The Armenians were the first to bring Christianity to India. The Armenian Church of Kolkata is also known as “Mother Church of the Indian Armenians”. The Armenian people came to India as traders and established themselves as a community on the Indian soil. After settling, they brought along their tradition and religion as well. To commemorate their religious belief and preserve their religion, they established churches across India wherever they settled. The Holy Nazareth structure is one of three Armenian churches in Kolkata; the other two are Saint Mary’s Church and the church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator.
The altar of the Armenian Church is also decorated with 3 paintings/ frescos by English artist AE Harris, “Holy Trinity”, “Last Supper” and “The Enshrouding of Our Lord”.
Location of Armenian Church at Kolkata
It is located at Armenian Street near Howrah Bridge in Kolkata.
History of Armenian Church of Kolkata
The Armenian Church is known to be the oldest church in Kolkata. It was the first church to be established by the Armenian community that settled in Kolkata before the arrivals of the British in India. It is said that a wooden church was first built here by the British East India Company in 1688 through a contract they signed with the Armenian community in Europe. Sir Josia Child on behalf of the East India Company and Khoja Sarhad along with Khoja Phanoosh on behalf of the Armenians signed the contract. As per the contract, the East India Company was supposed to construct churches in all corners of India where a minimum of 40 Armenians would inhabit. The former would also grant 50 pounds to the appointed priest as his remuneration. The East India Company therefore built a tiny wooden church at the south-eastern wing of the present Armenian Church.
However, after a fire incident destroyed the wooden church built by the British, the present church was built by Aga Mamed Hazaar Maliyar, an Armenian at the same site in 1734. The interior decoration of the church was done by an Armenian architect named Katchik Arfiel. The beautiful altar in the church is adorned with a Holy Cross, the Gospel text and twelve candlesticks symbolizing Jesus Christ’s Twelve Apostles. The architect donated the wonderful church clock. Additionally, he also built a monastery for the priests of the church and a huge cemetery with high walls in the church premises.
The graveyard of the Armenian Church has Kolkata’s oldest known grave of an Armenian woman named Rezabeebeh, buried here in 1630. The small, well maintained compound also has a monument erected to the countless Armenians who died during World War 1.
- Inside the Church, there is a staircase leading to an overhead gallery whose walls are full of mural tablets.
- Three oil paintings – ‘The Holy Trinity’, ‘The Last Supper’ and ‘The Enshrouding of Our Lord’ – by the English artist A E Harris adorn the altar.
- In the 20th century, the church provided a place for members of the Russian Diaspora to hold Russian Orthodox Church services.
- The interiors of the church are decorated with black and white marble.
- The Armenians claim to have been the first community to be converted into Christianity in the European continent.
- In 2008, the Church celebrated its tercentenary.