Plans afoot for Armenian heritage museum in Singapore
Plans afoot for Armenian heritage museum in Singapore –
110-year-old building may house maps, religious relics
Straits Times – Singapore’s oldest church, the 180-year-old Armenian Apostolic Church of St Gregory The Illuminator in Hill Street, will soon have an Armenian heritage museum.
Venture capitalist Pierre Hennes, 43, one of its four trustees, says the tiny, close-knit Armenian community here and about 15 Armenians overseas have been discussing setting it up since 2005.
Before that, the community was focused on sprucing up the church, which was declared a national monument in 1973.
Hardly any Armenians here worship in the church and Armenians say there is no pressure on them to attend church regularly, as religion is a very personal and private matter to them. But building churches everywhere they landed was their way of preserving their roots.
The premises are often rented out to other Orthodox Christians, such as the Coptics, for their services. What they earn goes towards maintaining the church.
If all goes well, the museum will open next year in the 110-year-old house across the church.
The two-storey building was originally a parsonage but there has not been a resident priest since 1933.
The trustees hope the museum will have maps, religious relics and Armenian literary works. The museum plan is quite a turnaround from just 10 years ago, when Armenian archbishop Aghan Baliozian tried to sell the church and parsonage.
The community stopped that sale and, today, the mother church in Armenia is giving the museum plan its support.
Last November, the world leader of the church, known as the Catholicos, was here to bless the Armenian congregation and the church.
ARMENIAN CHURCH OF ST GREGORY THE ILLUMINATOR
By the start of the 18th century, a small number of Armenians had found their way to India, Myanmar, Penang, Malacca and Java. Many Armenians were land owners. They came to Singapore as land owners too, and included, among their ranks, the Sarkies Brothers. The Sarkies are better known as the people who set up the iconic Raffles Hotel. At their peak in 1880, there were around 100 Armenians in Singapore.
Together with the migration of the Armenian people, came Armenian Christianity, and a small church to worhip.
The Armenians were the first people to adopt Christianity as a nation, they did so in AD 301 and traced their succession from the Apostles Bartholomew and Jude Thaddeus. This was when the religion was still illegal in the Roman Empire. The Church is named after St Gregory the Illuminator, the first leader (patriarch) of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
It was designed by Gregory Coleman, the same man who designed the Anglican St Andrew’s Cathedral and part of Parliament house. It was built to the tune of 5000 spanish dollars, not a small amount of money at the time. Wikipedia has alot more details on the architecture of the building, so I’ll just link it here.
The inner sanctum of the church can hold a small congregation, no more than a 100 I would reckon. It is no more in use today, the last parish priest left in 1930 and new parish priest was never appointed. Today the church is used on occasion for Armeninan and Eastern Orthodox services on Christmas and Easter. Mainly by theJacobite Syrian Church (of Keralan descent) and the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Outside the church are many tombstones, this memorial garden however has never been used as a cemetery, these are empty tombstones and headstones transported from a former Christian cemetery when the latter was exhumed for redevelopment. These tombstones are in memory of the Armenians who came to Singapore in the early days of the colonial settlement.