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Sunday, 15 November 2015

Armenian Church, Singapore

Armenian Orthodox Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, Singapore



On a stopover in Singapore about 7 years ago I bought a book called Final Notes From a Great Island A farewell Tour of Singapore by Neil Humphreys. A quick read of the blurb, which promoted the book as an affectionate farewell journey around Singapore, encouraged me to buy the book. I enjoyed the book as it gave me a greater insight into Singapore, but what really struck with me was a small mention of the Armenian church.

The Armenian Church is the oldest church in Singapore, built in 1835, at a time as Neil Humphreys wrote Singapore was mainly jungle and there was a greater population of tigers in Singapore than there were Armenians. The small Armenian community raised the money to build their church, along with some funds raised in the Armenian communities in Java and Calcutta.

The Armenian population in Singapore was never particularly large and yet made their mark on the colony. The national flower of Singapore the Vanda "Miss Joachim" orchid was bred by a woman of Armenian descent, Agnes Joachim. The Raffles hotel was built and run by two businessmen brothers of Armenian descent. The Straits Times newspaper was founded by an Armenian. By the 1930s the Armenian population in Singapore had dropped and the priest was transferred, no new priest has ever been reappointed. The church administration is run totally by volunteers.

I just love what this little church represents, to me at least. The ability it had to be established and continue despite the odds, it's still there, a visible presence of a minority. It also represents a minority's desire to keep a piece of their history going, the church receives no government money, it's run by volunteers. There is a small donation box in the church for anyone who wishes to leave some money.

I'm a regular visitor when in Singapore, to pay my respects for its past and just to experience the oasis of peace and tranquility in a busy city.



The church is on Hill Street (off Bras Basah Road), the church was repainted and restored four (?) years ago, I know I visited at the time and was disappointed to find the church closed and covered in scaffolding.



As you enter the grounds life sized Stations of the Cross are scattered in the grounds.



The grounds don't actually have a graveyard, these historic headstones of Singapore Armenians were transferred here in the 1970s from a cemetery in Singapore. Agnes Joachim's very modest headstone is here, one of 'her' orchids is always placed next to it.



The parsonage, the last priest left in the 1930s, it's now used as the administrative centre to the church and run by volunteers. It was built in 1905.



The interior of the church, it's very small! Built for tropical conditions pre-airconditioning, wicker seating, doors on both sides to catch the flow through breezes and verandahs outside. From reading the guest book I could see that the church does periodically hold services with a visiting priest and weddings are held there.

It's a lovely place to stop when walking around the historic colonial district and it's marked on their historic trail.




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