The greatest treasure of the Armenian people are their ancient manuscripts. Most Armenian manuscripts are related to Medieval Armenian art as well as to the Byzantine tradition. The oldest Armenian manuscript preserved comes from the Golden Age of Armenian art and literature in the 5th century. The Illuminated manuscripts distinguish for their unique designs that present the culture and pass the power of art and language to the generations.
The biggest collection of Armenian manuscripts are stored in Matenadaran, while a larger collection of Armenian illuminated manuscripts is kept in the library of the Armenian Patriarchy of Jerusalem . Many other smaller collections are kept in the British Library, Bibliotheque nationale de France, Mkhitaryan Brotherhood of Venice, Vienna, as well as in the U.S.
The history of the Armenian manuscripts began in 405, after Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet and the first handwritten book which was the Bible. The Armenian books were all handwritten before the 14th century.
The major part of the manuscripts are books. They were written on sheets of parchment, and later, on paper.
Armenian illuminated manuscripts are of various forms, including the prayer roll, which originally held images from Biblical passages and the Armenian iconography. The prayer rolls might consist of iconography applicable to panels depicting important moments in the life of Jesus Christ, as well as images presenting the history of Armenia or the Armenian church. These involved St. Gregory the Illuminator for introducing Christianity to Armenia in 301 A.D. Prayer rolls were usually narrow and consisted of religious images and texts. They often served to protect the owner and his family. Those rolls were usually rather long though there were no exact sizes, as it depended on the number of panels included there. The protection of the prayer rolls were of utmost importance, as the manuscripts and prayer rolls had important value and were targets of thieves. Devoted Armenian believers treated manuscripts and other artworks that belonged to the Church with great respect as the church and what it taught was an essential part of the medieval Armenian life.
There are about 30.000 Armenian manuscripts all over the world, 17.000 of which are stored in Armenia.
The Armenian manuscripts have had the same destiny as the nation being influenced by many invasions. But Armenian have always protected their national treasures repairing them. They have even treated them as live creatures, which is recorded in historic works. There are many storied preserved up to today telling us how Armenians sacrificed themselves to preserve their national treasures, which is the basis of their survival as a nation.