Named after St Lazarus, the patron saint of lepers, this small island in the Venetian lagoon served as a leper colony in the 12th century. It was subsequently abandoned until in 1717 , when an Armenian monk, Manug di Pietro , known as Mechitar, fled his Turkish persecutors and came to Venice. The Venetian government, that famously was welcoming foreigners, gave San Lazzaro to Mechitar who founded an Armenian order on the island. Mechitar and his 17 monks built a monastery, restored the crumbling lepers’ church, and quadrupled the tiny island’s area (originally 7000 square meters).
The monastery-island became a centre of learning, with a printing hall that produced works in three-dozen languages. Full of admiration for the monks’ academic lifestyle, in 1816 the Romantic poet Lord Byron repeatedly
visited the island to study Armenian. It is said that Lord Byron spent six months here in 1816 helping the monks to prepare an English-Armenian dictionary and he could often be seen swimming from the island to the Grand Canal.
Today, monks give visitors guided tours to the monastery, the church, the art library, and the museum that contains some incredible collections of treasures, including more than 4,000 Armenian manuscripts, some of them nearly 1,300 years old, a Koran created after the death of Mohammed, an Indian papyrus from the 13th Century, an Egyptian sarcophagus and a mummy from the 15th Century B.C and thrones, tables, statues, paintings, tapestries, gold, silver, jewels, and other items that the monks either bought or received as gifts over the centuries.
The island hosts also a spectacular gardens with flowers, cypress trees, and orchids.
The Mechitarist monks at San Lazzaro are known also for making a delicious jam from rose petals around May, when the roses are in full bloom. Besides rose petal, it contains white caster sugar, water, and lemon juice. It is called Vartanush, literally translating to “ weet rose”. Around five thousand jars of jam are made and sold in the gift shop in the island.
The resident of this beautiful islands include 10 monks, 10 seminarians, and 15 Armenian students who study Italian language and culture.
From Venice with Love,
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