The earliest extant and one of the most exquisite examples of the Armenian manuscript tradition, the Lemberg Gospels, also called the Lviv Evangelary, stands as a monument to the wealth and international connections of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. Located in present-day southeast Turkey, the kingdom enjoyed a key trading position linking east and west. The wealth from trade helped produce this lavish evangelary that merged stylistic elements of many diverse cultures and regions.
The multi-ethnic population of Cilician Armenia is reflected in the diversity of the illuminations and marginalia throughout the text. Islamicate floral decorations sit alongside Macedonian marginal figural illustrations, which adorn the Armenian text within a distinctly western gospel tradition.
The Lemberg Gospels is a spectacular manuscript serving as a rare window into a remarkable culture of medieval Europe.
The gospels are presented in the western manuscript tradition. Lavishly decorated in Islamicate architectural frames, Eusebius’ letter to Karpianos precedes equally sumptuous canon tables.
Following are the four gospels, each prefixed by a full-page evangelist portrait and facing elaborate incipit page. The evangelists are seated, writing their respective gospels, except for John, who looks up at the hand of God while a scribe writes at his feet.
The background of each portrait is fully gilded and the depicted furniture has been rendered in exquisite detail. In addition to the portraits, part of the extensive decorative marginalia are nineteen figural vignettes that illustrate events in the text.
An Armenian Treasure
The text is Classical Armenian composed in two 15-line columns in an Armenian majuscule script. The script is placed at the center of a large page with generous margins. Gold lettering and decorated capitals attest to the dual roles of the manuscript as an object of religion and prestige.
A Unique Link to the Past
The Lemberg Gospels are a treasure trove of information about manuscript production in the 12th century. Extensive colophons record the patron (Priest Stephanos), the scribe (Priest Gregor), and even names Cyprus as the source of the parchment on which the sacred text was written.
Presumably, the book was stored for several decades in the Cathedral of Lviv (Lemberg), but it was lost in the early 20th century. It resurfaced after 1945 in the Soviet Union and was taken to Warsaw where it remains today.
Bound in Silver
A colophon describes an early, though now-lost, binding of the late 15th century as being adorned with silver panels crafted by a Lemberger goldsmith. The book has since been restored in the 1990s.