The oldest church in Singapore is the Armenian Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator. Today, a listed National Monument, it is no longer in active use as a church, though it is a fashionable location for weddings and occasional services are held there. Charles Burton Buckley’s “An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore 1819-1867”, describes its beginnings thus:
“The old minute book of the Armenian Church shows that on 8th January, 1825, a meeting was held and a letter was written to one of the Archbishops in Persia asking that a priest might be sent to Singapore. The letter was signed by Johannes Simeon, Carapiet Phanos, Gregory and Isaiah Zechariah, Mackertich M. Moses, and Paul Stephens. On June 23rd, 1826, there was further correspondence with the Archbishop. On 23rd September, 1827, there was a meeting to decide about a place to hold the services when the priest should arrive; and subscriptions were collected. In July, 1827, the Rev. Gregory ter Johannes, the priest, had arrived, and a meeting was held to provide for the ecclesiastical vessels and ornaments that were required. The services were first held in a room behind where John Little and Co. are now. Soon afterwards the Archbishop Gregory came on a visit to Singapore. In September a small room was rented for the services in what was spoken of as “the Merchant’s Square,” where Powell and Co. are at present. A minute says that the expenses for rent, servants, and the salary of the Priest amounted to $63 a month. The minutes until 1833 contain many records of subscriptions received in Singapore and from Calcutta and Java for the fund for building a Church. In March, 1833, an appeal was made to their friends in the European community, and on 29th March a letter was written to Mr. Bonham, the Resident Councillor, asking for the grant of a piece of land for the Church, facing the Esplanade or at the foot of the Government Hill. This was not successful, and on 23rd April another letter was sent asking for another piece of ground “lying at the Botanical Gardens facing the public road called «the Hill Street.»” This was granted, and the Church now standing was built there. In January, 1835, the Church was finished and ready to be consecrated. The total cost was $5,058.30, which was made up by the contract price to a Kling contractor, $3,500; Mr. Coleman, the Architect and Engineer, $400; sundry expenses for materials, etc., $708.36; and vestments, ornaments, etc., $449.94. The amount subscribed was $3,224.52 of which $466 was by European residents in Singapore; $573.22 from Calcutta; $402.88 from Java, and $173 from Armenians passing through Singapore. The rest was from the Armenian community in the place.”(The sums involved were most likely Spanish Silver Dollars).
We will return to the Armenians in Singapore and the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator in future posts, but for now, on Good Friday and at the begining of the Easter Vigil, we ask a question. In the grounds of the oldest Church are a number of modern sculptures, mostly relating to the Passion of Christ. We are unable to name the sculptor, date the works, or so far find any information. The Roman in military dress could be Pontius Pilate addressing the crowd, but his gesture seems unsuited to offering to release his unwanted prisoner. We solicit the wisdom of our readers on what the gesture implies, while we look for further information.