Eric Chaim Kline, Bookseller

Eric Chaim Kline, Bookseller

[HMAYIL] (Armenian Manuscript Amulet)

(Upper) Armenia: 1680. Manuscript on paper scroll (45 ft. 6 in. by 3-1/2 in. = 13 meters 87 cm by 9 cm.). 35 sheets glued together, with occasional later reinforcements at verso. Text in single column: 31 illuminated miniatures; 44 ornamented initials. Opening 8-inch section detached; small tears and wear mostly confined to margins. Overall a well-preserved and complete scroll, with concluding colophon.

Written, and later printed amulet scrolls (հմայիլ, pronounced hum-eye-eel) were quite popular in Armenian culture throughout the Early Modern era though relatively few examples survive due to their delicate format and constant use. Written in Bardzr Hajq in Upper Armenia and dated May 13th 1129 (=1680) of the Armenian era, the colophon of the present scroll notes: "This book for Protection was copied by the hand of sinful deacon Jakob, who is from the province Vorotna, from the village Aghuerdz. Amen. For the enjoyment of Čianshah, Msrshah and Halapshah, the sons of khoja Paghtasar, who is from the province Arzrum, from the Papert city" (Ghazaryan, trans.). The miniatures are likely the work of the copiest who signed the colophon. According to the specialist Davit Ghazaryan, who has examined the scroll, no other example of Jakob's work is known.

The tradition of amulets and talismans imbued with the power to bestow well-being and protect from misfortune is ancient and nearly universal. Egyptian scarabs of stone or glazed clay with inscriptions from the Book of the Dead are reckoned among the earliest examples. Armenian hmayil amulets date back to the 15th century; the earliest (incomplete) example is dated to 1428. While these amulets have their ultimate roots in a pre-Christian religious milieu, by the early 15th century in Armenia, the sorcerers who had been producing talismans for centuries began to be replaced by a new group of scribes (տիրացու, tirats'u) who produced hmayils. "These scribes, often belonging to the minor orders of the Church, possessed ready-made writings based on texts of prayers and spells in circulation, which they copied into the scrolls and then customized with the names of those to whom the protection afforded by the hmayils would apply... [S]ome hmayils contained writings of protection that seem to cross the boundary separating orthodox practice from sorcery. Yet these hmayils, though not sanctioned by the Church, were evidently tolerated: they were produced into the second half of the nineteenth century without any formal condemnation by the Church or other actions taken to suppress their production" (Sarkisian). The tension inherent in this Christianized version of ancient folk magic is reflected in the colophon of one hmayil (no. 424 in the Matenadaran collection): “I wrote this sacred preservation book that is called “Hemayel”, which is an irrelevant name. Out of ignorance, they call it “Hemayel”, as it is a sorcerer who spells "Hem" and the writing they create is called “Hemayel”, meaning written or composed by Hem. My writing is not like that, it is pure and free of any sort of wizardry. It contains wishes and prayers of our saints and blessed priests, the likes of Saint Grigor of Narek as well as Saint Nerses of Kyalets, relying on whom we created this preservation script for persecuting demons and curing all the illnesses” (Ghazaryan).

Generally written in one column and often made for travelers, the scrolls comprise an imaginative melange of prayers, supplications, Psalms, Gospel passages, sharakans (hymns), and incantations imbued with elements of folk Christianity. "They were typically only a few inches wide, yet could be over thirty feet in length. When rolled up, hmayils were placed in small cloth cases and carried (or even worn) by Armenians for protection during the Early Modern period" (Sarkisian). While it is not uncommon for hmayils to consist of text alone, as is the case with the earliest complete example from 1478, the present scroll contains thirty-one fine miniatures by a local master. At nearly fourteen meters, this scroll is much longer than most surviving hmayils, about half of which are incomplete, and typically average between five to seven meters. According to Davit Ghazaryan only about thirty hmayils are more than ten meters in length. Illustrated examples commonly depict God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Apostles, Grigor of Narek, Nerses the Gracious, and other saints; two distinct groups comprise images of saints on horse-back, and saints with a traditional protective function, such as Saint Sargis, Saint Georg, and Saint Theodore, in which medicine is offered and demons restrained. "Hmayils are of linguistic interest in that the texts can encompass up to twelve centuries of the written Armenian language, with Scriptural passages written in the pure Classical Armenian (գրաբար, grabar) of the “Golden Age” of the language (fifth century), the prayers of St. Gregory and St. Nersēs from the Pre-Middle Armenian period of the language (eighth to twelfth century), and later texts in which the language exhibits aspects of Middle Armenian (twelfth to seventeenth century)" (Sarkisian).

Named after the early medieval Armenian linguist, theologian, and statesman who is credited with the creation of the Armenian alphabet, the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan contains the largest collection of hmayils (559); the two other large collections are found at the Holy Saviour's Monastery of New Julfa (57), and at Etchmiadzin Cathedral (ca. 50). Item #52030

References: D. Ghazaryan, "Hmayils - Armenian Amulets in Scrolls" [in:] Magaghat (online articles), Feb. 20, 2020; M. J. Sarkisian, "An Early-Eighteenth-Century Hmayil" [in:] Sources from the Armenian Christian Tradition, vol. 1 (New York: Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, 2022).

Price: $45,000.00

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