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.