Built for Armenian traders in India in 1712, the Armenian Church, also known as the Church of the Holy Virgin Mary, is among the oldest churches in the country. Though it no longer functions as a house of worship, the church is still maintained as a historical attraction and is funded by the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The Armenian Church is a beautiful old whitewashed structure with cool interiors featuring checkerboard tile floors, wood beams, white plaster walls, and a beautifully painted altarpiece. Some 350 Armenian clergy are buried here. The star attraction, however, is the set of six bells here, each of which weighs around 330 pounds (150 kilograms). Some of the bells date back as early as the 18th century.
Things to Know Before You Go
- As one of the oldest churches in India, the Armenian Church is a must-visit for history buffs.
- The church is a historical monument and no longer holds religious services.
- Those wanting to hear the church’s famous bells should visit on a Sunday morning.
How to Get There
The church is located on Aranmanaikaran Street, aka Armenian Street, in George Town. The area is well connected by public transportation, and the Chennai Fort and Chennai Beach commuter train stations are each about a 10-minute walk away. Travelers coming from Mylapore can take the train directly from the Thirumayilai Railway Station to Chennai Beach; the journey takes around 25 minutes.
When to Get There
The Armenian Church is open to visitors every day from 9:30am to 2:30pm. Crowds aren't usually an issue here, but early mornings are best for sightseeing in Chennai, as temperatures tend to be cooler. While there are no services held at the church, the bells ring every Sunday at exactly 9:30am.
Armenians in India
Armenians have had a presence in India since antiquity, and they were prominent traders in what is now South India as early as the 7th century. Various Armenian settlements cropped up across India in later centuries, particularly in Surat, Agra, and Bengal. Today, the population of Indian Armenians has shrunk to an estimated 100 people, most of whom live in Kolkata.