The Armenian Church

North Chennai is one of the busiest parts of the city. If you have some errands in that area, it is a great pleasure to leave the hustle-bustle behind and spend a little while visiting the Armenian Church, on Armenian Street leading off from NSC Bose Road. From the street, all you see is a double staircase leading up to a high, heavy wooden door set in a blank wall. You walk through a passage and emerge into a quiet green space containing the church, its bell-tower, and a garden.

the bell-tower, with the church on the right

According to S. Muthiah, writing in Madras Discovered,

… hidden behind yellow walls and massive 10-feet high black wooden doors, silver studded, is the Armenian Church, built in 1772 on the site of the old Armenian cemetery….This church of the Armenian Orthodoxy, who began to settle in Madras in the 1660s, displays a plaque reading ‘1712’. That date commemorates the building of the first Armenian church in ‘Old Black Town’…

Part of the open area is paved with old Armenian gravestones:


You can climb the winding stairs of the bell tower and admire the bells, which are claimed to be the largest in Chennai.

inside the bell-tower, looking up


The interior of the church is simple, with a tall carved wooden altarpiece. It is kept locked, since it is not in regular use; but the caretaker will open it, if you are visiting for the first time.

the church, with the bell-tower to the left

There are no more Armenians in Chennai – the last was the previous caretaker, who died recently. The church is maintained by a trust which, the new caretaker told me, is based in Kolkata, where a small Armenian community still survives. I wonder how long this oasis can remain as it is. If you’re in the area, go and see it, wander in the green garden, and feel its peace while you still can.

10 Comments so far

  1. Lavanya (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 3:29 pm

    Thank you for this post. I am going to make sure I visit soon.

  2. PSU (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 3:32 pm

    Wonderful pictures. I lived in Madras and knew of the Armenian street! But never realized that there was a church. Thanks for the pics.

  3. Anand (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 4:24 pm

    Nancy, not too long ago, a bunch of us afficionados got together and made a small docu about the church for the UGC. Dug up quite a bit about the place during research.

  4. Nancy (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 6:16 pm

    Anand, I’d love to know more about this – have you published it, or …?

  5. Anand (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 11:31 pm

    I blogged about it when we were actually doing the shoot. I have some info on me. Have to rummage through the archives to find them. A friend of mine who did the camerawork has some terrific photographs with him. I might ask him to put them up on his blog. If you’re interested in the docu short itself, then let me see, copyright issues permitting, I might put it up online.

  6. Anand (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 11:32 pm

    Just one more thing. The best part of the film was sourcing Armenian music for it. That was my area of expertise :)

  7. Nancy (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 11:35 pm

    Sounds fascinating. If you / he post, obviously we can link to it from here. I’d like to link to it from fire star as well. How about some links to Armenian music while you’re at it? I’ve eaten some delicious Armenian food — more Armenians live in America than anywhere else, I believe — but beyond that I’m in the dark.

  8. sandeep (unregistered) on April 21st, 2006 @ 2:19 pm

    Nice post. Great work you’re doing here guys.

  9. david (unregistered) on April 21st, 2006 @ 9:12 pm

    nancy, thanks for that great post and the lovely pictures. i sure would like to visit this little known treasure in chennai.

  10. bharat (unregistered) on April 22nd, 2006 @ 12:03 am

    OT – The Armenian Connection

    Indian student dies in Armenia due to neglect

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