Venice islands: San Lazzaro degli armeni
The island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, owned by the Armenian congregation, is situated in the South Lagoon near the inner coast of the Lido, between Lazzaretto Vecchio and San Servolo, on the Lazzaretto Canal.
The history of this island began in the 12th century, as a home for invalid pilgrims. In fact,
in 1185, Leone Parlini received it as a gift from Umberto, Abbot of Sant'Ilario,
and he founded a hospital and a church dedicated to Pope San Leone, which
gave the island its original name. It became an exile for invalid beggars
and lepers, and changed its name to San Lazzaro - the leper in the Gospel
who is the patron saint of all lepers. In 1601, the leper colony was transferred
to the new hospital of San Lazzaro ai Mendicanti, c/o the Holy Church of
Giovanni and Paolo.
After a century of abandon, in 1717 the island was assigned by the Republic of Venice to the Noble Armenian Monk, Manug di Pietro, also called Mekhitar (which means comforter) who escaped Turkish invasion of his land, where, in the ancient town of Sebaste, he had founded a Benedictine Monastery.
Certain news about the Armenian presence in Venice dates back to the 16th century, but their activity on the island, where Mekhitar founded a charity and cultural centre for young Armenians, is still the most famous and important part of their history in the Lagoon. In 1789, an important multiple language printing works was founded, which printed books in thirty six different languages.
The island, place of study and worship, was the only one to be saved from the suppression of religious orders by Napoleon, because he considered the island a literary academy and allowed it to continue in its activities; other sources sustain that the island was saved because the Muslim flag was flying, and Napoleon dared not touch the emblem of his alliance with the Sultan. In 1815 and 1946, work was carried out on the island and it was enlarged in width.
It is still run by twenty two Mekhitarist Armenian Fathers. Visitors to the island are guided
by the Fathers through the gardens, the church, convent and cloisters. The
monument to Mekhitar is in the garden, work of Antonio Baggio (1962), the
church was rebuilt in neo-gothic style after the fire in 1883 and holds
a painting by Francesco Zugno, which depicts Saint Anthony Abbot, but tradition
holds that the Saint's face is that of the Abbot Mekhitar.
The famous library can be visited in the convent, where, in a single round room built in 1967, approximately forty thousand volumes and four thousand Armenian manuscripts, all antique and very precious are conserved. The library is also seat of an oriental museum where, among other curiosities, an Egyptian mummy can be seen. The corridors of the convent should also be admired, being a very rich picture gallery. Visitors can also see the room where Byron took lessons in Armenian, together with the original multiple language printed editions that are conserved on the ground floor. The publishing house still exists, but printing was transferred to Punta Sabbioni in 1992.
After the visit, the Monks of the island offer visitors a taste of their rose petal jam, which they produce from the rosebeds on the island; this is why the island is often called the "Green and pink island". Thanks to the intense work of the Fathers, the island has not suffered the decay that many other minor islands have been subject to, and theirs is therefore a very valid example of island management.
Official website: www.mekhitar.org