The Armenian Church of St Gregory the Illuminator, whose elegant building stands in the city very center, is generally considered among the state’s most important historical monuments. It is the oldest Christian temple in Singapore and one of two Armenian churches that have been preserved in the South-East Asia. Recently, the building of the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator was allowed the status of a national monument, therefore protected by state.
Armenians started to settle in Singapore back in the late 18th century, and after Singapore had been proclaimed British colony and became an open port, their number gradually started to grow. Nevertheless, in the early 19th century, the Armenian community was still an extremely negligible minority and numbered just 44 people. However, its representatives had managed to become famous and made their mark on the record of the city-state; none more so than the Sarkis brothers, who founded the legendary Hotel Raffles - a Singaporean national trademark nowadays. The Armenian scientist Agnes Joaquim hybridized the famous orchid genus, the flowers of which are officially recognized as Singapore’s national symbol. Additionally, the head of Armenian community Catchick Moses co-founded the first English newspaper in Singapore – The Straits Times. This remains one of the most influential editions in Asia to this day.
In 1833, the authorities allocated a plot of land for the temple’s building to Singaporean Armenians. The community spent two years collecting money for construction, but had only managed to raise just a half of the needed funds. However, Armenians from India, Chinese tradesmen and some Europeans helped to cobble together the outstanding amount. This meant that in 1835, an Armenian Church dedicated to St Gregory the Illuminator finally appeared in Singapore's downtown and became the first Christian temple in the colony.
One of the most famous architects in the country, George Coleman, designed the architectural project. He built the church in British colonial style, but simultaneously added some traditional for ancient Armenian church forms. However, the temple was repeatedly rebuilt, gradually losing its original design elements. Ten years after church’s construction, it turned out that its structure was not architecturally sound, meaning that the round dome had to be replaced with sloping roof and the elegant quadrangle turret with its short spire appeared in place of the now demolished down bell tower. The Armenian Church acquired its modern look in the 1850s. The building was actually blue back then, as it received its modern, snow-white color very recently – after restoration in 1990s.
During the World War II, the members of the Armenian community had to leave the city, logically resulting in their temple becoming abandoned too. Divine services were only resumed in 1996, when the Church of the St Gregory the Illuminator became the center of Singapore Armenians’ spiritual life once more. Today, church’s premises are used for conducting concerts and exhibitions, as well as other events that popularize Armenian Culture.