Monday, 23 June 2014

Armenian Church

The Apostolic Church of St Gregory the Illuminator

I took a wander along Hill Street last week. Normally this Street for me is used as a cut through from one place to another, en route to another place, with a mere thought of "I really must look further at the places around here". Its in the middle of the museum district here in Singapore, with the steps up to Fort Canning Hill close by and the Civil Defence Gallery, Hill Street Old Police Station and Central Fire Station, just around the corner is the Philatelic Museum, Peranakan museum and National Archives.

St Gregory's was the first Christian church to be built in Singapore in 1835 and it was designed by the Irish architect George Drumgoode Coleman, it is believed to be his most impressive design. The cost of the building was 5000 Spanish dollars and the majority was given by the small but prosperous Armenian community here in Singapore with some from Java and Calcutta and a smaller portion from the European and Chinese communities of Singapore. The church was consecrated on 26 March 1836 to St Gregory who was the first head of the Armenian Apostolic church. It became a National Monument on 26 July 1973.

The Armenian community in 1917
The church itself I feel is very attractive, quite small with portico's, a spire, louvred windows and many columns. Originally it was supposed to have a domed roof and bell tower but this was scrapped due to safety reasons. Inside it is in a circular shape with the wooden pews with rattan backs to help keep the parishioners cool. The ceiling is a vaulted and the church is supposedly modelled on the Armenian mother church of St Gregory's in Echmiadzin in Northern Armenia. The altar sits on a raised semi circular knave and behind it sits a painting of Jesus and his apostles at the Last Supper.

Outside in the grounds it has never been a burial ground, as the Armenians were interred at the Christian cemetery at Bukit Brown until the 1970s when they were exhumed. Their tombstones were relocated here around 1978 to create a Memorial Garden. This was organised by an American Armenian Leon Palian.

Many of the graves are damaged and I couldn't read quite a few as they are inscribed in Cyrillic text but it appeared the most were of the Sarkies family. The Sarkies were one of the most notable families in the small Armenian community (it was so small that in the census of 1824 just 16 were recorded) Probably the most famous of the Sarkies were the Sarkies brothers, Martin, Tigran, Aviet and Arshak who founded and ran Raffles Hotel, amongst other luxury hotels across SE Asia. More information on them can be found here   Other important gravestones located here are of Agnes Joaquim who bred Singapore's national flower the "Miss Joaquim" orchid and that of Catchik Moses who founded the Straits Times newspaper.

Daughter of Nanajan Sarkies who had the bungalow built in memory of her husband

In one corner of the grounds sits a 2 storey black and white bungalow that was built by Nanajan Sarkies in memory of her late husband John Shanazar Sarkies. It was built in 1905 as priests accommodation but today is used as the admin buildings.

Armenian Apostolic Church Of St Gregory The Illuminator
60 Hill Street

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