A hmayil (հմայիլ or հէմայիլ) is a scroll containing prayers, supplications, Psalms, Gospel passages, sharagans, and incantations, along with images relating to them. They were usually only a few inches wide, and could be up to 25 feet in length.
The oldest extant hmayil is dated 1428 (Matenadaran Scroll No. 115), though without doubt there were older ones that have not survived to this day. The older hmayils were written and illustrated by hand. With the growth of Armenian printing houses in the second half of the 17th century, especially in Constantinople, newer hmayils were printed with the images hand-colored afterwards.
Hymayils 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 քո, “this servant of yours”, or ծառայս Աստուծոյ, “this servant of God”, where the name of the owner would be written, so that its protective powers would apply to the person named. When rolled up, hmayils were small enough to be carried or even worn, especially by Armenian merchants undergoing land or sea voyages during the the Early Modern period (ca. 15th–19th centuries), which could often be dangerous.
Printed hmayils, such as the one shown below, often included the same prayers in the same order, usually begining with Nersēs Shnorhali’s Havadov Khosdovanim (Հաւատով խոստովանիմ). 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 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 and evil spirits, including the evil eye, the al (ալ), and the t‘pgha (թպղա).
The hymayil below,2 approx. 4 inches wide by 22 feet long, was printed in Constantinople in 1727.3 According to information on the Library of Congress website, it was repaired in the 20th century with adhesive and Turkish paper currency. At the end of the hymail, there is a lacuna of approx. 5 lines, at the end of the Աղօթք վասն վաճառականի և ամենայն բանի (Prayer for the sake of the merchant and every thing) and the beginning of the printer’s verse colophon. 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 hymayil was briefly presented by Jesse Arlen during the April 14, 2021, session of Krapar and 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-acacemic 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 essentialy boils down to). As such, you may encounter errors in the translations. If so, please 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.