Address: Armanitola Road, Old Dhaka
This church dates from 1781 and it is still functioning today. Compared to some of the splendid churches elsewhere in the world, this is a rather small, but interesting building crowding on a narrow back street of old Dhaka. But in the Dhaka context it is a very important tranquil haven in the heart of a huge crowded Muslim city.
The church supports a small Christian community from several countries that meets every Sunday evening. The Armenians were once at the heart of Bengal’s jute and leather trade but the community has virtually vanished. For much of the rest of the week the door to the compound is looked but there is always someone inside because the caretaker, his family and others live on site. You just need to wait or bang loudly on the door and someone will come to let you in.
I met the caretaker, Mr. Martin and one of his sons. They are say they may be the only Armenians left in Bangladesh, both speak some English and they have pride in ‘their’ building. During the War of Liberation, the church was looted and many valuables taken, including the church organ. There is some sadness about this but today there seems more tolerance. Perhaps it is because this small church community is no threat to anyone.
The church itself was locked when I visited but the caretaker was happy to open up for a foreign visitor. The interior of the building is typical of many a parish church in a number of different countries. There are portraits of the Crucifixion and the Last Supper, believed to be done by a prominent European artist. There is a register of births, deaths and marriages and a modern visitor’s book to record your comments. Outside, the graveyard is like a giant history book, chronicling the history of the Armenian people in the region.
I must say I left here wondering what the future holds for this small piece of history. The building is showing evidence of the ravages of the weather and pollution. The grounds suffer from care and attention partly due no doubt to a lack of manpower and money. The Bangladeshi government shows little interest in preserving important pieces of the country’s history so perhaps in ten years this church may not be open for visitors. That would be very sad. If you visit, please leave a donation.