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The Armenian Church of St. John the Baptist in Rangoon
Unfortunately the records for this Church were lost during World War II. However the Armenian cemeteries in Mandalay, Syriam and Rangoon indicate that Armenians first came to India from Iran around 1608, some of them went on to Burma and settled there, playing a prominent part in the promotion of trade, especially in the three towns mentioned above.
In the 18th century they constructed the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator in Mandalay, on a plot of land graciously presented to them by His Majesty the King of Burma. In this Church, divine services were held regularly until the 1920’s, when the community in Mandalay gradually moved down to Rangoon.
The Church of St. John the Baptist in Rangoon was erected by the community there in the year 1862 on land they had acquired in October 1858. This Church was formally consecrated on the 17th July 1863 by Revd. Father Aviet Chaytor, the then resident priest. The church was internally remodelled with a new roof during 1908-1909.
Update October 2012
I am grateful to Henri Aslanian of Hong Kong for permitting me to use photographs from his recent trip to Myanmar. I reproduce his photographs and comments with full acknowledgement and thanks to Henri.
Henri says: “….Met the only Armenian still living in Myanmar – a 86 years old Mr. Martin (Mardirossian) whose brother still lives in Bangladesh and whom I met last year in Dhaka – and visited the Armenian Church of Myanmar in Rangoon (built in 1862-exactly 150 years ago this year). The church is located in prime real estate, still standing and is under renovation. The Armenians arrived in Burma as early as 1612 and were some of the first foreigners in Burma but they left in the mid-20th century when the military government took power. They built some of the most impressive landmarks in the country including the famous Strand Hotel. Even after all these years living in Asia and travelling extensively throughout South East Asia, I am still impressed by the amazing footprints that these Armenians left in this part of the world including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and India. Part of Armenian history that many don’t know about…Very inspiring…”
Henri says: “…….The Armenian Church is truly a jewel… following a recent donation by a Russian Armenian, the Church is undergoing minor renovations but there are lots of seriously incredible pieces of Armenian religious items in the Church that are simply getting destroyed by humidity………
Yet to be added
The Armenians settle in Agra during the 17th and 18th centuries when there was a large number of them who traded in precious stones, silks and spices. However, Mesrovb Seth wote in 1895: “…….Akbar the Great adopted the youthful and promising son of a Mr. Jacob, an Armenian merchant, whom he had met at Kashmere. This singular adoption was made several years before Jehangeer (Akbar’s son) was born, whose birth in 1570 he attributed to the advent of the Armenians into Agra and their erection, in 1562, of an (Armenian) Christian church there at the express wish of their royal patron.”
So an Armenian Church having being built in Agra in 1562 meant there must have been a least one Armenian priest in spiritual charge of the colony from that time onward.
Agra was the capital of the then Moghul Empire. The Armenians gained favour with Akbar, the Moghul Emperor, who was tolerant and granted them freedom of religion, language and trade. Hence the Armenians prospered there til towards the end of the 18th century. When the city’s commercial importance began to decline, the Armenians gradually moved from Agra to Bombay where the Armenians had already formed a commercial colony during the second part of the 17th century.
No less than seven Armenian priests are known to have worked in Agra during the lifetime of Zu’lqarnain and later, while the Jesuits were also at work in the same area. The Armenian priests were
Agra is synonymous with the Taj Mahal, when one thinks of Agra ones mind is drawn to the beautiful Taj; built as a tribute to a wife by her loving husband.
Strange but true facts – I:
Three Armenian Churches in India,
The Armenian churches at
The oldest Christian graves at
Strange but true facts – II:
In 1907 six baskets, containing a large number of Armenian manuscripts, books and pontifical bulls (Kondaks) belonging to the Armenian church at Gwalior which was erected by Colonel Jacob Petrus, were sold as waste paper for six Rupees only by a descendant of the Colonel †
Latter Day Saints (LDS) film numbers of Armenian records in Asia
St. Peter’s Armenian Apostolic Church
|All BMD’s are on one film
Holy Nazareth Church and
St. Gregory’s Church
St. John’s Armenian Apostolic Church
|All BMD’s between 1829 – 1908 are on one film
St. John the Baptist Armenian Apostolic Church
Note: many frames blurred and illegible
item 1 (includes confirmations in 1961)
St. George’s Armenian Apostolic Church
|Armenian College &
|Register of Admissions and Withdrawals 1892-1979
1. these records have been transcribed in full and are on the FIBIS database. www.fibis.org
This Holy Church was erected in the name of the holy Apostle Peter. Mr. Jacob Petrus of Hamadan in Persia, better known as Hakob Hamadanchi built St. Peter Armenian Church of Bombay which is situated in Medows Street. The Armenian community of Bombay lived mainly in Armenian Lane a locality close to the church, where they flourished as traders and lived in opulent residences.
At the foot of the altar of the church is a square tablet with an inscription in Armenian, the translation of which is: “This holy church was erected in the name of the holy Apostle Peter, during the Patriarchate of His Holiness Lucas, the Catholicos of all the Armenians, by the munificence of Mr. Jacob of Hamadan, to the memory of his late parents, Mr. Petrus, his father, and Zanazan Khatoon his mother, the foundation-stone of which was laid by Archbishop James, who was on an evangelical tour in India on bhelaf of the Holy See of Etchmiatzin in the year of our Lord 1796, on the 14th day of Thirah (12th October)”. Another tablet, over the door of the sacristy, bears the following inscription, which says “The outside parts of this holy church with the budlings attached thereto were repaired by the munificence of Agah Jacob, son of Arratoon Thageantz, to the memory of his late mother, the noble lady Thamar, and his sister [Miss] Anna, dead in Christ. The repairs were executed through the instrumentality of Archbishop James on the 3rd day of Shams [4th April] in the year of our Lord 1801”.
The church in Bombay was the sister church to the Armenian church at Surat. When the Surat Church was finally closed down in 1861 because there were no Armenian community left there, the Wardens of Bombay, had all the sacred books, vessels and vestments of Surat brought to Bombay for preservation there. Amongst these was a manuscript Bible in the Armenian language which was written at Surat in 1658, there was also an old chasuble (shoorjar) belonging to the Surat Church on which the year 1782 was beautifully embroidered in gold thread.
The early Armenians in Bombay “…….wore Persian dress, and dyed their hair and whiskers with henna. Armenian ladies passed their time either engaged in the care of their families, or in receiving and paying visits, drinking coffee or sherbet, embroidering and making delicious confections of Hulwah and various sweetmeats. They have very considerable influence on their families, understand business admirably, and are commonly entrusted with the full control of their property. Their condition is easy and agreeable, little restraint being placed upon their conduct, a slight degree of personal seclusion being considered honorable and dignified”.
The last person to be buried in the Armenian churchyard at Bombay, and as a mark of deep respect, was Mr. William Michael, the warden of the church for several years, who died on the 23rd July 1886, aged 55 years.
Gradually it decayed and was replaced by a new and beautiful Church in 1957. It was designed by a well known Armenian architect of Beyrouth, Mr. M.H. Altounian and was constructed on the plot of the old church. The blessing of the foundation stone o was performed by His Grace Archbishop Yegheshe Derderian of Jerusalem during a visit to Bombay in June 1956 in the company of Revd. Father Shahe Ajamian. The new church was consecrated on the 14th April 1957 by His Grace Bishop Terenik Poladian. A six storey building was erected in front of it and named “Ararat” (after Mount Ararat of Biblical times on which Noah’s Ark rested”). The “Ararat” building is the property of the church.
Armenians settle here and flourished as businessmen during the 17th and 18th centuries. When Chinsurah lost its commercial importance, the Armenians transferred their businesses to Calcutta towards the end of the 18th century.
The Armenian Church here is the second oldest in Bengal. It was erected in 1695 , the foundation stone being laid by Khojah Johannes Margar. The Church was completed in 1697 by his brother Joseph, and dedicated to St. John the Baptist in memory of his deceased brother Johannes. Khojah Johannes died suddenly on the 27th November 1697 and he was interred inside the church. This church is today the only remaining landmark of the once large and flourishing Armenian colony.
Joseph was the elder brother of the two and they went into partnership together in Hyderabad (Deccan) in 1666. They started a business together in Mylapore, with a joint capital of Rs 27,550 only, the major portion of which (Rs,18,550) was deposited by Khojah Joseph Margar, whilst his younger brother Johannes added only Rs. 9000 as his contribution to the business.
After the suddenly and untimely death of Khojah Johannes Margar in November 1697 the partnership automatically ceased and the final accounts made up. It was found that a net profit of two million rupees had been made in 30 years on the original capital of Rs. 27,500.
The brothers were the sons of the illustrious merchant-diplomat, Margar Avag Sheenentz, known as Marcara Avanchinz, who played an important part in the French East India Company in India in the second half of the 17th century.
Although Armenians lived and died in fairly large numbers at Chinsurah between the years 1695 and 1868, there are no more than 100 graves within the church, 28 of them being inside the church itself.
Records indicate that:
between the years 1826 and 1868 sixteen marriages were solemnized in the Church.
between the years 1817 and 1867 seventy two baptisms took place, and
between the years 1817 and 1881 fifty seven burials
No records appear to exist between the years 1695 when it was built and 1817, but of course there would have been many more births, marriages and burials in that ‘lost’ 122 years.
The church was originally built without a steeple, and this was added and erected in 1822 through the generosity of Mrs. Sophia Bagram a wealthy Armenian lady from Calcutta, in memory of her husband, Simon Phanoos Bagram.
The town of Chinsurah is about 35 miles from Calcutta. Sadly, no Armenians reside there but once a year, on the Sunday nearest to the Feast Day of St. John The Baptist, the Armenians from Calcutta go on a pilgrimage accompanied by their Priest who performs Holy Mass and offers prayers for the repose of the departed buried there. After the service, a large community lunch is served to the congregation which is hosted by the Armenian Church, Calcutta.