The Matenadaran Archives in Yerevan preserve on permanent loan by the Catholicos of All Armenians one of the world's most priceless codices – the Codex Etchmiadzin. Named after the site where it was once stored, its incredible importance in religious life, art and science is due to its unparalleled written and illustrative contents, that really take us to the beginnings of Christian literature.
The Codex Etschmiadzin: the 'Queen of Versions'
The text of this tetra-evangelary, penned in 989 AD in the monastery of Noravank in the Blen province (south east of Yerevan), is deemed by scholars to be the best preserved copy of the Old Armenian bible translation, which was first composed during the early 5th century. This translation is also known as the ”Queen of Versions” thanks to its greatly correct and beautiful language, but also due to its extremely , its beauty of language, and its uncontaminated style.
The Ancient Decorative Standard of Eusebius
The Codex Etchmiadzin's 15 full-page illuminations before the Biblical text are even more ancient. As a matter of fact, they faithfully reflect the decorative 'system' devised by Eusebius of Caesarea at the beginning of the 4th century, in which the great Christian scholar set the norm for decorating evangelaries, which was to remain the binding form for all codices of this type.
Created by Humans and God Alike
However, two folios bound into the latter part of the manuscript are the artistic and spiritual apex of the Codex Etchmiadzin. The two leaves were taken from a 7th-century evangeliary and contain 4 full-page illuminations for feast days such as the Annunciation, Adoration of the Magi, and the Baptism of Christ. These grand and awe-inspiring depictions are possibly the most ancient examples of Armenian book illumination. Not only: just as many other Armenian manuscripts, the Codex Etchmiadzin is deemed to have been produced by humans, though aided by divine intervention. Even nowadays, it is revered as a holy relic and kept hidden away from prying eyes.
Ivory cover dating from the 6th or 7th century which has protected the Codex since its restoration in the 12th century
We have 2 facsimiles of the manuscript "Codex Etschmiadzin":
- Codex Etschmiadzin (Normal Edition) facsimile edition published by Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA), 1999
- Codex Etschmiadzin (Luxury Edition) facsimile edition published by Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA), 1999