A Collection of Arabic Manuscripts in the Mechitarist Monastery of St. Lazarus in Venice, Italy

Submitted by Dr. Iskandar Bcheiry, ATLA Metadata Analyst 

During the spring of 2004, I had the opportunity to uncover and index a collection of Arabic manuscripts in the library of the Armenian monastery of St. Lazarus in Venice, Italy.

History of St. Lazarus Monastery

The monastery of St. Lazarus is built on a Venetian island that was once home to a Benedictine monastery and then a leper colony for several centuries during the Middle Ages. St. Lazarus was eventually abandoned and since 1717 has been a monastic residency to the Catholic Armenian order known as the Mekhitarists.


Photo by Anton Nossik

The first Mekhitarist fathers to arrive on the island numbered seventeen monks, including their founder Mekhitar. These monks fled from the Turks in Morea in Southern Greece and took refuge in the monastery of St. Lazarus in 1715. In Venice, at that time there was a small wealthy community of Armenians.

The island became a cultural center for the language, literature, and traditions of the Armenian culture. The construction of a printing press and internal library sealed the island’s purpose and added more than 170,000 volumes to their collection (4,000 manuscripts) and many other original Armenian, Arabic, and Egyptian artifacts [1].

Library of St. Lazarus

Today this monastery is one of the three principal centers of Armenian culture in the world, the others being the monasteries of the Mekhitarists in Vienna and of Echmiadzin near Yerevan in Armenia.

The Library is open to scholars by appointment. Among the documents, there is a collection of Arabic manuscripts that were collected over time. These manuscripts are mainly from Syria and Egypt, especially during the time of Boghos Bey Yusufian (1775-1844), the Minister of both Commerce and Foreign Affairs in Egypt during the rule of Muhammad Ali Pasha (1805-1848).

The Library of St. Lazarus holds a collection of 35 Arabic manuscripts dating from the 14th and 19th centuries. This collection covers Qur’an, Hadith, Islamic legislative matters; Islamic history; Islamic philosophy and logic; and Arabic dictionaries and lexicon. Moreover, the collection contains few Christian Catholic dogmatic and devotional Arabic manuscripts.

Special Arabic Manuscripts


Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

The collection of Arabic manuscripts in St. Lazarus contains several Qur’anic leaves in Kufic script on vellums, from north Africa or near East, which probably belong to the 9th century AD.

Among the important historical Arabic manuscripts at St. Lazarus are Nuzhat an-nadhirin fi tarikh man tawala Masr min al-khulafa’ wa al-salatin by Zayn al-Din Mur’i Ibn Yusif al-Maqdisi al-hunbuli and The history of the Ottoman Sultans from sultan Othman up to Sultan Othman son of Ahmad 1031 A.H (1651A.D) by Muhammad Abu al-Sharaf al-Malawi.

In addition, the collection contains works in Islamic philosophy and logic. These include the book of al-Maqamat by Abu Muhammad al Qasim ibn Ali al-Hariri (1054-1122); a commentary on al-Risalah al-Shamsiyah by Muhammad ibn Muhammad Qutub al-Tahtani (1294-1364); Collection of Forty Traditions by Abu Zakariya Yahya b. Saraf Al-Nawawi (1233-1278 AD); and Isāghūjī fi al-Manṭiq, or A Commentary on the Compendium of Logic by Athir al-Din al-Bahri (D. 1265).


[1] “The Venetian Island of St. Lazarus: Where Armenian Culture Survived the Diaspora”, in Inside the Vatican Staff, http://insidethevatican.com/news/the-venetian-island-of-st-lazarus-where-armenian-culture-survived-the-diaspora.

3 Responses to A Collection of Arabic Manuscripts in the Mechitarist Monastery of St. Lazarus in Venice, Italy

  1. cvaneenam@hotmail.com says:

    Dear Dr. Beheiry, I am a fairly new member of ATLA, being a remote contract cataloger of Middle Eastern language books at the Library at Brigham Young University, in the U.S. State of Utah. I catalog these books in the Arabic, Farsi, Modern and Ottoman Turkish, and Modern Hebrew languages. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. It was very interesting and informative. My question, out of personal curiosity, is how and if the cataloging work for these manuscripts is being accomplished. In other words, are there any opportunities out there for catalogers like myself?

    • ibcheiry@atla.com says:

      Shlomo (Hi in Syriac),
      Thanks for your reply and your interest in this kind of collection.
      When I visited St. Lazarus in the Spring of 2004 I made a detailed description of the Arabic manuscripts in the library. This description will be published soon as a catalogue of Arabic manuscripts in St. Lazarus. There is a collection of Persian and Turkish manuscripts that as far as I know are not cataloged yet, which you will be able to volunteer to a such project. if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

      • cvaneenam@hotmail.com says:

        Thank you, Iskandar, for your reply! What you suggest would be fine with me. For future purposes, my name is Carol V. Jarvis and my email address is: cvaneenam@hotmail.com. As I mentioned, I am a “new” member of ATLA, having joined in the spring of 2016. I am about to register for my first ATLA annual conference, which will, of course, be June 14-17, 2017, in Atlanta, Georgia. Perhaps there might be a possibility of meeting and discussing the options for a cataloging project with St. Lazarus. I also realize that I misspelled your name! I now know that it is Dr. Iskandar Bcheiry! Kind regards, Carol V. Jarvis

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