San Lazzaro Monastery

Venice, Italy

San Lazzaro degli Armeni is a small island in the Venetian Lagoon. Settled in the 9th century, it was a leper colony during the Middle Ages. It was later abandoned. In 1717 San Lazzaro was ceded by the Republic of Venice to Mkhitar Sebastatsi (Mechitar) and his followers who established an Armenian Catholic monastery.

The monastery currently contains a church with a campanile (bell tower), residential quarters, library, museums, picture gallery, manuscript repository, printing plant, sundry teaching and research facilities, gardens, a bronze statue of Mkhitar erected by Antonio Baggio in 1962, an Armenian Genocide memorial erected in the 1960s, and a 14th-century basalt khachkar (cross stone) donated by the Soviet Armenian government in 1987.

The cloister of the monastery consists of a colonnade of 42 columns in the Doric order. There is a 15th-century water well in the center of the cloister, which is surrounded by trees and shrubs. Archaeological findings such as a Phoenician and early Christian inscriptions, a first century headless statue of a Roman noble from Aquileia and other artifacts.

The campanile (bell tower) was completed in 1750. It is described as onion-shaped and oriental in style. It is not attached to the church and stands alone near the northern side of the church.

The church

The church of San Lazzaro, although renovated several times through centuries, retains the 14th century pointed arch style. The church was restored extensively by Mkhitar in 1722, five years after the settlement of Armenian monks. He completely rebuilt the altar. Its apse was extended in 1899 primarily with an addition of neo-Gothic elements. The church has a neo-Gothic interior. It is three-naved, supported by 6 red marble columns. The main altar is in Baroque style. The three main windows of the altar's apse have stained glass which depict from left to right: Sahak Patriarch, Saint Lazarus, and Mesrop Mashtots. In the church, there are frescoes and paintings by Antonio Ermolao Paoletti depicting Saint Peter, Saint Paul, John the Baptist and Saint Stephen. The tomb of Mekhitar is located in the front of the altar.

Besides the main altar, there are four other altars dedicated to the Holy Cross, St. Gregory the Illuminator, Mary, and Anthony the Great. All built in the period of 1735–38 by Mekhitar. They are all adorned by pieces of works, mainly by Venetian artists. The St. Gregory altarpiece by Noè Bordignon depicts the saint performing the baptism of the Armenian king Tiridates III. The altarpiece dedicated to the mother of Jesus depicts the Nativity of Mary by Domenico Maggiotto. The altarpiece of St. Anthony by Francesco Zugno depicts the founder of the Oriental monasticism, who inspired Mekhitar.


The Armenian museum now houses items related to Armenian history and art, inducing helmets and bronze belts from the Urartian period and the sword of Leo V, the last Armenian King of Cilicia, forged in Sis in 1366. 

Oriental and Egyptian publications and artifacts are held what is called 'Lord Byron Room', because it is where he studied Armenian language and culture during his visit to San Lazzaro. Its most notable item is the Egyptian mummy, attributed to Namenkhet Amun, a priest at the Amon Temple in Karnak. It was sent to San Lazzaro in 1825 by Boghos Bey Yusufian, an Egyptian minister of Armenian origin. Radiocarbon dating revealed that it dates to 450–430 BC (late Period of ancient Egypt). The collection also includes Etruscan vases, Chinese antiques, a princely Indian throne with ivory inlay work, and a rare papyrus in 12 segments in Pali of a Buddhist ritual, with bustrophedic writing in red lacquer on gold leaf brought from Madras by a Russian-Armenian archaeologist, who discovered it in a temple in 1830.



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Founded: 1717
Category: Religious sites in Italy

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4.8/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Gavin Mooradian (3 years ago)
Really interesting. Really gives an insight into monk's role in scientific discovery and research. Beautiful site and a nice escape from the city
Olivia Macfadden (3 years ago)
Great way to get out of the crowds for an afternoon! Be sure to call ahead if you would like to visit. There are English and Italian tours almost daily. The monastery also sells their original rose jam that is delicious!
Nazeli Fotografie (3 years ago)
Wonderful place!?
S I M O N . (3 years ago)
Off all the place all over the world this is the center of holiness for the Armenian faith. Although somber history of how it got to be this place, one of the most resilient and welcoming faiths. One water taxi in and out. Tickets or mandatory donation is a must and well worth the private tour guide we had. She was polite, open to questions, knowledgeable and willing to answer. Keep in mind this is like Vatican to Catholics. Be respectful, polite, dress accordingly, and please leave your kids behind or let them lose in the yard (they won’t get lost or molested like other places of worship. In the eating haul or any other rooms, take note of living infrastructure and its age - the holly chair! It helps a lot if you know of the Armenian culture or someone to go back and brag to. If you have seen the other islands (MB can be had one day for both) this a very educational and nice day or half to spend time on. We have been to Venice many times and place gets packed. Get room for few nights, scape the tourist during the day to the other islands and enjoy the golden sunrise and sets of Venice all to yourself before and after tourist leave.
Carine Avekian (5 years ago)
Such a beautiful and peaceful place to visit. Took the tour in English and the tourguide was very knowledgeable and friendly. So much amazing history hidden in this beautiful island.
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