In the late 16th century, Armenian clergymen have been attempting to print the Bible in Armenia with the support of Rome. However, the latter demanded the Bible to be first translated into Latin and only then into Armenian. The Latin translation should have been synchronized with the Vulgate. Moreover, the Armenian translation was to be censored by the Roman Catholic Church.
In his “Voskan Vardapet of Yerevan: his life and print activity”, Vardan Devrikyan writes: “The Catholicos of Saint Etchmiadzin Hakob Dzhughayetsi entrusted a monk and member of the monastic brethren Matteos Tsaretsi with printing the first Bible in the Armenian language. Having encountered the Catholic pressure, Tsaretsi decided to print the Bible in the Netherlands. He had to make sure that the translation satisfies both Rome and Armenian Catholics. The Bible was to unify the whole Armenian nation.”
Unfortunately, Tsaretsi fell sick shortly, only managing to inform Etchmiadzin that he had acquired a printing house in the Netherlands. Upon learning about this, Catholicos sent a prominent Armenian book printer Voskan of Yerevan to aid Tsaretsi.
According to Devrikian, the then Netherlands was a semi-Protestant country, and the influence of the Catholic Church was week there. In addition, one of the centers of European printing was located in the Netherlands. Sea access allowed ships to transport books from Constantinople to Smyrna. Because the distribution of manuscripts cost much more than that of printed books, Armenian clergyman sought to print the Bible.
Since his youth, Voskan has been preparing the Armenian Bible for printing, working in his monastic cell. Composing the plan of the publication of the Armenian Bible, Voskan tried to attach the Armenian spirit to the translation. He has done a titanic job.
“Voskan managed to carry on the work of Tsaretsi and published first Armenian Bibles in the Netherlands in 1666. Each of the copies was a unique piece of art. Voskan also engaged European artists to top the cover of each Bible with Armenian inscriptions, ornaments, and engravings,” writes Devrikian.
Today, the design, composition, and the variety of leather and iron covers of the Armenian Bibles astonish scholars.