Long back when I was designing a tee depicting 6 different icons of Chennai, like expanding an abbreviation i.e 'MADRAS'. And to depict one of the 'A', I depicted Armenian Church. Sadly I've never been there, when I designed that. Recently when I got a chance to go there with some people who know very well about its history, how would I say no???????? So, here's more on the place.
Armenians originally belong to the Armenia region (present day Turkey, Iran regions). Christianity was spread here by the apostles of Jesus St. Thaddew & St. Bartholomew. And this was the first ever country to declare Christianity as state religion in the year 301 AD, followed by Ethiopia in 324. Only after these 2 countries, Vatican declared Christianity as state religion. Followers of Armenian Christianity later on spread all over the world and that includes India too.
The Chennai population of Armenians had their own church and that's this Armenian Church. The church was built in 1712 and was renovated in 1772.
The most important feature of this church is its bells. These are heavy, huge, iron bells, 6 in number, cast in different times from 1719 to 1737.
There are inscriptions on these bells that say when they were cast and for what purpose. Here are 2 of those, in stitched images, so that you can read what is on it. The bells hand from oak wood that are also as old as the bells. Presently the bells are rung once a week, every Sunday morning at 9.
The entire place also served as a burial ground and you can see the tombstones, everywhere. One of the tombstones caught my attention. It was of Shmavonian (1750-1824).
His tombstone depicts a ruler and scissor to depict he was a textile merchant; it also depicts stones and a balance to denote he was a gem stone merchant; it also depicts ink bottle and quill feather to denote he was a writer as well; and it also denotes wine glass and grapes to denote that he was a wine merchant as well. To put in a nutshell this kinda depicts the culture of Armenians. They were merchants and did as many commercial ventures as possible.
An important grave here was of Kojah Petrus Woskan (1681-1751). He was the merchant who built the Marmalong Bridge in Chennai; the original church of St.Matthias in Vepery, Chennai; and also the steps of St.Thomas Mount. He was buried in St.Matthias Church, but according to his wish, his heart was buried in New Julfa where he was born. A tablet was inscribed here in his memory. Another interesting grave stone was this. It had this man wearing a very Indo-Persian outfit, complete with turban. Below that was an image of a 2 headed bird called Ganda Perundam, a mythical bird in India.
The interiors of the Church look so elegant. The altar has Mother Mary rising to the skies with baby Jesus. The original image on the altar was a similar one, which got destroyed while renovation. The present image is pretty new.
Below that image was a wooden platform with 4 steps and 5 sections in each step denoting 20 scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. It includes the 14 stations of the cross and 6 miracles. In many churches these scenes are depicted as wall hangings or as glass paintings.
Another interesting factor is the location of the choir. Its located in the mezzanine opposite to the altar facing the altar. I was informed that the practice of having the choir beside the altar on the leftside is only a modern practice. The chairs, tables, chandeliers, everything has a gorgeous old world charm to it.
The street where this church is located is called Armenian Church. But when I went into the street and enquired for the church, I was directed to a huge church. This church is much more posh looking than the ancient church. This even has a dwaja sthambam like in Indian temples.
Guess what, that's a brand new Catholic church, built just beside the ancient Armenian Church!!! From the exterior the original Armenian Church doesn't even look like a church!!!
TO GET THERE:
Dedicated to Kra.Narasaiah