Armenian Church, Singapore
|Armenian Church of Saint Gregory The Illuminator|
|Location||60 Hill Street, Singapore|
|Affiliation||Armenian Apostolic Church|
|Patron||St. Gregory the Illuminator|
|Architect(s)||George Drumgoole Coleman|
|Construction cost||5,058 Spanish dollars|
|Designated as NHL|
|Designated||6 July 1973|
The Armenian Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, referred to as Armenian Church locally, is the oldest Christian church in Singapore, located at Hill Street in the Museum Planning Area, within the Central Area. The church was completed in 1835 and consecrated the next year. Originally a parish of the Armenian Apostolic Church, an Oriental Orthodox denomination, the last Armenian parish priest left in the late 1930s as Armenian population in Singapore dwindled. It was designated as a national monument in 1973. Armenian and Oriental Orthodox services are now regularly held at the church.
The church was commissioned by the first twelve Armenian families that settled in Singapore. It was designed by George Drumgoole Coleman, the architect of many of Singapore's early buildings who also became the first Superintendent of Public Works. The church is dedicated to St Gregory the Illuminator, the first Patriarch of the Armenian Church.
The Armenians were among the earliest merchants and traders to arrive in Singapore after Sir Stamford Raffles established it as a trading port in 1819. The community already held religious services in Singapore by 1821, and the first priest, the Reverend Krikor Hovhannes (Gregory John), arrived in July 1827. A temporary chapel was set up at the back of John Little & Company at Commercial Square (today's Raffles Place). The community started to raise funds for the construction of a new church in 1827. Over half the construction cost of 5,058.30 Spanish dollars was donated by the Armenian community in Singapore, with the rest coming from Armenians in Java and India, and a small portion from European and Chinese merchants in Singapore. The Armenian community was very small – the 1824 census counted only 16 members, and 34 in 1836 when the church opened – its contribution to the Armenian Church was therefore considerable in proportion, an indication of the prosperity and religious devotion of the Armenians.
A request for land to build the church was made by the Armenian community in 1833, and the government granted the land at the foot of Fort Canning in 1834. The foundation stone was laid on 1 January 1835 by the Supreme , Archimandrite Reverend Thomas Gregorian, who also opened and consecrated the new church on Easter Sunday in 1836. He was assisted by Reverend Catchick Johannes, the priest for the local community. It was the first Christian church to be built in Singapore.
The church has undergone a few modifications since it was first built. A bell turret designed by Coleman was deemed structurally unsound, and it was replaced first by a square tower in 1847, then again replaced in 1853 with the spire as it appears today, which was designed by George Maddock.
In 1909, the church became the first building in Singapore with electricity. In the late 1960s, when the Christian Cemetery at Fort Canning was cleared for a park, early Armenian tombstones there were moved into the Memorial Garden at the church ground. Tombstones from Bukit Timah-Cavenagh Road cemetery were also moved here. A number of tombstones of prominent Armenians in Singapore, such as members of the Sarkies family of Raffles Hotel fame, Agnes Joaquim who bred Singapore's national flower and Catchik Moses who founded the newspaper Straits Times, are placed here. The Memorial Garden however was never used as a burial ground.
Armenian Street is named after the church and it was known earlier by its Chinese name seng poh sin chu au meaning "the back of Seng Poh's new building" (Tan Seng Poh was the first Chinese to serve on the Municipal Commission).
The existing Armenian Church, built primarily in the British neoclassical style with a few eclectic influences, is centrally-designed in the manner of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the mother church of Armenia. The church interior is circular, and said to resemble the round Holy Sepulchre in Cambridge, England. The circle however is imposed within a square-cross plan, with projecting square porticos in Roman Doric orders. The Palladian-style design may have been inspired by the circular plan for St Andrews's Church in Chennai, which is in turn derived from one of James Gibbs' designs for St Martin-in-the-Fields in London that he published in his Book of Architecture.
The original symmetrical design by Coleman included neither tower nor spire, instead it featured an octagonal cone supporting a small bell turret with Ionic columns. The current spire, designed by an English architect George Maddock, is the second to replace the original bell turret by Coleman. The original was first replaced in 1846 by a square tower with Doric pilasters. In 1953, the square tower was replaced by present spire that sits on an octagonal tower, and topped with a ball and cross. Maddock had the pitched roof replaced by the present one and, to support the tower and spire, added the east portico around the apse where the chancel is. The semi-circular chancel with the raised grand altar is located opposite the main entrance. Probably at the same time the main entrance on the west portico was also widened.
The Tuscan Doric porticos on the north, south and west fronts of the church are each topped with a triangular pediment. Originally the east front simply had a bowed apse with Tuscan Doric pilasters, however the bowed apse has since been boxed in by the portico on which the spire was built. The pediment on this portico is inscribed the date "1835", the year of the church's foundation. The north, south and west porticos were designed to allow horse carriages to pull into the porches, where ladies may then alight and step directly into the church without soiling their dresses.
Coleman's design is adapted to suit Singapore's tropical climate; for instance, the wide verandahs give shade and protect the timber-louvred windows on the ground floor from heavy downpours. The windows, in turn, diffuse the sunlight and induce cross ventilation. The pews are backed with woven rattan, a lighter, cooler and more comfortable material.
The last Armenian parish priest left in the late 1930s with the dwindling Armenian population in Singapore. On 29 March 2016 by the Pontifical Order of Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, Fr. Zaven Yazichyan, a member of the Brotherhood of Holy Etchmiadzin, was appointed to serve as the spiritual pastor of Singapore. The small Coptic Christian community in Singapore occasionally hold services in the building.
The church's entrance features heavy two-leaf timber doors framed by moulded semi-circular pediments.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Armenian Church, Singapore.|
- "Small group big part of S'pore's heritage". AsiaOne. 27 April 2015. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
- Wright, Nadia (6 January 2015). "The Armenians of Singapore: An Historical Perspective". Armenian Weekly.
- Beamish, Jane; Ferguson, Jane (1985). A History of Singapore Architecture: The Making of a City. Graham Brash Publishing. pp. 39–43. ISBN 978-9971-947-97-2.
- "Armenian Apostolic Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator". Roots. National Heritage Board.
- "Armenian Church". Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board.
- Singapore's 100 Historic Places. National Heritage Board. Archipelago Press. 2002. pp. 10–11. ISBN 981-4068-23-3.
- Savage, Victor R.; Yeoh, Brenda (2013). Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics. Marshall Cavendish. p. 23. ISBN 978-981-4484-74-9.
- "Armenian Apostolic Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator". National Heritage Board. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
- "Plate 10: Gibbs' Design for Circular Church". British History Online.
- "New Clergy Appointments in the Far East". Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. 29 March 2016. Retrieved 13 June 2016.
- Zaccheus, Melody (5 May 2016). "Services in Singapore for Copts started in 2002". The Straits Times. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
- Further reading
- Norman Edwards, Peter Keys (1996), Singapore – A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, Times Books International, ISBN 9971-65-231-5
- Nadia Wright 'Respected Citizens: the history of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia' Amassia Publishing 2003, Chapter 9.
- Sarkissian, Margaret (1987). "Armenians in South-East Asia". Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University. 3 (2-3): 1–33.