San Lazzaro Island

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San Lazzaro degli Armeni is a small island in the Venetian lagoon, lying immediately west of the Lido; completely occupied by a monastery that is the mother-house of the Mekhitarist Order (a christian catholic order), the island is one of the world's foremost centers of Armenian culture.

The islet's isolation, at some distance from the principal islands forming the actual city of Venice, made it an ideal location for the quarantine station and leper colony founded there in the twelfth century, receiving its name from St. Lazarus, patron saint of lepers. Abandoned in the sixteenth century, in 1717 it was given by the ruling council of Venice to a group of Armenian monks that had escaped from Turkish persecution, five years earlier placed themselves under the protection of the Pope, and eventually made their way to Venice. Mekhitar and his seventeen monks built a monastery, restored the old church, and enlarged the island to its present 3 hectares, about four times its original area.

Its founder's temperament and natural gifts for scholarly pursuits immediately set the Mekhitarist Order in the forefront of Oriental studies: the monastery published Armenian historical, philological and literary works and related material, renowned for their scholarship and accuracy as well as for the beauty of the editions, on its own multilingual presses, which, sadly, shut down in 1991, although an an eighteenth century printing press may still be seen. S. Lazzaro houses a 150,000-volume library, as well as a museum with over 4,000 Armenian manuscripts and many Arab, Indian and Egyptian artifacts collected by the monks or received as gifts.

The monastery and its gardens, noted for its peacocks, may be reached by vaporetto (#20 from S. Zaccaria) every 40 minutes and offers daily tours at 15.30 to visitors. The boats leave S. Zaccaria at 15.10 - 15.50 - 16.30, etc. The boats leave S. Lazzaro at 16.05 - 16.45 - 17.25, etc.

Groups of visitor may ask a private tour with different schedule. Father Vertanes and other fathers guide the tours in several different languages.

It also has a long tradition of hospitality to scholars and students of Armenia, among whom Lord Byron, who studied Armenian there during much of the year 1816 and who is remembered by a permanent exhibition.


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