The Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator is the first Christian church built in Singapore in 1835. Designed by Irish architect, George D. Coleman, it is considered as one of his masterpieces.
As the number of Armenian families was growing in the early 1830s due to business prospects in Southeast Asia, a place of worship was deemed necessary. In 1833, the land was acquired from the government of the time. Majority of the funds needed for construction was raised by Singapore Armenians, as well as, Armenians of Calcutta and Java.
On 26 March 1836, the church was consecrated and dedicated to St. Gregory the Illuminator, a patron saint and the first official head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. In 1973, the building was gazetted as a national monument by the National Preservation Board.
The year 2011 marks a special milestone in the Church’s history. On 26 & 26 March 2011, over 160 Armenians (Archbishops, Government Officials, Dignitaries, friends) from 19 countries joined the local Armenian community in Singapore in celebrating the Church’s 175th Anniversary. This spiritual place serves as a tribute to the once influential Armenian community of Singapore. They were lawyers, merchants, and entrepreneurs. Famous among them were the Sarkies Brothers who built and managed the Raffles Hotel, Agnes Joaquim who hybridised the orchid Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’ (named as Singapore’s national flower), and Catchick Moses who co-founded the Strait Times.
The interior of the church, namely the vaulted ceiling and cupola, is based on traditional Armenian Church architecture. The painting above the altar is of Christ and his Apostles at the Last Supper.
As for the exterior, a tall spire tops the building, while Doric columns, bordered by balustrades on both sides, sustain the white portico. The original design, a domed roof and bell turret (also another feature of the Armenian Church architecture), had to be altered because of safety reasons.
Writing on the occasion of the consecration in 1836, the newspaper THE FREE PRESS commented « …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 shown where so small a community have contributed funds sufficient for the erection of a similar edifice…which is …one of the most ornate and best furnished pieces of architecture… ».
Within the tranquility of the tropical landscape lies the Memorial Garden with the tomb markings of Armenians who died in Singapore. The tombstones were transported here in the early 1970’s from the Bukit Timah Cemetery by an American-Armenian, Mr. Leon Palian, residing in Singapore at the time. The stones were assembled to form the Memorial Garden, a sanctuary to a small community with a strong heritage and ties to the socio-economic development of this country.
The parsonage house dates back to 1905 and was built for the living accommodations of the residing priest. Today, it serves as the administrative offices of the Armenian Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator. A group of dedicated volunteers manage all the administrative aspects of the Church – The Church operates without any overhead expenses and 100% of all donations are directed toward the maintenance and upkeep of the property.