The Making of Lost Treasures of Christianity: The Ancient Monumen’s of Armenia


Tufts Professor Lucy Der Manuelian’s film Lost Treasures of Christianity: The Ancient Monumen’s of Armenia–shot on location in Armenia–will air on KCET-Los Angeles on Friday evening–August 15 at 10:30 p.m. as part of a fundraising program for the station. As a part of her mission to expose the world to Armenian art and architecture and Armenian man’script masterpieces–Der Manuelian was determined to make a television film about Armenia’s history and medieval art. She began her project during the Communist period of the former Soviet Union. The Tufts University Journal wrote of the problems in carrying out her mission: "She is the last person you would suspect of battling with the KGB in Communist Russia–or insist that Soviet authorities fly a helicopter from Moscow to Armenia for her use in her film. But Tufts University Professor Lucy Der Manuelian did this and more in her unwavering pursuit of filming the one-thousand-year-old cliffside monasteries chronicled in Lost Treasures of Christianity: The Ancient Monumen’s of Armenia."

Der Manuelian succeeded in obtaining permission to film with a helicopter and–when a local helicopter in Armenia was unavailable–was even able to persuade authorities to make another available in Moscow to fly her to the region in which she filmed. When the former USSR collapsed and Armenia declared independence–Der Manuelian resumed her filming despite problems resulting from blockade of Armenia–including sudden power failures–fuel shortage–transportation difficulties–no electricity and lack of communication with the outside world. There was also the eleven-day disappearance of $10,000 worth of film and rented equipment. Having been loaded onto the plane in Los Angeles en route to Armenia–the equipment was sidetracked at France’s Charles DeGaulle Airport–when an Air France employee decided to place them on a Russian freight plane to Moscow instead of the passenger plane to Yerevan. Trying to locate it via faxes to the Paris and Los Angeles airports (whenever the power was on)–and then getting it flown from Moscow to Armenia took some cloak-and-dagger work–and was something of a miracle considering that–at that time–even the US Embassy in Armenia could not get through by phone or fax to the US Embassy in Moscow in order to assist.

Der Manuelian explained her reason for making the film: "When I was researching my dissertation–I read of the possible connection between Armenian architecture and the famous cathedrals of medieval Europe. . . Some scholars who examined those medieval cathedrals–Notre Dame in Paris for example–realized that the building techniques used successfully by European architects for those towering churches were the same ones used centuries earlier by Armenian architects building their own churches."

Those same churches are beautifully presented in Lost Treasures of Christianity: The Ancient Monumen’s of Armenia. with aerial views of monasteries carved into cliffs and perched on mountaintops. The film also shows the images of kings and saints carved on Armenia’s church walls–again predating by many centuries the Western European tradition of carving human images on the outsides of churches. There are also examples of illuminated Armenian man’scripts with some of the most beautiful man’script paintings of the Middle Ages.

The first public showing of the film took place at the US Embassy in Yerevan followed by the premiere broadcasts on NJN Public Television on its PBS network stations in five states. In addition to the multiple broadcasts on the 58 PBS television stations who chose to add it to their broadcast library–the documentary has also been shown at the London School of Economics in England–at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston–and at the Armenian Library and Museum of America–one of its sponsors.

The film has been described as "a spellbinding look at Armenia’s medieval castles–churches–and monasteries–stone-carved images–and brilliantly colored illuminated man’scripts that provide clues to some of the most haunting questions in the history of medieval art. Professor Der Manuelian takes viewers on an extraordinary journey across Armenia as she uncovers this country’s rich architectural legacy and discusses connections to Western culture–art and architecture. The documentary was filmed under the first co-production contract signed by an American and the Armenfilm Company of Armenia. Lost Treasures was produced by Theodore Bogosian of Bogosian Productions–and narrated by Christopher Lydon who created the radio program The Connection.

Der Manuelian holds the Arthur H. Dadian and Ara Oztemel Professorship in Armenian Art and Architectural History at Tufts – the very first and only endowed professorship in the field of Armenian art ever established at any university in the world.


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