The Armenian have the distinction of having the oldest church in the town, which also happens to be the second oldest church in Bengal (Bandel Church is the oldest church in Bengal). It is also the oldest Armenian church in India still being used by the Armenians. Official known as the St. John the Baptist Church, the Armenian Church of Chinsurah or Chuchura dates back to 1692.
Armenians settled in Chinsura in 1645, after the Dutch, who formed their colony in 1625. (Read more here > A slice of Dutch history – Chinsurah). The local Armenian community has long since disappeared from the agrarian city of Chinsurah, however, the beautiful church they built in 1697 still stands as testimony to their eternal faith and devotion to the Holy Apostolic Armenian Church.
The foundation stone of the St. John, the Baptist Church was laid by Khojah Johannes Margar of Julfa in 1695. The church was completed in 1697 by his brother Joseph/Hovsep and dedicated to St. John the Baptist, in memory of the deceased brother Johannes.
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. 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.
When the church was built it had no steeple. The present spire, which serves as a belfry, was erected in 1822 through the munificence of Mrs. Sophia Bagram, a pious Armenian lady of Kolkata, in memory of her husband Simon Phanoos Bagram. Although Armenians flourished at Chinsurah between 1695 and 1868, there are no more than hundred graves in the church compound, twenty-eight of them being inside the church. 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.
The Armenian Church of Chinsurah or Chuchura usually remains closed throughout the year. But every year on the second / third Sunday of January the Armenians of Calcutta (Kolkata) make their annual pilgrimage to the St. John the Baptist Church. when the church celebrates the feast of John the Baptist, whose relics (bones of the hand) are thought to be in the Armenian Church of Holy Nazareth, located 65 kilometers away at Kolkata.
Once numerous Armenian community has greatly decreased in number. Now there are hardly 150-200 Armenians, comprising of mostly elderly and many mixed marriages. Sadly very few of them speak the mother tongue. The cities of Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi have Armenian Street s as prominent landmarks and hope for the community to be well being. Amen !