Krapar & Kini

Hmayils
Հմայիլք

A hmayil (հմայիլ) is a scroll containing prayers, supplications, Psalms, Gospel passages, sharagans, and incantations, along with illustrations related to the subject matter, and occasional decorative illustrations. They were usually treasured possessions that were passed down in a family from generation to generation. A typical hmayil was only a few inches wide, and could be up to 25 feet in length. When rolled up, they were small enough to be carried or even worn, especially by Arme­nian merchants undergoing land or sea voyages during the Early Modern period (ca. 15th–19th centuries), which could often be dangerous.

The oldest extant hmayil is dated 1428 (Maten­adaran Scroll No. 115), though without a doubt there were older ones that have not survived to this day. The older hmayils were hand-written and illustrated by scribes. With the growth of Armenian printing houses in the latter half of the 17th century, hmayils were also printed, and the illustrations were sometimes hand-colored afterwards.

Hmayils were valued for their protective powers, and were often carried like an amulet, talisman or phylactery.1 In fact, an Armenian hmayil is a continuation of the tradition, across most cultures and going back to antiquity, of an amulet to ward-off or bind evil spirits. At the end of many prayers, the text would have a space, usually after ծառայս Աստուծոյ, “this servant of God”, or ծառայս քո, “this servant of yours”, where the name of the owner would be written, so that its protective powers would apply to the person named. Prayers that did not provide specific protection to the beneficiary would often conclude with some variant of a formulaic “be helper and guardian to this servant…”

Printed hmayils, such as the one shown below, often included the same prayers in the same order, usually beginning with St. Nersēs Shnorh­ali’s well-known Hav­adov Khos­dov­anim (Հաւ­ատով խոստո­վանիմ), “With Faith I Confess”. They would often include supplications to the holy Virgin Mary, St. John the Fore­runner, St. Stephen the Proto­martyr, and St. Gregory the Illum­inator, discourses from St. Gregory of Narek’s Book of Lamen­tations (Մատեան ող­բերգ­ու­թեան), passages from the four Gospels, prayers for good commerce and the protection of merchants, and prayers (incantations) to ward-off or bind demons, including the al (ալ), and the t‘pgha (թպղա), evil spirits, and the evil eye.

Zohrab Hmayils

The Zohrab Information Center is in possession of one printed hmayil and four handwritten hmayils, and is currently investigating the means by which they can be digitized. Some images of these hmayils can be found here.

Library of Congress Hmayil

The hmayil below,2 which was printed in Con­stan­tin­ople in 1727,3 is part of the Armenian Rarities Collection of the Library of Congress. When unrolled, it is approx. 4 inches wide by 22 feet long. According to information on the Library of Congress website, it was repaired in the 20th century with adhesive and Turkish paper currency, and underwent extensive restoration after it was acquired by the Library of Congress. The condition of the restored hmayil is very good, and the quality of the hand-coloring of the printed illustrations also appears excellent, compared to other extant hmayils. Based on similar hmayils, this hmayil appears to be missing its first section and most of its second section, consisting of decorative illustration, a short prayer to the Holy Trinity, and seven subject-matter illustrations. There is also a lacuna of approx. five lines near the end, which may not be apparent at first glance at the restored hmayil.

The hmayil has been divided into 28 parts for the sake of reading convenience, and the Armenian text and English translation is presented in each part.4


1 Phylactery: Greek φυλακτήριον, “safeguard, protection, amulet”, from φυλάσσω, “to guard, protect”. In Jewish tradition, phylacteries or tefillin (תְּפִלִּין) are small cube-shaped black leather boxes containing parchment scrolls with Torah texts, one of which is worn on the head and the other on the arm. Cf. Matt. 23:5, Եւ զամեն­այն գործս իւր­եանց առնեն ի ցոյցս մարդ­կան. լայնեն զգրապ­անակս իւր­եանց, եւ երկ­այնեն զքղանցս հան­դերձից իւր­եանց, “And [the scribes and Pharisees] do all their works to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad, and lengthen the fringes of their garments.”

2 This hmayil was briefly presented by Jesse Arlen during the April 14, 2021, session of Krapar & Kini.

3 As stated at the end of the hmayil, Գրեցաւ Հէմայիլս ՚ի Թուին Հայոց, ռճհզ Մայիսի ի:, “This hmayil was written in the Armenian year 1176 [= 1727 a.d.] on May 20.”

4 The hmayil was translated by the administrator of this website, a non-academic person with no special ability to do so, other than having a fairly effective methodology of researching grabar words online, coupled with a penchant for word puzzles (which is what translation essentially boils down to). As such, you may encounter errors in the translations. If so, please let us know by email, and we’ll correct them. Please keep in mind that in translating the hmayil into English, it was our intent to render it more toward the literal side, allowing some of the idiosyncrasies of the Arme­nian to show through in the translation, while still keeping it readable.