A lavish copy of the Gospels in Armenian, made in the Persian capital of Isfahan, in 1608.
When did Christianity spread to Armenia?
Christianity has long been linked with Armenian identity. Under King Tiridates III (r. 287–330), the Armenians became the first nation to formally adopt Christianity. The Bible was translated into Armenian by Mesrop Mashtots (d. 440) in around 434, and biblical texts continued to be transmitted and used within Armenian communities. Armenians developed one of the strongest and most prolonged traditions of commissioning and producing finely illuminated copies of the Gospels.
What does this manuscript tell us?
According to an inscription in the volume, a certain Master Velijan and his wife Gayane incurred ‘vast expense’ on the book’s adornment. They did so not only ‘for the splendour of the Holy Church and use of the children of Sion’, but also as a memorial to Velijan and his family. The manuscript also commemorates the scribe Jik’ Step’anos of Julfa (fl. 1608–1637) and the artist, Mesrop of Khizan (fl. 1603–1652). Mesrop was a particularly renowned illuminator, who is associated with over forty manuscripts that survive from this period.
This manuscript is characteristic of Armenian Gospels. It begins with seventeen full-page images. The visual sequence outlines the story of salvation from Christ’s birth to the Last Judgement, culminating in a representation of the Virgin as intercessor before her Son. Further illumination occurs in the canon tables, at the openings of each of the Four Gospels, and in twenty-six small marginal illustrations accompanying the Gospel text.