My Vienna: Armenian Mekhitarist Community (since 1810)
From outside, the buildings don’t look particularly special. But they tell a tale of extraordinary migration: beginning in Armenia and ending here in Vienna’s 7th district, by way of present-day Turkey, Greece, and Italy.
At the corner of Neustiftgasse and Mechitaristengasse is a set of buildings for the Armenian Mekhitarist Congregation.
If I’m in the city for a month, my curiosity demands to learn more. Through e-mail and by phone, I inquire with the monastery’s contact person about a visit, and I’m instructed to join a group of Americans for a guided tour.
The Mekhitarists are an order of Benedictine monks of the Armenian Catholic Church founded by Mekhitar Petrosean from Sebaste (now Sivas). Since 1810, the Mekhitarists established (a second) headquarters in Vienna, whose modern presence includes monastery, church, museum, and a library containing the world’s third largest collection of Armenian manuscripts.
Understanding the sustaining power of the printed word to a fragile culture, Mekhitar and the order’s monks created a complete dictionary of the Armenian language. The first volume of the “Dictionary of Classical Armenian Language” (ԲԱՌԳԻՐՔ ՀԱՅԿԱԶԵԱՆ ԼԵԶՈՒԻ) was published after his death in 1749, and the second volume appeared in 1769. In 1837, the New Dictionary of Classical Armenian Language was published, whose contents have now been digitized.
With my love of books since childhood, I’m regularly on the look for (sources of) old manuscripts, which is obvious in the images below.
By tour’s end, I have a few quiet minutes for a couple of questions.
Q1. How many Armenians are there in Austria?
A1. With a total population of almost 9 million, Austria is home to about 8000 Armenians, of which about 5000 live in Vienna.
Q2. Who was Deodat/Diodato?
A2. Diodato was an Armenian merchant whose birth name was Owanes Astouatzatur. He is credited with opening Vienna’s first licensed coffee house in 1685. Today, that location happens to be occupied by another café with a memorial plaque inside.
• 1701: Mekhitar of Sebaste (1676–1749) establishes congregation in Constantinople (now Istanbul).
• 1706: Move to Greece’s Methon; new monastery established.
• 1717: Move to San Lazzaro, one of Venice’s islands.
• 1773: 2nd group breaks away from Venice, establishing monastery in Trieste in the Habsburg empire.
• 1775: Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa’s “Privilege” guarantees Armenian colony with permanent status.
• 1805: Napoleon seizes Trieste as French territory; Trieste’s Mekhitarists flee to Vienna.
• 1810: Habsburg Emperor Franz I grants Triestine Mekhitarists permission to settle in Vienna.
• 1811: Mekhitarists establish presence in Vienna’s St. Ulrich.
• 1811–1873, 1889–1898: Book printing press by the Mekhitarists in Vienna.
• 1837: after 1835 fire, new construction designed by Josef Kornhäusel begins in Neubau.
• 1874: Site expansion includes new church, also by Kornhäusel.
• 2000: The Venice and Vienna chapters reunite into single Mekhitarist order.
The 1907 map below provides a view of Asia Minor and the Caucasus regions; labelled are the Black Sea (ՍԵԱՒ ԾՈՎ) and the Mediterranean Sea (ՄԻՋԵՐԿՐԱԿԱՆ ԾՈՎ). The position of Mount Ararat (ԱՐԱՐԱՏ) is indicated by an asterisk. A dashed-line oval marks out roughly the geographic area for Armenias’s Urartu origins, going back to 9th-century BCE. The Hebrew word for Urartu is אֲרָרָט or “Ararat.” Appearing to the left of the oval is “ՀԱՅԱՍՏԱՆ” for Armenia.
Brick & Mortar
• Mechitarist Congregation in Vienna.
• Armenisch Apostolische Kirchengemeinde Österreich.
• Machtotz Dictionary Academy (France).
Public transport with Wiener Linien:
• Tram 46, to stop “Auerspergstrasse”.
• Bus 48A or tram 49, to stop “Volktheater”.
• ( U-Bahn U2, to Volkstheater U-Bahn station: service to resume fall 2023. )
( View map location on OpenStreetMap )
My visit to the Mekhitarist Monastery was neither requested or sponsored. My thanks to the monastery’s parson, Vahan Hovagimian, for arranging my visit. I made all photos above with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime on 25 May 2022. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-lcT.
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