Custodians of the Armenian church in Kolkata accused of destroying tombstones

Custodians of the Armenian church in Kolkata accused of destroying tombstones –


Tombstones demolished to make room for parking lot

The Times of India

KOLKATA: The custodians of the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth in Burrabazar,arguably the oldest church in Kolkata, have been accused of destroying a number of tombstones and memorial plaques to make room for a driveway and a parking lot. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) termed the demolition as ‘criminal’ since the loss is ‘irreparable’.

The oldest grave found in the churchyard is that of Rezabeebeh, the wife of the late Sookias. This tomb, dated July 21, 1630, is said to be the earliest Christian tomb in Kolkata.

“This is why the tombs are priceless historical documents. Each tomb tells a story of a period. A whole genealogy of Armenians of old Calcutta can be traced here. So the destruction of tombstones and memorial plaques, mostly in marble and iron, is no less than destruction of history,” said ASI regional director Dr P K Mishra, who recently made a sudden visit to the churchyard to trace the extent of damage. Anthony Khatchaturian, a passionate heritage activist of the city and an Armenian, was shocked with the construction. “I am baptized in this church. Just think of poor people who are buried under concrete car park. They have been lost forever,” said Anthony. His forefather J C Gaulstaun, one of the greatest builders of the city’s magnificent built heritage, was also laid to rest here.


According to community sources, the removal process began some time in late 2008 during the visit of Catholicos Karekin-II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The driveway came up at the cost of the tombstones. It came under scrutiny following the recent ASI visit. “The damage is horrific. Such activities must be stopped immediately. Often, people cause damage out of ignorance. But when educated people, the custodians of church property, did this, it is unpardonable. I have written a letter to the church authority,” said Mishra. The curch plays an important role as it is considered to be the Mother Church of the Indian Armenians.

In reply, wardens of the church and committee members Susan Reuben and Sunil Sobti went on the defensive. They did not deny the removal of tombstones. “The graves were not destroyed to make space for other use as most of the graves were re-laid under the supervision of the then Parish Priest who in such matters give his ruling and sanction,” said their joint statement.

“The mortal remains are now part of the soil underneath. The marble plaques are very old and will get damaged invariably if any relocation is attempted. The explanations appear incredible to me,” said Dr Mishra.

Mishra also detected serious damage to the ‘Last Supper’ painting placed above the main altar of the church, with which he found a close resemblance of the ‘Last Supper’ by German painter Johan Zoffany at Kolkata’s St John’s Church. While Joffany’s painting was restored, Armenian Church’s ‘Last Supper’ is lying in neglect. However, Sobti and Ruben claimed, “Catholicos Karekin-II has taken a personal interest to ensure that an expert handpicked by him would be sent to India for executing the job.”  


The Armenian Church of the Holy Nazareth is an Armenian Apostolic church that is located in the northwest corner of Barabazar in the Greater Kolkata area, and is called “Mother Church of the Indian Armenians”. It is possibly the oldest church in the Kolkata area. It was built in 1724 by Agha Nazar after a fire destroyed the previous Armenian church that had been built on the land in 1688. To the first Armenians who settled in India, who were mostly traders, continuation of tradition and preservation of religion were of the utmost importance. The Holy Nazareth structure is one of three Armenian churches in Kolkata; the other two are Saint Mary’s Church and the church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator.

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