Karekin II visits Madras and oldest Armenian Church in Far East

Karekin II visits Madras and oldest Armenian Church in Far East

Saint Mary Armenian Church in MadrasHaving arrived at Chennai Airport on the previous night, His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, accompanied by his delegation visited the Armenian Church of St. Mary (Surb Astvatsatsin) in Madras on Friday, March 2.  The church, originally built in 1712, is undergoing a comprehensive renovation and is in considerably better condition today than only a few years ago.  On the grounds of the church is a cemetery where Archpriest Rev. Fr. Haroutiun Shmavonian is interred.  In 1794, while serving as pastor of the Armenian community in Madras, Fr. Shmavonian began to publish the first Armenian periodical in the world entitled ?Azdarar?.


Although there are no longer any Armenian residents of Madras, the church remains continually open.  Many Indians from the surrounding neighborhoods had come to the church to greet His Holiness upon his arrival and to ask for his blessings.


His Holiness and the pontifical entourage entered the compound of the church located on ?Armenian Street? in the center of the city and were greeted by a number of Indian Orthodox faithful.  As the Catholicos entered the sanctuary, he offered prayers of thanksgiving for protecting this significant edifice in the heart of Madras, at a time where there are no longer any Armenian faithful to care for its maintenance and safekeeping.


His Holiness Karekin II offered a solemn requiem service in the church in memory of all departed clergymen ? bishops, priests and deacons ? who have diligently served the Armenian community of India and the Far East over the course of the past five centuries.  The Pontiff of All Armenians also laid a floral wreath at the tomb of Fr. Shmavonian, following which he was guided on a tour of the church grounds and the historic bell-tower, with its six cast iron bells, renowned throughout all of Madras. 


While at the church, His Holiness also met with the historical and architectural preservation committee for Chennai and discussed the efforts undertaken by the Armenians of Calcutta to preserve and renovate the church and compound.


In the afternoon, the Catholicos and the pontifical entourage traveled to the historical St. Thomas Shrine, which rests atop a famous hill in Madras.  According to Roman Catholic tradition, St. Thomas the Apostle was martyred on this hill in the first century A.D.  This location was thereafter marked with a chapel and later a church.  In 1547, the very first Armenian Church in the Far East was built in this location on the hill.  The original church building remains to this day as a functioning sanctuary and shrine of the Roman Catholic faith.  However, its Armenian origin is self-evident by the countless Armenian gravestones, paintings and inscriptions (most notably on the Holy Altar) which ornament the interior.  Once again, the Indian Christian faithful of the area greeted His Holiness and asked him to give them his pontifical blessings.


Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Information Services
Address:  Vagharshapat, Republic of Armenia
Contact:  Rev. Fr. Ktrij Devejian
Tel:  +374-10-517163
Fax:  +374-10-517301
[email protected]
Website:  www.armenianchurch.org
March 11, 2007


Upper left photo:

The Armenian Church of St. Mary (Surb Astvatsatsin) built in Madras in 1712.

The famous bell-tower of the Madras Armenian Church

The famous bell-tower of the Madras church

The grave of Father Haroutiun Shmavonian

The grave of Archpriest Rev. Fr. Haroutiun Shmavonian, publisher of the ?Azdarar?