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History of the Congregation

In a narrow lane in the seventh district of Vienna a fine view is revealed. On top of the main door of a long building one sees a coat of arms crowned by a bishop’s mitre. It adornes the gate of the Mekhitarist monastery. For 200 years these Armenian monks have been devoted to the preservation of the Armenian heritage. Thus the monastery has grown into a unique centre of Armenian spiritual and cultural tradition. But how did it come about that Armenian-Catholic monks live just in Vienna, working and praying here according to the rule of St Benedict?

When Mekhitar of Sebaste, born in 1676, founded his congregation in Constantinople on September 8, 1701, he certainly had not the faintest notion that he would one day become one of the most important persons of the Armenian cultural history.

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Mekhitar and his fellows soon left the Ottoman Empire and founded a monastery in Methoni at the southwestern point of the Peloponnese, which was then Venetian. Even at that time they adopted the Benedictine rule and Pope Clement XI confirmed them officially as Benedictines. Since then the Mekhitarists are properly called »Armenian Benedictines«. But Methoni fell to the Sultan, the monks followed the withdrawing Venetians and finally received from the Duke one of the little islands in the laguna of Venice. There at San Lazzaro they built their monastery which is a property of the congregation to this day.

In 1773 a group of the Mekhitarists separated from Venice and opened a new monastery in Trieste, which then belonged to the Habsburgs. With her privilege from May 30, 1775, Empress Maria Theresa permitted them to establish their monastery and church as well as to run their own printing-shop. When in 1805 Trieste was occupied by the French the Triestine Mekhitarists lost all their property because they were seen as Habsburg subjects. Whereas Napoleon was favourable to the Venetian brothers, the Triestine congregation had to leave Triest and seek refuge in imperial Vienna.

Emperor Francis I accepted the Triestine monks by his cabinet decree dated December 5, 1810, and granted them residence in his home town of Vienna. Initially in 1811 the Mekhitarist fathers found shelter in the deserted buildings of the old Capucine convent »Am Platzl« in the suburb of St Ulrich. In 1837 they started with the erection of new premises. The main wing of the new monastery followed the lines of the Mechitaristengasse. In 1874 two cross wings and a new church were added and so the monastery reached its present configuration. In the year 2000, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of their foundation the Mekhitarists of Vienna and those of Venice reunited into one order after having been separated for 227 years.

 

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»The Feeding of the Five Thousand« in the refectory

up - not only for the German-speaking world - probably the best way to deal with the interesting history of the Armenians.

The Library of the monastery also contains the largest and oldest Armenian collection of magazines. A total of about 70,000 volumes are stored here. The collection is one of the most important ones in the world. It houses 2,600 precious Armenian manuscripts, with the oldest one stemming from the ninth century, approximately 120,000 books in Armenian language and 15,000 foreign-language works on Armenian topics especially on the history, language and development of Armenia.

The museum holds both the world's largest collection of Armenian coins (the oldest pieces date from the 4th century BC) as well as rarities from the Armenian folk art, rugs, ceramics, silverware and liturgical works of art. Particularly worth seeing is the splendid collection of works of Armenian artists and entire families of painters: the Naghash (18th century) and the Aywasowsky (19th century).

Publishing and Bookshop - The Mekhitarists prolong the tradition of philological publications with the periodical »Handes Amsorya« as well as with the series »National Library«, which started in 1889 and has now reached a state of 241 volumes. The »Studies on Armenian History« include valuable supplements to Armenian literature.

 

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Jubilee

In 2011 the jubilee >>200 years of Mekhitarist presence in Vienna« was celebrated with an academic symposium and a solemn Armenian high mass in the church »Maria Schutz«. A comprehensive report in the form of a high quality book was published.

Furthermore are available in the monastery: billets with first day of the special stamp, embossed silver commemorative coins from Armenia and Austria, as well as the precious facsimile edition of the famous Codex 543 from the monastery library.

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The highaltar piece in the church by Camillo Sitte

 

Last but not least the well known speciality of the house enjoying great popularity, the Mechitharine, a herbal liqueur first produced in Vienna from 1889. The original recipe was brought by Mekhitar himself from Constantinople to Venice. Despite of the fact that the ingredients are documented in a manuscript from 1680, it is most understandably kept a monasterial secret.

Guided Tours

We cordially invite interested visitors to participate in an expert guided tour of the church and the monastery’s valuable collections to become familar with the riches of Armenian history and culture.

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Interior of the Church Maria Schutz

 


THE MEKHITARIST CONGREGATION IN VIENNA

Mechitaristengasse 4, 1070 Vienna - Austria
Phone: +43 (1) 523 6417 - Fax: +43 (1) 523 6417 111
www.mechitharisten.org

 


 

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