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Armenian manuscripts collection

Identifier: ubl127

Scope and Contents

Mostly religious texts: the Bible, works of an exegetical nature, histories of the Martyrs, prayers and hymns. Many manuscripts are illuminated and illustrated.


  • Creation: 900-1900 CE
  • Creation: Bulk 1200-1400 CE

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Use

Many manuscripts are too old and fragile to handle. Where available, a microfilm will be offered as an alternative.

Regulations that apply during the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.

Biographical / Historical

James Rendel Harris (1852-1941), a biblical scholar and palaeographer, is mainly known for his works on early Christian documents. Born in Plymouth on 27 January 1852, he was educated in Plymouth and at Clare College, Cambridge, obtaining his MA in 1877.

From 1882 to 1885 he taught New Testament Greek at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1885 he was appointed professor of biblical languages at the Quaker university of Haverford College, Pennsylvania, a position which he held until 1892. In 1893 Harris returned to Cambridge as lecturer in palaeography.

In 1896 he spent six months in Turkey, organising relief work for the victims of the Armenian pogroms.

In 1903 Harris was invited to become professor of early Christian literature and New Testament exegesis at the University of Leiden , but he chose instead to become the first director of studies of Woodbrooke, a Quaker settlement for religious and social study in Selly Oak, Birmingham. The institute is now part of the University of Birmingham.

In 1912, during the Balkan War, he travelled to Turkey for a second time with the purpose of promoting the cause of the Armenians.

After the First World War Harris was appointed curator of Oriental manuscripts at the John Rylands Library, Manchester. He retired in 1925 and returned to Birmingham. He died in Selly Oak, Birmingham, on 1 March 1941.

Three years after his donation of manuscripts, in 1909, J Rendel Harris received an honorary doctorate from Leiden University (Wood 2004).


2 metres (circa) (70 manuscripts (circa))

Abstract in Dutch

Verzameling van ca. 70 Armeense handschriften uit de 10e tot de 19e eeuw AD met Bijbelteksten, exegese, heiligenlevens, psalmen en hymnen. Veel van de handschriften zijn geïllumineerd en geïllustreerd.Het merendeel van deze handschriften werd in 1906 gedoneerd door de Britse geleerde James Rendel Harris (1852-1941), specialist op het gebied van het vroege christendom. Harris was in 1903 gevraagd als hoogleraar in Leiden, maar bedankte. Drie jaar na de schenking ontving hij een eredoctoraat van dezelfde Universiteit.

Abstract in English

Collection of c. 70 Armenian manuscripts from the 10th to the 19th century CE with Bible texts, exegetical works, lives of the saints, psalms and hymns. Many manuscripts are illuminated and illustrated.The greater part of the collection was donated in 1906 by the British scholar James Rendel Harris (1852-1941), a specialist in the field of early Christianity. In 1903 Harris was invited to accept a professorship at Leiden, but declined. Three years after his donation he received an honorary doctorate from Leiden University.

Physical Location

Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden, Bijzondere Collecties

Other Finding Aids

Access to the Armenian manuscripts is possible through Macler's Rapport sur une mission scientifique (1922). The shelfmarks ('Or. numbers') can be found at the end of each entry.

Custodial History

Earlier, isolated Armenian manuscripts originate from scholars like Josephus Justus Scaliger (Or. 4738); Jacobus Golius (Or. 106); Levinus Warner (Or. 431a, 1116, 2091 and 4799).

The Armenian manuscripts donated by J Rendel Harris were probably acquired by him during his six-month stay in Turkey in 1896.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

On 30 May 1906 Harris donated 46 Armenian manuscripts to Leiden University, where they were registered as Cod. Or. 5476 – Or. 5521.

Later that year, in October-December, nine more Armenian manuscripts and one Syriac followed, registered as Cod. Or. 5522 – Or. 5531.

Shortly before World War I, in 1912-1913, Harris donated two Armenian manuscripts, Cod. Or. 5760 – Or. 5761.


New Armenian manuscripts are acquired only very occasionally. During the past decades no new acquisitions have been made.

Existence and Location of Copies

Parts of the collection have been microfilmed.

Separated Materials

The Special Collections Department of the University of Birmingham holds collection of books from the library of  James Rendel Harris (first Principal and Director of Studies at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre), presented by The Edward Cadbury Trust, comprising a set of early Bibles and New Testaments, including a first edition of the Latin and Greek New Testament edited by Erasmus in 1516 and two copies of the first publication of the New Testament in Syriac.


  • Limburg, F., Arméniennes. Tour guidé à travers la collection de manuscrits arméniens illustrés du Legatum Warnerianum. Leiden n.d., accessed 5 November 2019.
  • Macler, Fr., Rapport sur une mission scientifique en Belgique, Hollande, Danemark et Suède (Juillet-Septembre 1922). Paris 1924, pp. 19-164. (Extrait des Nouvelles archives des missions scientifiques, t. XXII, fasc. 5).
  • Weitenberg, J.J.S., Armenians: Ancient Christians in a New Land., accessed 5 November 2019.
  • Weitenberg, J., Armeense drukkunst in Amsterdam, in: Omslag: Bulletin van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden en het Scaliger Instituut 8/2 (2010), p. 1-3.
  • Wood, H.G., Harris, James Rendel (1852-1941), rev. S. Andrew, in: H.C.G. Matthew and B. Harrison, Oxford dictionary of national biography, Oxford 2004., accessed 24 February 2009.


The manuscripts can be requested at the Special Collections Reading Room with the help of the appropriate classmark Cod. Or. [number]. References to Macler's catalogue are helpful, but not absolutely necessary.

Processing Information

A first attempt at cataloguing the Armenian manuscripts at Leiden was undertaken in 1910 by Frederick C. Conybeare. In June 1922 he put his notes at the disposal of Frédéric Macler (1869-1938), who was making a tour of European research libraries in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden 'en vue de rechercher et étudier les manuscrits et documents arméniens qui peuvent se trouver dans les bibliothèques de ce pays'. The same summer, Macler's scientific mission led him to the Leiden University Library, where he was received by the Interpres Legati Warneriani Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje and the curator Cornelis van Arendonk.

Apparently, Conybeare’s notes have not been preserved, but they served as the basis for Macler's catalogue. In 1924 Macler published a description of the entire collection of Armenian manuscripts in his Rapport sur une mission scientifique .

In the 1990s Florence Limburg, a Classics scholar, prepared an online exhibition of illuminated Armenian manuscripts: Arméniennes.

In 2010 the late Professor Jos Weitenberg (1943-2012) organised an exhibition of Armenian manuscripts and books at Leiden University Library: Armenians: Ancient Christians in a New Land (see also Weitenberg, 'Armeense drukkunst in Amsterdam', 2010).

Collection guide of the Armenian manuscripts collection (900-1900 CE)
Collectie Armeense handschriften
Dr Arnoud Vrolijk, 2009
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Beschrijving is in het Engels.

Revision Statements

  • 3 June 2020: latest update

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857