News > Indian Armenians > Remarks following a visit to the Armenian Church in Chennai
In March 2007, His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, accompanied by his delegation visited the Armenian Church of St. Mary (Sourp Asdvadzadzin), located on the "Armenian Street" in Chennai (Madras). The church, originally built in 1712, was at that time undergoing a comprehensive renovation.
In 1794, while serving as pastor of the Armenian community in Madras, Archpriest Rev. Fr. Haroutiun Shmavonian began to publish the first Armenian periodical in the world entitled “Azdarar”. Father Shmavonian's grave is found on the grounds of the church.
In 2009, during the 300 years celebrations related to the Saint Nazareth church (Kolkata), Catholicos Karekin II visited India again with a large group of pilgrims from all over the world, including Armenian College (ACPA) graduates. They visited the Armenian monuments in several places in India, as far as Chennai. Several monuments were renovated on this occasion. Azad-Hye reported there were some indications that not all renovation work was of good quality. Renovation work in the Chennai church complex was carried on hastily, to meet the celebration deadline.
This January (2010), Michael Stephen, former caretaker of the Saint Mary Church, who lives in Bangalore, visited the church and made public his observations through a message sent to Azad-Hye and several other Indian Armenians.
He starts his message by saying "It was indeed very moving for me once again to have celebrated Christmas alone at our church at Madras. I lit some candles and put flowers on our altar after which rang the bells praying for the souls who lied buried within the church. Then I washed the grave of Rev. Shmavonian and lit a candle there too".
After doing the necessary rituals, Stephen inspected the location and made several comments on the current situation of the historical monument and worship site. He notes: "I was quite shocked to see within the church's old choir area carpets just thrown and all late George Gregory's sketches done with pencil / charcoal kept in a very unkempt style. I was very saddened at this. Whilst I was the caretaker, late Gregory spent 30 years over there and had gifted these sketches of holy figures including that of Saint Etchmiadzin to the church".
Stephen hopes that the Armenian Church in Kolkata restores these precious works of art at the earliest.
The new caretaker informed Stephen that after the new drainage was completed the mosquito menace has become worse. "There is water stagnation", states Stephen and warns that "this will lead to a disease outbreak if not rectified soon". There were also wild trees growing in the front building.
At the end of his message, Stephen hopes that the Kolkata Church will take care of these details. "The work carried out with regard to the restoration of the church building and belfry is really very good", he concludes, but the other negative aspects are overshadowing the good work made earlier.
Michael Stephen's email: email@example.com
Photos: Michael Stephen visits the Armenian Church of St. Mary in Chennai. Scenes from the church, Father Shmavonian’s grave and the storage of Gregory's sketches.
Michael Stephen washes the grave of Father Shmavonian
George Gregory's sketches