I HAVE VISITED ST THOMAS Mount in Chennai twice so far. The two visits were separated by at least a quarter of a century. Amongst the many interesting things to see and experience on this sacred hill are some examples of Armenian script. This characteristic lettering can be found both on several tombstones and on some framed paintings of saints. Also, there is some Armenian writing inscribed on an ornate pulpit.
The church on the Mount is dedicated to Our Lady of Expectation. There are several sculptures of the pregnant Mary in or near the church, which was constructed close to the spot where St Thomas (the doubter) is supposed to have died. The church was constructed by Portuguese Franciscan missionaries in the 1520s. None of this information provides any clues to the presence of the Armenian lettering.
Armenians began setting in Madras in significant numbers in the mid-17th century. There is an Armenian Street in Chennai, where one can find an Armenian church. This was built in 1712. The two funerary monuments I saw on the Mount are dated after 1712: 1739 and 1764. The paintings with Armenian script are far newer. I am no expert on Armenia, so can say little if anything about their religious practices. Many Armenians are Christians, and a few of them are of the Catholic variety. I can only assume that the graves on the Mount are those of Catholic Armenians, and that some Catholic Armenian donor provided the paintings.
If anyone can give me more information about the presence of Armenian script in this church on the Mount, please share it with me.
SAINT THOMAS MOUNT in Chennai is best known for being the place where St Thomas was martyred (by whom I have no idea). A friend in Bangalore, John Fernando, told me that apart from the much-revered saint, another notable person is commemorated on the summit of the Mount. His bust can be found near the east end of the church almost hidden away between a couple of banyan trees. The bust is a depiction of the British Colonel, William Lambton (1753-1834).
It is appropriate that the soldier Lambton is commemorated on the summit of the Mount. For, it was from this lofty place that in 1800 he commenced his trigonometric fieldwork for his project, a great trigonometric survey of India.
To quote Wikipedia, Lambton’s: “… initial survey was to measure the length of a degree of an arc of the meridian so as to establish the shape of the Earth and support a larger scale trigonometrical survey across the width of the peninsula of India between Madras and Mangalore. After triangulating across the peninsula, he continued surveys northwards for more than twenty years. He died during the course of the surveys in central India and is buried at Hinganghat in Wardha district of Maharashtra.” Lambton’s assistant was George Everest (1790-1866), who succeeded him as Surveyor General of India. Everest is associated with a famous Peak in the Himalayas. However, it was not him but two others, Andrew Scott Waugh and Radhanath Sikdar, who ascertained the mountain’s height.
I am grateful to John for mentioning Lambton’s memorial to me. Even without seeing this bust, a visit to Saint Thomas Mount is worthwhile as there is much of interest to see there including an old church built by the Portuguese, gravestones and paintings with Armenian script on them, and the vibrant nature of Indian Christianity.