Mekhitarist Monastery, Vienna

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Mekhitarist Monastery of Vienna
Wien - Mechitharistenkirche (1).JPG
Main entrance of the monastery
AffiliationArmenian Catholic Church (Mekhitarists)
LocationMechitaristengasse 2-4, Neubau, Vienna, Austria[1]
Geographic coordinates48°12′20″N 16°21′16″E / 48.205653°N 16.354447°E / 48.205653; 16.354447Coordinates: 48°12′20″N 16°21′16″E / 48.205653°N 16.354447°E / 48.205653; 16.354447
Architect(s)Joseph Kornhäusel (monastery)[1]
Camillo Sitte (church interior)[2]
Date established1811[3]

The Mekhitarist Monastery of Vienna (German: Wiener Mechitaristenkloster;[5] Armenian: Վիեննայի Մխիթարեան վանք, Viennayi Mkhit′arean vank′) is one of the two monasteries of the Armenian Catholic Mekhitarist (Mechitharist) Congregation, located in Vienna, Austria. The main center of the order is located in San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice, from which the Vienna branch broke off in 1773. The branch initially settled in Trieste, but moved to Vienna in 1805. After centuries of separation, the two branches of Vienna and Venice united in 2000. The Monastery of Vienna was declared their primary abbey.[6] Until the early 20th century it was an important scholarly institution. It now contains a large number of Armenian manuscripts, Western Armenian magazines, coins, and other items.

The Mekhitarists of Vienna produce a herbal liqueur known as Mechitharine—popular in Austria[7]—which they sell at their shop.[8][9] They have produced it since 1889. It is their main source of income.[10] Other sources of income include renting properties and guided tours.[8]

History of the congregation[edit]

The Mekhitarist Congregation of Vienna[a] originated in 1773 when a group of monks left the island of San Lazzaro (Saint Lazarus), in Venice, and settled in Trieste, which was then under Austrian (Habsburg) rule. Empress Maria Theresa welcomed them in her domains and on May 30, 1775 granted them permission to establish a monastery and church and operate a printing house.[4] After Napoleon's invasion and occupation of Trieste, the Mekhitarists moved to the imperial capital of Vienna in 1805 since they were Habsburg subjects.[4] In 1811 they settled in Am Platzl, an abandoned Capuchin convent just outside the city walls, in the St. Ulrich area.[4] The congregation acquired the property in 1814.[1]

In 1925 Ignaz Seipel, Chancellor of Austria, described the Mekhitarists as "the first pioneers of Austrian culture in the Orient."[7]

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia as of 1912 there were 125 Catholics of the Armenian Rite residing in Vienna out of the total population of 2,004,493.[12] As of 1901 the monastery had 10 Mekhitarist priests, as compared with the 16 priests residing in San Lazzaro, Venice.[13] As of early 2010s the number of fathers residing at the monastery stood at 5–6[8] or 7.[14]


It is today one of the lesser known places of worship in Vienna, despite its location in the city center.[9] Around 4,000 people visit the monastery annually, including pensioners, pupils, tourists, particularly those of Armenian ancestry.[8] In recent years, politicians and officials such as Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan,[15] Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić,[16] Austrian MPs, ambassadors of foreign countries stationed in Austria,[17][18] and Austrian diplomats[19] have visited the monastery. Around 30 to 50 people, both Armenians (including non-Catholics) and non-Armenian Catholics, attend the Sunday Mass.[14]


The interior of the church

The current building of the monastery was designed by Joseph Kornhäusel.[1] Sponsored by Emperor Ferdinand I and Empress Maria Anna, it began in 1835 and its cornerstone[1] was laid on October 18, 1837.[20] The building, which stretches along the Mechitaristengasse, has four floors.[1] An 1839 wall painting depicting the feeding the multitude by the German Romantic painter Ludwig Ferdinand Schnorr von Carolsfeld is located in the refectory, which was built according to the design of Kornhäusel.[2][1]

Two wings and a new church were added to the monastery in 1874, which was the latest major altercation to the complex.[4] The monastery grew significantly from its original size and now occupies almost the entire length of Mechitaristengasse.[9] The interior of the church, named Kirche Maria Schutz,[8] was designed by Camillo Sitte in the Neo-Renaissance style. It was consecrated on August 15, 1874.[21] The altar contains a painting by Sitte titled St Mary’s protection of Armenia by father and son Schnorr von Carolsfeld.[1] The side altar, dedicated to Gregory the Illuminator, was designed by Theophil Hansen, a Danish-born neoclassical architect known for the Austrian Parliament Building.[2] The church was renovated in 1901 and restored in 1958.[21] The church was last renovated in 2011. In 2015 a khachkar dedicated to the victims of the Armenian genocide was inaugurated in the monastery courtyard.[22]


The library of the monastery

The monastery preserves a significant number of ancient and medieval manuscripts, coins, folk costumes, rugs, books, periodicals, and other items.[23] A 1984 article in Austria Today noted that the Mekhitarists of Vienna are

the guardians of a remarkable and comprehensive library with the world's largest collection of Armenian periodicals and newspapers, a splendid manuscript collection, and a museum with invaluable treasures of Armenian art, everything cataloged restored, and scientifically described. It can be described without exaggeration as the 'Armenian National Library', for all Armenian publications up to the present day are collected there. It is, so to speak, the symbol of a significant intellectual centre outside the mother country.[7]

According to Bernard Coulie the monastery holds around 2,800 Armenian manuscripts, which makes it the 4th largest collection in the world after Matenadaran, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and San Lazzaro degli Armeni.[24] According to Rouben Paul Adalian and the congregation website the number of manuscripts stands at 2,600.[25][26]

The congregation claims to contain the largest collection of Armenian magazines—at around 70,000 volumes.[26] Gia Aivazian, a literature scholar, noted in 1981 that the Vienna Mekhitarists hold the best collection of retrospective issues of Western Armenian periodicals.[27] The monastery collection has some 120,000 books in Armenian and 15,000 books in other languages on Armenian history, language, and other fields.[26]

Writing in 1973 numismatist Paul Z. Bedoukian noted that the Mekhitarist Monastery of Vienna contains some 3,200 Armenian coins (including hundreds from Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia),[28] the largest collection of Armenian coins in the world.[29] The oldest coins date from the 4th century BC. There are also other Armenian cultural items, such as rugs, ceramics, silverware, paintings by Naghash Hovnatanian and Ivan Aivazovsky.[26]

Scholarly work and publications[edit]

The Vienna branch of the Mekhitarists became particularly noted in the fields of philology and language influenced by the German penchant for rational thinking.[30] The publications of the Mekhitarists, both in San Lazzaro and Vienna, contributed greatly to the refinement of literary Western Armenian.[31]

The monastery had its own printing house until around 2000. Its publications are since printed in Yerevan.[14] In early 20th century the publishing house of the Vienna Mekhitarists contained 70 Armenian fonts, more than any other.[32] An 1839 English publication wrote that their "excellent printing establishment has issued a multitude of pious and useful publications."[33]

The scholarly periodical Handes Amsorya ("Monthly Review") has been published by the Mekhitarists of Vienna since 1887. It is the second oldest Armenian periodical in print today.[34] Besides numerous Armenian scholars, works of foreign scholars such as Heinrich Hübschmann and Nicholas Marr were also published in the journal. It served as the middle circle between Armenian and European scholarships.[35]


  1. ^ Armenian: Վիեննայի Մխիթարեան միաբանութիւն, Viennayi Mkhit′arean miabanut′iun; Latin: Ordo Mechitaristarum Vindobonensis, OMechVd;[11] German: Wiener Mechitaristen Kongregation
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Mechitaristenkloster". (in German). Vienna City Administration. Archived from the original on 5 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "Church And Monastery". Mekhitarist Congregation of Vienna. Archived from the original on 7 January 2018.
  3. ^ Adalian 2010, p. 428.
  4. ^ a b c d e "History Of The Congregation". Mekhitarist Congregation of Vienna. Archived from the original on 7 January 2018.
  5. ^ Klemm, Elisabeth (1972). "Die Kanontafeln der armenischen Handschrift Cod. 697 im Wiener Mechitaristenkloster. Otto Pächt zum 70. Geburtstag". Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte (in German). 35 (1/2): 69–99. doi:10.2307/1481884. JSTOR 1481884.
  6. ^ "In Historic Move Venice and Vienna Mekhitarist Orders Unite". Asbarez. 24 July 2000. Archived from the original on 7 April 2022.
  7. ^ a b c "The Spirit of Armenia: An ancient people find a cultural home in Vienna". Austria Today. 84 (1): 34–37. 1984.
  8. ^ a b c d e Kocina, Erich (22 April 2011). "Kloster: Die armenischen Mönche aus der Neustiftgasse". Die Presse (in German). Archived from the original on 6 January 2018.
  9. ^ a b c Smith, Duncan J. D. (19 February 2013). "Forgotten Armenian Treasures". The Vienna Review. Archived from the original on 29 December 2017. archived
  10. ^ Innerhofer, Judith E. (8 January 2018). "Die vergessene Formel". Die Zeit (in German). Archived from the original on 10 February 2018.
  11. ^ El-Hayek, E. (2003). "Mechitarists". New Catholic Encyclopedia: Mab-Mor (9th ed.). Thomson/Gale. p. 422. ISBN 9780787640040. online version
  12. ^ "Vienna". The Catholic Encyclopedia Volume 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1912. p. 418. online version
  13. ^ Jackson, Samuel Macauley; Loetscher, Lefferts Augustine, eds. (1950). Twentieth century encyclopedia of religious knowledge. p. 294.
  14. ^ a b c Aghalaryan, Kristine (22 May 2014). "Վիեննայի Մխիթարյանները և «անձերի պակասը»". Hetq Online (in Armenian). Archived from the original on 12 April 2021.
  15. ^ "Armenian President meets Austrian Chancellor, visits Mekhitarist Congregation". Public Radio of Armenia. 13 June 2014.
  16. ^ "President of Republic of Serbia Visited Mekhitarist Congregation of Vienna". Armenpress. 28 March 2014. Archived from the original on 14 January 2021.
  17. ^ "Austrian MPs and heads of diplomatic corps visit Vienna's Mekhitarist Congregation". Armenpress. 8 June 2017. Archived from the original on 13 January 2021.
  18. ^ "Austrian parliamentarians and heads of diplomatic corps visited Vienna's Mekhitarist Congregation". Embassy of Armenia to Austria. 6 June 2017. Archived from the original on 29 August 2017.
  19. ^ "Austrian diplomats visit Mekhitarist Congregation in Vienna". 31 July 2018. Archived from the original on 1 September 2018.
  20. ^ Adalian 2010, pp. 427–428.
  21. ^ a b "Mechitaristenkirche". (in German). City of Vienna. Archived from the original on 6 June 2018.
  22. ^ Asatryan, Hakob (6 May 2015). "Վիեննայի մխիթարյան միաբանությունում օծվեց հայկական խաչքարը, բացվեցին վերանորոգված մատուռն ու թանգարանը". Azg (in Armenian). Archived from the original on 15 January 2021.
  23. ^ "Մխիթարյան միաբանության գանձերը՝ Վիեննայում [Treasures of the Mekhitarist congregation in Vienna]". Azatutyun (in Armenian). Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Archived from the original on 15 March 2017.
  24. ^ Coulie, Bernard (2014). "Collections and Catalogues of Armenian Manuscripts". In Calzolari, Valentina (ed.). Armenian Philology in the Modern Era: From Manuscript to Digital Text. Brill Publishers. p. 26. ISBN 978-90-04-25994-2.
  25. ^ Adalian 2010, p. 429.
  26. ^ a b c d "Academic Work – Publishing". Mekhitarist Congregation of Vienna. Archived from the original on 7 January 2018.
  27. ^ Aivasian, Gia (1981). "Problems in Armenian Collection Development And Technical Processing in U.S. Libraries" (PDF). Occasional Papers in Middle Eastern Librarianship. Middle East Librarians Association (1): 22. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-01-06.
  28. ^ Bedoukian, Paul Z. (1979) [1962]. Coinage of Cilician Armenia. New York: American Numismatic Society. p. xxxv. Several hundred coins of the last four kings of Cilician Armenia found in the Mekhitarist Museum of Vienna were published...
  29. ^ Bedoukian, Paul Z. (1973). Selected Numismatic Studies II. Los Angeles: Armenian Numismatic Society. p. 315.
  30. ^ Hacikyan et al. 2005, p. 52.
  31. ^ Hacikyan et al. 2005, p. 55.
  32. ^ Pashayan 2011, p. 30.
  33. ^ "Statistics of the Catholic Church in the Austrian Dominions". The Catholic Directory and Annual Register for the year 1839. London: Simpkin and Marshall. 1839. p. 166.
  34. ^ Adalian 2010, p. 431.
  35. ^ Pashayan 2011, p. 32.