In 1895 Mesrovb Seth
wrote: ".......In Surat, the Armenians erected two churches - one in the
city, which is still preserved, but is not now used; and the other which
lies in ruins, in their cemetery......."
There are traces of an
Armenian settlement in the city during the 16th century. In the
Armenian cemetery at Surat, which adjoins the cemeteries of the early
British and Dutch, there is a tombstone of an Armenian lady who died
there in 1579 A.D. The inscription which is in Ancient Armenian
translates: "In this tomb lies buried the body of the noble lady, who
was named Marinas, the wife of the priest Woskan. She was a crown
to her husband, according to the proverbs of Solomon. She was
taken to the Lord of Life, a soul-afflicting cause of sorrow to her
faithful husband, in the year one thousand and twenty eight of our
Armenian era, on the fifteenth day of November at the first hour of
Friday, at the age of 53. Ye who see this tomb, pray to the Lord
to grant mercy". The year 1028 of the Armenian era is
equivalent to the year 1579 A.D. Her husband, Rev. Woskan, must
have been the spiritual head of the Armenians living at Surat during the
reign of Akbar, the patron of their race.
If there was an Armenian priest in Surat in 1579 then there must have
been a church or a chapel. Accordingly to an unconfirmed source,
the old Armenian church at Surat was destroyed by the Mogul governor at
the instigation of the Turkish merchants who came to Surat, after their
pilgrimage to Mecca, for the purpose of buying goods. However,
evidence of an Armenian Church can be seen on page 297 of the
English Factories in India (1661-1664) which is digitised, click
to follow the link) there is a rough map of Surat, (which is
reproduced below) showing the positions of the prominent buildings at
the time of Sivaji's first raid on the city, in early January 1664, in
which the Armenian Church is clearly shown.
The Legend marked on the map is as follows.
The English Factory of that time which stood in
the north-western part of the city, in what was
known in 1937 as the Mullah's Ward.
The Sarai and the mosqueof Mirza Zahid
A building known as the Dadhimar or Racket Court.
It was originally a sarai and may have been the one in which
some Armenians and Turkish merchants secured themselves and their
goods during the raid.
The Armenian Church
Shows the position of the French factory
established a little later
Is the site of the subsequent English factory,
near the Mullas' Water Gate.
interval between destruction of the old church and the erection of a new
church in 1778 dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Armenian residents of Surat held divine services at a house set apart for the purpose.
The church built in 1778 was pulled down some years later (after 1907)
by the wardens of the Armenian church of Bombay, as it had fallen into
disrepair and the site was later used as a playground for school
children. The Armenian scholar and writer Mesrovb J. Seth visited
the church in January 1907 and observed that "it was still standing,
although a portion of the roof had fallen, but the altar, the sacristies
(vestries) on either side of the altar, the gallery for ladies on the
west side of the church, were in a fair state of preservation, as also
the priest quarters on the left side of the main gate." He
continued "the beautiful church, with historical associations, was,
in the absence of devout worshippers, found in the indisputable
possession of thousands of owls, bats, crows, cats, rats, snakes and
scorpions which howled, screeched, and hissed ominously when the present
writer, at the risk of his life, entered the sacred edifice where his
revered grandfather, Seth Mackertich Agazar Seth, had worshipped during
the last quarter f the 18th century." Seth continues "there
is a Mortuary chapel in the Armenian cemetery at Surat which is still
standing and it will continue to exist as a valuable landmark of the
once-flourishing Armenian colony in that historic city, because it has
fortunately come under the control of the Public Works Department as a
"Protected Monument" thanks to the solicitude of the late Lord Curzon
for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments in India. We could find
no date, either inside or outside the beautiful chapel, showing the year
of its construction, but in all probability it must have been erected
during the 17th century, because there is a grave inside that chapel,
with a tombstone bearing the date 1695.
Khojah Phanoos Kalandar, the "Armenian merchant of eminency", as the
English called him, was a native of Julfa (Ispahan) but had settled down
at Surat, where his only son's grave, in the mortuary chapel at the
Armenian cemetery bears an inscription in classical Armenian of
which the following is a translation: "This is the tomb of Kalandar, the
son of Phanoos Kalandar of Julfa who departed this life on Saturday, the
6th March 1695"".