Chinsurah’s Armenian Church: A Monument That Breathes Life Once a Year

Jan 7 2024

By: Dil Bar Irshad

Enshrined in the heart of Chinsurah, West Bengal, stands the Armenian Church, a monument that breathes life but once a year. It’s doors remain sealed throughout the calendar, opening only on January 6th, a date of profound religious significance for the Armenian community. This annual awakening of the church marks the celebration of Armenian Christmas, the Nativity of Christ, and His Baptism.

This solitary day of activity in the church is punctuated by the ‘Blessing of Water’ ceremony, a ritual commemorating Christ’s Baptism. Despite the absence of a local Armenian population in Chinsurah, the tradition lives on, kept alive by Armenian students from Kolkata. The church, while closed to outsiders, becomes a spectacle for the locals, who gather around its perimeters to observe the festivities from afar.

The Armenian Church of Chinsurah, a structure steeped in history, was founded in 1695 by Khojah Johannes Margar and completed by his brother Joseph in 1697. This makes it the second oldest Christian church in Bengal. The church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist and within its sacred grounds lies the grave of its founder.

A notable architectural feature of the church is its steeple. Added in 1822 through the generous contributions of Mrs. Sophia Bagram, the steeple stands as a testament to her munificence. The church, despite having over a hundred graves within its premises bearing witness to the historical presence of Armenians, is bereft of a contemporary Armenian community in Chinsurah.

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS