Fr. Hovagimian of Vienna Mekhitarists Interviewed
Reporter, 17 December 2014
For nearly 250 years the Mekhitarian/Mekhistarist Monastery of Vienna
has retained its status as one of the spiritual and cultural pillars
of the Armenian Diaspora. It was established in 1773, after a group of
monks separated from the mother Venice congregation to Trieste. In
1810 the congregation moved again, this time to Vienna, when Emperor
Francis I of Austria provided them with refuge in an abandoned
Capucine abbey in the St. Ulrich suburb of the city.
The monastery includes a church, museum, library, and school. The
library has the largest and the oldest collection of Armenian
newspapers: some 170,000 volumes. The museum has one of the most
significant Armenian coin collections, the oldest dating from the 4th
century B.C. It also has ancient tapestries, ceramics, maps, a huge
globe of the world, old Armenian silver works, Bibles, paintings by
Naghash Hovnatan and Aivazovsky, and cartoons by Saroukhan. Its 2,600
illuminated manuscript collection is the third-largest after that of
Armenia and Jerusalem. The library also has an estimated 500,000
books. The street where the monastery is located is called
Mechitaristengasse. It's in the 7th district of Vienna.
The Mekhitarist congregation was founded by Mekhitar Sebastatsi in
Constantinople in 1701 and after a short stay in the Peloponnesians,
established itself in the San Lazzaro island in Venice.
Keghart.com interviewed Father Vahan Hovagimian, the head of the
Vienna monastery, in late fall.
Keghart: Tell us about yourself, Father Hovagimian.
Father Hovagimian: I was born in Kamishle, Syria in 1958. I lived in
Lebanon and came to Vienna in 1972 to continue my schooling and to
study at the university. I was ordained priest in 1984. I am in charge
of the parish, the library and the museum. My title is "Hiurungal
Vartabed"-- guest priest, custodian.
Keghart: How many priests are there in the monastery?
FH: We have six priests here and 18 in other countries.
Keghart: What's the focus of the Mekhitarist mission?
FH: Our motto is "Ora e labors" ("prayers and work"). Praying in
community and working together. In addition to spiritual work, we
are--as always--occupied with education/schools, parish work, research,
Keghart: How many students do you have here?
FH: In 2000 we had 380 students. We now have almost 30. Our student
numbers shrank because of the availability of many schools around us.
The glory days of our school were from the post-WWII years until the
Keghart: How are your relations with the local municipality?
FH: We have good relations with the municipality and with the state.
They support us when we ask for their financial help. When we ask for
help, say, for renovations, they help us, but only when the cost is
too high. They pay one-third of the cost. The monastery also has
private buildings and receives monthly rents from these buildings.
Keghart: I understand you have another source of revenues...liqueur production.
FH: We produce six types of very popular Mechitharine liqueurs. They
are generally speaking stomach-friendly beverages which are based on
ancient recipes our Founder Mekhitar Sebastatsi brought with him to
Europe. One of them is good for the heart. Others are for diabetics or
for people with stomach problems. We also have an appetizing bitter.
They come in .70L (22 Euros) and .35L (13 Euros).
Keghart: There are about 4,000 Armenians in Vienna, many of them
recent immigrants from Armenia. Can you talk about the community?
FH: For years our community had about 3,500 people, almost all from
Bulgaria, Hungary, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iran. In the past ten years
immigrants--mostly from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Syria--have joined the
community. I don't have exact population figures, but it's safe to say
that the number of the newcomers is 4,000.
Keghart: Can you tell us about Mekhitarian's great tradition of
research and publishing?
FH: We publish four to five books a year. Recent publications include
"Symposion, 200 Jahre Mechitharisten in Wien" and of course "Hantes
Amsoria 2014" and the "National Library Series" which started in 1889
and so far contain 227 volumes. We also continue with the "Studies of
the Armenian History" series. We sell "Hantes Amsoria" around the
world, including in Armenia. "Hantes Amsoria" and other journals can
be obtained through subscription.
Keghart: Considering your vast library of books and publications, do
Armenian and non-Armenian scholars utilize them for their research?
FH: The library is open to all--to "odars" and particularly to Armenians.
Keghart: How many visitors/tourists stop by the monastery every year?
FH: We get more than 3,000 visitors a year; almost 1,000 Armenian.
Keghart: Is it true that the Nazis occupied the monastery as their
offices during WWII? If yes, what did the monks do?
FH: I know that our monastery was used in the WWII as headquarters for
Marines. The monks went to the Middle East. The monastery treasures
and books were hidden in the basement of the monastery.
Keghart: Is the Mekhitarian Brotherhood growing?
FH: For three weeks recently I was in Venice, in our main mother
monastery at St. Lazzaro. We had the ordination of two young deacons.
We hope that in 2015 they can become priests. Two days after the
ordination of the deacons, four youngsters made their vows, to devote
their lives to God and to the Armenian Nation.
Fr. Hovagimian of Vienna Mekhitarists Interviewed
Posted 31 December 2014 - 09:48 AM
Fr. Hovagimian of Vienna Mekhitarists Interviewed
Posted 21 March 2017 - 10:17 AM
Euronews – The Armenian presence in Europe stretches from London to Larnaca, Lisbon to Lviv; the Armenian Catholic Mkhitarian Congregation is among the most impactful examples of that legacy and this year marks a three-century-long presence in one of Europe’s most iconic towns.
The vaporetto leaves from San Zaccaria to one of the most unique corners of Venice, a testament to the centuries of multi-cultural history of that magnificent city. The unique corner is really an island – Isola di San Lazzaro degli Armeni, or the Island of St. Lazarus of the Armenians. This year marks the 300th anniversary of that island becoming home to the Mkhitarian or Mechitarist Congregation.
Mkhitar was born in Sebastia (modern-day Sivas, in central Turkey) in 1676. He joined the Armenian Church at a time when it was facing the challenges of a modernising world. Drawn to Western Christianity and its already-established traditions of education and publishing, Mkhitar ran his own printing house in Constantinople (Istanbul), bringing together other like-minded individuals who longed to rejuvenate and invigorate a community at times struggling in the social and political milieu of the 17th century Ottoman Empire. Facing the resistance of the authorities, Abbot Mkhitar and his followers, who established the congregation named after the founder in 1700, spent some time moving from place to place – first to Greece, then up the Adriatic – before finally establishing themselves on what used to be a leper colony off Venice in 1717.
In the centuries that followed, the Mkhitarian fathers had a profound effect on research, education, and publishing in Europe generally, and for the Armenian world in particular. Still today, the monastery they founded continues to produce books; Venice is one of two cities in the world that can boast having published at least one Armenian book every year for three hundred years or more, with just a few interruptions (the other city being Istanbul). Whether as first-time publications of ancient manuscripts, translations of significant European works, or the other way around, the Armenian legacy has been showcased to the European and broader world through the efforts of these monks, and the doors of Europe have likewise been opened for Armenians thanks to their activities.
“The Mkhitarian Congregation has always served as a bridge,” says Father Serop Jamourlian, “both for tying the Armenian reality to the European world in terms of scholarship and spirituality, and also as a bridge of universal human values: it is a representative of the East in the West and the conveyor of Western ideas to the East.”
Perhaps the most significant impact the Congregation has had involves the development of language and identity. It was the Mkhitarian fathers who first published modern dictionaries of the Armenian language. Modern scientific approaches to research and education also owe much to these Armenian priests in Venice, who once upon a time ran a network of some thirty schools across Europe and the Middle East.
The reputation of San Lazzaro was so strong that Napoleon Bonaparte offered that monastery special permission to continue functioning even after he shut down other religious institutions in Venice in 1810. A few years later, the island’s most famous guest – Lord Byron – spent some months during 1816-1817 studying the Armenian language.
The Mechitarists have suffered some setbacks over the course of their rich history, such as a significant split in the Congregation that led to a second monastery being established in Vienna in 1811. They reunited in 2000. The two had meanwhile carried on Abbot Mkhitar’s mission diligently. Both Venice and Vienna are known as centres of learning for the Armenian world.
Although the Mkhitarian Congregation is not as active as it used to be, with a smaller membership and growing challenges within a generally more secular global environment, it continues to run four schools in places reflecting the footprint of the Armenian Diaspora: Beirut, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, and Istanbul. A school was established in Yerevan, in the Republic of Armenia, in the year 2007 – a good indication of the renewal of Diaspora-Homeland ties since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Special commemorations are planned for September during this 300th anniversary year – celebrations alongside the people of Italy and Venice. Father Serop emphasises that their welcoming and hospitable attitude towards the Armenians is based on the experience of many centuries of deep ties. What lies in store for the Mkhitarian Congregation? Father Serop says that the mission has always been and remains, “Service to the Armenian nation”.
Posted 24 October 2017 - 10:09 AM
“HayPost” CJSC on Monday cancelled and put into circulation a postage stamp dedicated to the 300th anniversary of establishment of the Mekhitarist Congregation on St. Lazarus Island. The cancellation took place in the premises of Matenadaran within the frameworks of events dedicated to the 300th anniversary of establishment of the Mekhitarist Congregation on St. Lazarus Island of Venice.
According to the press service of “HayPost” CJSC, the postage stamp depicts the image of the Mekhitarist Congregation on St. Lazarus Island.
The postage stamp with nominal value of 230 AMD is printed in “Cartor” printing house in France with the print run of 40 000 pcs. The author of the postage stamp’s design is the designer of “HayPost” CJSC Vahe Muradyan.
The stamp was cancelled by the Armenian Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan, the Deputy Minister of Transport, Communication and Information Technologies Arman Khachatryan, the President of the national Academy of Sciences of Armenia, the Pontifical legate of the Mekhitarist Congregation of Venice His Eminence, Archbishop Levon Zekiyan and Acting Chief Executive Officer of “HayPost” CJSC Haik Avagyan.
Date of issue: October 23, 2017
Designer: Vahe Muradyan
Printing house: Cartor, France
Size: 40,0 x 30,0 mm
Print run: 40 000 pcs
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