Armenian Church, Chennai

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St. Mary Church
Սուրբ Աստվածածին Եկեղեցի
Armenian Church Madras.jpg
St. Mary Armenian Church, Chennai
AffiliationArmenian Apostolic Church
LocationGeorge Town, Tamil Nadu
India India
Armenian Church, Chennai is located in India
Armenian Church, Chennai
Shown within India
Geographic coordinates13°05′21″N 80°17′14″E / 13.0891°N 80.2873°E / 13.0891; 80.2873Coordinates: 13°05′21″N 80°17′14″E / 13.0891°N 80.2873°E / 13.0891; 80.2873
Completed1712, rebuilt 1772

Saint Mary Church of Chennai (Armenian: Սուրբ Աստվածածին Եկեղեցի), constructed in 1712 [1] and reconstructed in 1772, is one of the oldest churches of the Indian subcontinent, located in Chennai. It is famous for its belfry of six. The Church, also called the Armenian Church of Virgin Mary, is located on the Armenian Street in the neighbourhood of George Town.

Trevor Alexander was the caretaker of the Church until 2014;[2] as on 2019, Jude Johnson, who is a relative of Trevor Alexander, is the care taker.[3]

The Church[edit]

Altar Armenian Church in Chennai.
  • Functioning only as a heritage site, the Church is opened for visitors from 9 am till 2:30 pm.
  • It is funded by the Armenian Apostolic Church[4] and maintained by The Armenian Church Committee in Calcutta.
  • The graves of about 350 Armenians have been laid out throughout the Church.
  • The founder, publisher and editor of the world's first Armenian periodical "Azdarar", Harutyun Shmavonyan, is buried here.
  • The Belfry adjacent to the main Church structure houses six large bells which are rung every Sunday at 9:30 am by the caretaker.

The Armenians were a select group of merchants in Madras Presidency. They walked all the way from Armenia, through the Hindukush mountains and came down to Madras. When the British were trading cotton cloth, Armenians dealt with fine silk, expensive spices and gems.

Madras must have housed a small but a thriving Armenian population. Today there are none of them left.[citation needed]


The six bells are all of different sizes, varying from 21 to 26 inches, and weigh around 150 kg each, They are believed to be the largest and heaviest bells of Chennai. The bells were cast at different times as noted below:

  • One bell, with Armenian inscription dates to 1754. This was recast in 1808 and also bears Tamil inscription.
  • One bell's inscription indicates that it dates to 1778.
  • Inscriptions on two bells indicate that they were given to the Church in memory of 19 year Eliazar Shawmier, buried in the Church's garden. Shawmier was the youngest son of a leading Armenian merchant of the city of Madras (now Chennai) on whose private chapel ground the present Church stands.
  • The remaining two bells date to 1837 and were cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, then known as Mears & Stainbank, with inscriptions reading "Thomas Mears, Founder, London".


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Haviland, Charles (11 December 2003). "The Last Armenians in Madras". BBC News. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  2. ^ "Economic Times of India article: The Last Armenians". Archived from the original on 26 March 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2005.
  3. ^ Chennai's Armenian connection
  4. ^ For Whom The Bell Tolls[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]