In 301ad, Armenia was the first country to officially recognise Christianity
- a key anniversary in the development of Christian history. 2001 sees The
British Library mount its most ambitious exhibition to date, celebrating the
1700 years since Christianity was first established as a state religion.
With artefacts and manuscripts from the libraries and museums of Armenia and
other items from around the world, this will be the most museological
exhibition ever staged by the British Library. Many exhibits have never been
seen outside Armenia before and many items will be brought together for the
first time since they left Armenia.
The exhibition's earliest exhibits date from the sixth century ad, and it
includes items from eleven centuries. Entitled Treasures from the Ark: 1700
Years of Armenian Christian Art, it hosts treasures loaned from Western
Europe, American institutions, and the Library's own collection. The
exhibition has been generously supported by Vatche and Tamar Manoukian and
the Manoukian Charitable Foundation.
This anniversary is a celebration of significance to all Christian nations,
and a landmark in the world's cultural history. The exhibition will include;
stone crosses, illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, gilt silver bindings,
reliquaries, wood carvings, textiles and ceramics. This broad range of
exhibits will present a full picture of the Armenian Christian tradition,
showing their tenacious attachment to old traditions whilst embracing and
regenerating new models coming from both East and West.
The British Library's curator of Armenian manuscripts, also the exhibition's
curator, Rev. Vrej Nersessian, comments: The genesis of Christianity in
Armenia is a focal part of modern religious history - this exhibition will illustrate the singular religious vision of this nation throughout the last 1700 years, and reveal a
previously neglected vein of fascinating artefacts and manuscripts.
Armenia is geographically situated between the Orient and the Mediterranean,
but its culture and religion relate more closely to the latter, making it
the easternmost kingdom of medieval Christianity. Its cultural and spiritual
links to the Bible are manifest; the four rivers of the Garden of Eden run
through the land, and it was the home of Mount Ararat, presumed landing site
of Noah's Ark.