manuscript collections. Karen Matevosyan, the museum-institute’s deputy director for academic affairs, looks after them.
“A book is someone,” Victor Hugo wrote in Philosophical Prose. The Matenadaran-Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Armenia has over 20,000 works. Some were saved from the flames, others brought in lieu of bread by illiterate peasants fleeing the persecution of foreign invaders, like the 13th-century Homilies of Mush , a 28-kilo (62 lbs.) book of 601 parchment pages, which the institute has on display to the public. Majestically standing atop a high hill in Yerevan, the venerable beacon of national knowledge is an ode to the soul of the Armenian people, hungry for learning. Preserving their knowledge, whatever the cost, is a matter of the survival of identity in a place where the world’s first Christian state was created in 301. Since then, incessantly invaded and inexorably amputated of its ancestral lands, Armenia has relied on its only faithful ally: its unique alphabet, whose 36 letters—now 39—the monk Mesrop Mashtots created in 405. They turned…
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