Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Oldest Armenian church, Kolkata - a heritage monument

During the early colonial rule under the East India Company,  the Armenian people came to India as traders and established themselves as a visible business community on the Indian soil and they gradually expanded their activities across India where the EIC was operating. After  St Thomas, the apostle, the  Armenians were instrumental in bringing  Christianity to India and in this respect they had good rapport with the English company.  

Armanian Church, Kolkata. Livemint

Sumit SuraiArmenian Nazareth church, Kolkata
 The Armenian Church is believed to  be the oldest church in Kolkata and  was  built in Kolkata long before  the arrivals of the British in India. In 1688, EIC build a wooden Church to cater to the christian community there. When Armenians evinced interest in building churches in India, the English cooperated with them and on June 22, 1688, they  signed an agreement with  the Armenians residing in India. Sir Josiah Child, represented the East India Company; and Khoja Sarhad and Khoja Fanush, represented the Armenian community in Bengal and signed the contract. As per the contract, EIC would  build churches  across India in places that had a small community of at least 40   Armenians, and allocate a salary  of 50 pounds  for the priests in those churches.

The Armenian Church of Kolkata is tagged as “Mother Church of the Indian Armenians”- the earliest one in this part of India. Their churches followed their religious tradition and belief and  the Holy Nazareth  Church is one of three Armenian churches in Kolkata; the other two being St. Mary’s Church and the church of St. Gregory the Illiminator.

After a fire mishap that destroyed the wooden church built by the British ( now the site of the southeast wing of the Church of Holy Nazareth), a new church was built at the same site by Aga Mamed Hazaar Maliyar, an Armenian in 1734. The attractive interior decoration of the church was done by an Armenian architect named Katchik Arfiel. An interesting feature of the  altar in the church is the presence of  twelve candlesticks symbolizing Jesus Christ’s Twelve Apostles, besides  a Holy Cross and the Gospel text.  The architect donated the wonderful church clock. Thanks to the  architect who not only donated the Church Clock,but also had a monastery built for the priests of the church and a huge cemetery with high walls on the church premises.

Tit-bits:

01. With exception, the  entire Calcutta Armenian Community,  were all descendants of the Armenians of Julfa now in Iran. Very few had connections with Armenia or the Etchmiadzin Apostolic Church.

Kolkata Armenian church. Times of India
02. The graveyard  at the Armenian Church has Kolkata’s oldest known grave. It was that of an Armenian woman named Rezabeebeh, the wife of the late Sookias buried here in 1630. This tomb, dated July 21, 1630.

03. There is a monument within the compound wall in memory of those  Armenians who died during World War 1.

04. The altar of the Armenian Church has well-decorated 3 paintings/ frescoes by English artist A.E Harris, “Holy Trinity”, “Last Supper” and “The Enshrouding of Our Lord”.
St. Gregory, Armanian Chapel, Kolkata Rangan Datta - WordPress.com
Kolkata, oldest Armenian church bharatestates.com
05. Besides the Armenian Holy Nazareth church, there are two chapels. St. Mary's Chapel is in the Tangra area of east Calcutta and the chapel of St. Gregory, (also known to the local Armenians as the 'small church'), is situated in the Park Circus area of Calcutta.

06. There are two chapels. St. Mary's Chapel is situated in the Tangra area of east Calcutta. The chapel of rest of St. Gregory, also known to the local Armenians as the 'small church', is situated in the Park Circus area of Calcutta.

07. Including the Church of St. John at Chinsurah, all the properties. movable and immovable, of the Armenian trusts for Calcutta Armenians are owned and managed by the government through the Official Trustee.

08. In the past century, the church (the main Church at no 2, Armenian St) allowed to hold Russian  and Syrian  Orthodox Church services.

09. The present church building was built in 1764 by Aga Mamed Hazar Maliyar on land donated by an Armenian named Kenanentekh Phanoosh, and was designed by Kavond (or H

10. Black and white marble stones adore the interior of the church. 

11. Mural tablets dominate the overhead gallery that is accessed by the stairway.

12. In the past the ASI had a row with the management of the oldest church the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth in Burrabazar, Without informing the government, they destroyed  a number of tombstones and memorial plaques to make  space available for a driveway and a parking lot. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) termed the demolition as 'criminal' since the loss is 'irreparable'.

13. According to ASI regional director Dr P K Mishra, "This is why the tombs are priceless historical documents. Each tomb tells a story of a period. A whole genealogy of Armenians of old Calcutta can be traced here. So the destruction of tombstones and memorial plaques, mostly in marble and iron, is no less than destruction of history," The ASI director visited the church to find out the extent of damage.  the extent of damage. The irresponsible attitude of the custodians of the church received wide spread condemnation from the Christan community and heritage lovers. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Church_of_the_Holy_Nazareth

https://timesofindia.indisaid ASI regional director Dr P K Mishra, who recently made a sudden visit to the churchyard to traceatimes.com/city/kolkata/Armenian-Church-in-Kolkata-accused-of-destroying-history-Tombstones-demolished-to-make-room-for-parking-lot/articleshow/49130604.cms