Armenian Pilgrimage

Armenian Pilgrimage

“Pilgrim” comes from the Latin word “peregrinus,” meaning “foreigner” – literally, someone walking “through” (per-) the “fields” (ager). Being foreigners on a journey is a recurring theme in Scripture.  We are citizens of a kingdom that is not yet fully here, and we should never feel entirely settled until it is. So we read that the ‘heroes of faith’:

“agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth … they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

Hebrews 11:13,16

A “pilgrimage” is a journey to a place of special significance as a devotional practice.  It recalls people in Biblical times walking to Jerusalem for festivals 3 times a year, beginning with this command:

“Each year every man in Israel must celebrate these three festivals: the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Harvest, and the Festival of Shelters. On each of these occasions, all men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he chooses, but they must not appear before the LORD without a gift for him.”

Deuteronmy 16:16

It would have taken Jesus’ family 3 days to walk from Nazareth and 3 days to walk back again – a considerable commitment of time, money and effort.

In Singapore, the oldest surviving Christian church seems like a suitably significant place to choose as a pilgrimage destination.  That’s the Armenian church on Hill Street. If you start at the top end of Alexandra Canal Linear Park, it is a pleasant walk of just over an hour down the canal and then the Singapore River to Hill Street.

Armenian Church in Singapore

Armenia is a small land (c. 30000 square km) between Turkey, Russia and Iran. It is believed that the Gospel was first brought to Armenia in the first century by two of Jesus’ Apostles – Bartholomew (aka Nathaniel) and Thaddeus – and the country claims to have been the first to have adopted Christianity as the state religion, in the early 4th century.

Being surrounded on all sides by warring empires – Ottomon, Russian and Persian – and distinct in their religion, Armenians have continually been under attack over the centuries and forced to migrate. Today, less than half of Armenians live in Armenia. 

A handful of Armenians from Indonesia and Malaysia were among the early immigrants to Singapore after it was established as a trading port.  Although there were only 16 Armenians in 1824, they brought over a priest in 1827 and built the present church in 1835.  Half of the costs were borne by just 12 local families, with the other half contributed by fellow Armenians elsewhere. Though few in number and displaced, they clung to Emmanuel – the God who is with us.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.”

Deuteronomy 7:7-8

The Armenian community in Singapore has never numbered more than about 100 people at a time, but they established the iconic Raffles Hotel (where the Singapore Sling was created) and the Straits Times newspaper, as well as breeding the Vanda Miss Joaquim variety of orchid that was chosen as Singapore’s national flower.