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Articles > Armenians in Far East > A history of the Armenian Church in Singapore
Armenian Church in SingaporeExtract from Charles Burton Buckley's An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore 1819-1867, pp. 283-285.
The beginning of the Armenian Church services in Singapore was in the year 1821. There was then three Armenian firms here, Anstarchus Sarkies, Arratoon Sarkies of Malacca, and another; they were trading with Malacca at the time. The priest, the Revd. Eleazar Ingergolie, died in Singapore in the year 1826, after having been several years here.
The old minute Look of the Armenian Church shows that on 8th January, 1825, a meeting was held and a letter was written to one of the Archbishops in Persia asking that a priest might be sent to Singapore. The letter was signed by Johannes Simeon, Carapiet Phanos, Gregory and Isaiah Zechariah, Mackertich M. Moses, and Paul Stephens. On June 23rd, 1826, there was further correspondence with the Archbishop. On 23rd September, 1827, there was a meeting to decide about a place to hold the services when the priest should arrive; and subscriptions were collected. In July, 1827, the Rev. Gregory ter Johannes, the priest, had arrived, and a meeting was held to provide for the ecclesiastical vessels and ornaments that were required. The services were first held in a room behind where John Little & Co. are now. Soon afterwards the Archbishop Gregory came on a visit to Singapore. In September a small room was rented for the services in what was spoken of as "the Merchant's Square," where Powell & Go. are at present. A. minute says that the expenses for rent, servants, and the salary of the Priest amounted to $63 a month. The minutes until 1833 contain many records of subscriptions received in Singapore and from Calcutta and Java for the fund for building a Church. In March, 1833, an appeal was made to their friends in the European community, and on 29th March a letter was written to Mr. Bonham, the Resident Councillor, asking for the grant of a piece of land for the Church, facing the Esplanade or at the foot of the Government Hill. This was not successful, and on 23rd April another letter was sent asking for another piece of ground "lying at the Botanical Gardens facing the public road called the Hill Street." This was granted, and the Church now standing was built there. In January, 1835, the Church was finished and ready to be consecrated. The total cost was $5,058.30, which was made up by the contract price to a Kling contractor, $3,500; Mr. Coleman, the Architect and Engineer, $400; sundry expenses for materials, &c., $708.36; and vestments, ornaments, &c., $449.94. The amount subscribed was $3,224.52 of which $466 was by European residents in Singapore; $573.22 from Calcutta; $402.88 from Java, and $173 from Armenians passing through Singapore. The rest was from the Armenian community in the place.
The Church was originally built with a high dome, but it became unsafe and was altered into the present roof. Mr. Gatchick Moses at his own expense built the wall round the compound, except the railing in Hill Street; and he also enlarged the Priest's house, and built the back porch. The minutes shew that considerable sums were collected at various times and sent to Persia for schools there.
The building of the Church had been commenced on the 1st January, 1835, and was consecrated on the 26th March, 1836, being the anniversary of St. Gregory, the Illuminator and first monk of the Armenian Church, to whom it was dedicated. The Free Press spoke as follows of the building :" This small, but elegant, building does great credit to the public spirit and religious feeling of the Armenians of this Settlement; for we believe that few instances could be shewn where so small a community have contributed funds sufficient for the erection of a similar edifice. The interior of this Church is a complete circle of thirty-six feet diameter, with a semi-circular chancel of eighteen feet wide on the east front; four small chambers, two of which are intended for staircases, and two for vestries, are designed, so that the body of the Church forms an equilateral square ; from these project three porticos of six columns each, which shade the windows and entrances, and afford convenient shelter for carriages in rainy weather. The principal order is Doric, surmounted by a balustrade, the top of which is twenty-three feet high; the roofs of the porticos, vestries, and chancel are flat, and that of the body of the Church a truncated cone rising ten feet with a flat space of twelve feet diameter on which is erected a Bell-turret, with eight arches, and as many Ionic pilasters; the height of these pilasters, with their entablature, is eleven, and that of the dome which they support six feet, the whole being surmounted by a ball and cross, the top of which is fifty feet above the floor of the Church. The above are the general measurements of the building, and we regret the absence of mechanical means to enable us to present our distant readers with a drawing which might convey a correct idea of its appearance. The design was by Mr. G-. D. Coleman, and whether owing to the abilities of the workmen, or the vigilance with which that gentleman superintended them, we know not; but it appears to us that the Armenian Church is one of the most ornate and best finished pieces of architecture that this gentleman can boast of. One only regret attends a survey of this building, which is that a rigid compliance with the old custom that directs the chancel to face the East, has caused the principal front to be placed in a totally opposite direction to that which the architect intended, and which would have presented it in a more conspicuous and desirable point of views."
The ceremony of consecration was attended by a large number of the English community, and the paper gives a long account of it, from which we take the following:?' The Rev. Johannes Oatchick, accompanied by the officiating deacons and clerks, one of them carrying the dresses and the foundation stone (emblematical) of the altar, on a silver tray, and all dressed according to the ranks of the Armenian Church, walked from a vestry to a table, placed for the purpose, in the north portico (the main entrance) where the 119th to the 122nd Psalms were read, verse by verse, by a deacon and clerk, followed by a prayer by the clergyman. The doors of the portico were then closed, while the 117th Psalm was read, and a hymn sung; and after another, prayer by the clergyman, the doors were re-opened for the admission of the congregation.
" The curtain or veil of the chancel having been drawn up, the altar was exposed to view, having over it a picture of the Lord's Supper (merely as an altar-piece and an ornament). The 147th Psalm was then read, and a hymn sung, followed by the reading of several chapters from the Book of Kings, relative to the building of the Temple at Jerusalem, also from the Prophesies of Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah, with parts of the 1st Chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians, and 16th Chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel. Then followed the 25th Psalm, and, while reading this, some of the clerks proceeded to wash, first by water, then by wine, the sides of the altar, the wall of the two small alcoves in the chance), in one of which the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is prepared, then the four sides of the body of the Church and head of the vestry door; after which the clergyman, accompanied by the senior deacon and clerk, went round to the spots so washed, and anointed them with Holy Oil from a silver cup making the Sign of the Cross : the clerks chanting at the time. The four sides of the Church were then blessed by the clergyman with a golden cross, held in his hand, who dedicated the Church to Saint Gregory the Illuminator, and first monk of the Church of Armenia.
"The 92nd Psalm was then read, and a hymn sung, while the assistants were clothing the altar with the usual dresses. The curtain was afterwards let down for a few minutes to enable the clergyman to prepare himself for addressing the congregation, which he did from the steps of the altar. The service of the consecration having thus ended, the usual performance of the Mass took place (which is certainly quite distinct from that of the Roman Catholic Church) being interspersed with singing of hymns, reading of portions of the Prophets, Epistles, and Gospels, and the recital of the Apostles' Creed. The service was in the Armenian language and occupied about three hours and a half." (283-285)

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