From Amrtol to Armash 15th Century Renaissance Armenian University of Amrtol In Bitlis Four Famo
June 30 , 2020 , 20:17
From  Amrtol  to  Armash 15th Century Renaissance Armenian University of Amrtol In Bitlis  Four Famo

Renaissance in Europe

                Armenians rightfully and usually cling to the 5th century “Golden Age” Armenia as the foundation of Armenian learning and culture with the invention of letters and literature, but seldom reflect on the Middle Ages “Silver Age” Armenia, forgetting altogether the Renaissance of the 15th century achieved in Europe one thousand years in the remote future that offered Armenians a great opportunity to reform their Academia. Armenians and the entire world were grateful to the Gutenberg’s 1450 AD invention of the printing art in Germany inaugurating the European Renaissance, followed by the printing of the first books in Europe. If neither the State of Armenia nor the Armenian Church did, incredibly individuals like Hagop Meghabard and Vosgan Yerevantsi instead personally achieved the original endeavors to print the first six Armenian religious books, and later the Holy Bible, thus replacing the former art of manuscripts.  

                Armenians followed the printing art of Europe some sixty years later in 1513, when Hagop Meghabard initiated the first Armenian press in Venice and printed the first six books, making history in the Armenian academic field. Next, in 1666 Vosgan Vartabed Yerevantsi took the initiative to print the first Armenian Bible in Amsterdam 150 years later, a huge task indeed accomplished singlehandedly. The Armenian printing art of both individuals Hagop and Vosgan are seen as exceptionally successful, full of printed reproductions of ancient miniatures, despite the lack of any sponsorship and support as such, but only personal care and initiative.   


The Pioneers

                The Armenian Church and nation have always regarded the following six pioneers as the pillars of Armenian renaissance: Hakob Meghabard, Abgar of Tokat and son Soultanshah, Krikor Marzevantsi, Khachadour Guesaratsi, and Vosgan Yerevantsi. Hakob’s identity is totally in the dark, except for a very short colophon he has left at the end of the Badarakadedr (Book of Eucharist ), one of the six books he printed in Venice. The colophon reads: “This sacred book was written in the Armenian calendar year 962, and in Anno Domini 1513, in Venice, God’s providential city, by the hands of Hakob Meghabard  (the Sinful.)”

                The most distinguished of the earliest printed Armenian books was the Holy Bible by Vosgan Vartabed Yerevantsi 354 years ago in 1666. Fifty-four years ago we celebrated the 300th year of the historic event, following the Pontifical Encyclical issued by His Holiness Vasken I Catholicos of All Armenians. In his Encyclical Vasken I had cleverly associated St. Mesrob Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian letters in early 5th century, with Vosgan Yerevantsi in the 17th century, both of them Vartabeds, from the ranks of Armenian Church priesthood. Thus 1200 years in the distant future, Vosgan followed the steps of Mashtots to inaugurate the Armenian Renaissance, contributing immensely to the cultural and religious heritage and introducing them to the Western civilization. Catholcos Vasken I was also reminiscing both Pontiffs, St. Sahag Barthev (5th c.) then, and Hagop Jughayetsi (17th c.), who sponsored and encouraged St. Mesrob Mashtots and Vosgan Vartabed respectively, the first for inventing the Armenian Alphabet, and the second for printing the first Bible, the Asdvadzashounch madyan.   


Khachadour Guesaratsi

                Catholicos Hakob IV of Julfa (1655-1680) was the contemporary Pontiff of the Armenian Church with Vosgan Vartabed of Yerevan while the first Bible was being printed. They were classmates under the tutelage of this great teacher, theologian, and philosopher Khachadour Vartabed Guesaratsi, born in 1590 in Guesaria, Cappadocia, who founded the first printing press in Julfa, Iran, under the sacred shades of the Monastery of  All  Saviour (Amenaprgich). He was a brilliant student at the Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin, specializing in theology and philosophy. He studied the texts of ancient philosophers Aristotle and Plato, and the Armenian philosopher David the Invincible (7th century). In Julfa for the first time Khachadour published “The Lives of the Church Fathers,” “The Church Breviary,” and “The Book of Melodies,” the latter being an auxiliary to the “Hymnbook” of the Armenian Church.


The University of Amrtol

                While Western Armenia achieved those literary and academic strides in publications and schools, the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople tragically fell apart, due to internal useless conflicts. In 100 years, from 1600 to the end of the century, 55 Patriarchs succeeded each other treacherously, snatching power from one another, causing futile and deplorable administration for the lack of dedicated leadership. Two Patriarchs, Hovhannes Golod and Hagop Nalian, became the out-standing leaders to rescue the Holy See. Their legacy is highly venerated up to this day, as one of their recent successors Patriarch Shnork Kaloustian gave them the proper tribute.

                In the midst of all odds, a light shined in Baghesh (Bitlis), where the existing Monastery of Amrtol (Amlorti, meaning son of the barren), namely St. John the Baptist, flourished under a distinguished scholar Vartan Vartabed Baghishetsi at the end of the 16th century. One of his brilliant students was Hovhannes Vartabed Golod, who ascended the Patriarchal Throne (1715-1741) and saved the Patriarchate of Constantinople from its perilous condition during his 26 years tenure. Students under Vartan Baghishetsi included two more famous Patriarchs, Hagop Nalian of Constantinople and Krikor Sheghtayagir (Chain bearer) of Jerusalem, known as “the most learned theologians of the early 18th century.” All four, teacher and three disciples represented the Four Great Leaders of the century, who beside their administrative work, published also the first theological and exegetical large volumes, based on the Armenian manuscript texts of previous centuries. Patriarch Golod’s initial publications are shown below.

                In reality a university, the School of Amrtol was founded in the 15th century in the Province of Taron-Vaspurakan. Classified as a famous university by our historians with 43 members of the clerical order, it flourished under Vartan Vartabed Baghishetsi, who had established a large collection of ancient Armenian manuscripts in the school’s library. In my earlier years as I was translating the 8th century Armenian Historian Ghevond’s text into English, I looked into the earliest surviving manuscript text in the Yerevan Matenadaran, the Library of Manuscripts. The 13th c. copy, filed under number 1902, was donated to the Library of Holy Etchmiadzin from Amrtol by Vartan Vartabed Baghishetsi in 1690.   Vartan died in 1705. The School of Amrtol survived until 1915, the year of the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turks.


Initial Publications

                Patriarch Hovhannes Golod published several theological books on theology and on the integrity of the Orthodox faith. They are, “The Book to Administer the Sacraments,” “St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Scholia de incarnatione unigeniti,” “Calendar of Church Feasts,” “Abridged Grammar of Classical Armenian,” “Book Called the Lives of the Fathers,” and a “Commentary on St. John’s Gospel.” Saint Cyril’s Christological work was translated from the Greek original into Latin, and later into Classical Armenian, by Tavit Hupatos and Stepanos the Poet in 715 AD. The Armenian edition served as the text for the English translation by a famous British scholar of the Classical Armenian F.C. Conybeare in 1907, and published in London. This edition of “Scholia” served me to introduce the Christological views of St. Cyril of Alexandria on the “Two Natures in the One Person Incarnate” as my thesis at the university.


From Amrtol to Armash

                Amrtol with Armash marked the last Armenian religious havens of learning in Anatolia, whose graduates defended the legacy of our Church, eventually carried by the next generations up to this day. A line of continuation is drawn between the two since graduates of Amrtol indirectly established the monastery of Armash, near Constantinople, which later became a famous Seminary at the end of the 19th century from 1889 to 1915, under the aegis of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The founder of the Seminary in Armash was Patriarch Khoren Ashekian, a disciple of graduates from Amrtol. The first Dean of the Seminary of Armash, Bishop Malachia Ormanian, had the vision to invest a Seminary to the existing Monastery of Armash to educate religious leaders. He had to approach Patriarch Ashekian for the implementation of the learning institution. Receiving his blessings he was able to administer so well, that benefactors and educators arrived and turned the monastery to an academic center.

                Despite WWI and the Armenian genocide, those survived graduates of the Seminary became the leaders of the Armenian Churches both in the dioceses of Turkey and in Jerusalem where educated leadership was needed. Soon, after the exile from Sis, Cilicia, the Seminary of the Cilician See in Lebanon was formed, again through the immediate care of the same graduates of the Seminary of Armash, namely Catholicos Papken Guleserian, Bishop Shahe Kasparian and Bishop Paren Melkonian. It is obvious that whatever legacy our last three generations of clergy inherited was the legacy come from Amrtol and Armash, both demolished by the Ottoman Turks, but survived under brighter skies of hospitable countries, in Jerusalem and Lebanon.