Armenian restorers have restored an ancient manuscript

Armenian restorers have restored an ancient manuscript written on paper, dated back to the year 981. It turned out to be the first secular manuscript.

As we approach Matenadaran in the car, the radio is broadcasting two “captivating” topics in Armenia – the coronavirus and the referendum. It feels like if you step out of the car, you’ll bump into people wearing masks and hats with the word “Yes!” (referring to the answer in the referendum on amendments to the Constitution). And if the picture on Mashtots Avenue is indeed something like this, then the Mesrop Mashtots Research Institute for Ancient Manuscripts is as calm as a temple. Here, the focus is not on frantic topics, but on something that has come to us from the depth of the centuries and may remain for more centuries to come.

A unique manuscript executed in script has been restored at Matenadaran, worked on for about two years. For the first time in the history of the institute, a whole exhibition is dedicated to a single book.

“The Book of Knowledge and Faith” has existed for 11 centuries. It was written in 981, presumably in one of the villages near the capital of Ani. The author of the book is Father David. However, this manuscript is not on a religious topic; it is considered the first scientific collection that has come down to us. The manuscript includes texts on chronology, astronomy, and mathematics.

In addition to the content, the material from which the manuscript is made is also interesting: it’s not parchment, but paper. Moreover, the paper was not imported from China or another country, but made in Armenia, presumably in Ani.

Senior artist-restorer Artur Petrosyan, who has been working in Matenadaran for over 11 years, has done a titanic job restoring the manuscript by himself. He tells that all 360 pages of the book were treated – disinfected, cleaned from dust, and blurred ink.

“Every page required an individual approach. For one of them, special Japanese paper was used to restore illegible fragments. In the case of another, the entire page was secured. It was important not to lose a single letter. Moreover, during the restoration process, a piece of paper was found with only one letter on it. We added a whole sheet to preserve this one letter. It’s not very clear to read, but it seems to me, it’s the letter “յ” (j),” says Artur.

Contemporaries did not attach great importance to “The Book of Knowledge and Faith”, considering it a “second-rate” manuscript. Because it contained secular texts, it was seen as a “silly book”, contrasted to the sacred texts. Moreover, the book was made not of expensive parchment, but of paper. Because of this, it was called “poor card”.

“Every manuscript has its time, the time of this manuscript has just come. It has been kept in the personal archives of various priests for centuries, then in the museum in Etchmiadzin, during the Soviet times it was transferred to the Matenadaran archive. It has not been given proper attention for such a long time. And now the book is presented as a separate exhibition,” the restorer Artur smiles.

Given the uniqueness of the manuscript, the management of Matenadaran decided to restore it two years ago. In the Soviet years, without having the appropriate techniques and tools, attempts to restore it were not even made, but in 1981 a full copy of the manuscript was published as a separate book.

by Zhanna Poghosyan

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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Restored manuscripts in the presentation hall in the Matenadaran © Sputnik / Aram Nersesyan

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