Volume: 9, No: 03 ; March-2015
Let’s travel back into Lucknow of 1870s – Armed British soldiers are parading Hazratganj to avert a repeat of 1857. But a group of Roman Catholic soldiers could be seen offering their morning prayers in the Cantonment church before marching for the duty – their backs straight, eyes set on the Bible and their muskets and blunderbusses kept upright in the special church furniture – ready for any eventuality. Well, that’s 150-year-old St Paul’s Church, now housed in the premises of St Paul’s School in the state capital.
Built in 1862 for the Roman Catholic Soldiers, the church had a special provision for soldiers to keep their muskets (a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun) erect besides them during the services. It was then a debatable issue, if soldiers should attend service as the church believed that they were somehow going away from their religion and that it might pollute them morally. The plea to avoid attending the service in the church, were their muskets that could not be left unattended. It was just then that Churches in the military areas were opened and a specially designed furniture were installed to hold the arms of the soldiers, leaving absolutely no excuse for them to keep away from the church service. The old furniture installed here still has a capacity to seat 450 people at a time. The priest-in-charge of this church used to be a military chaplain till 1960. He had to travel with the troops wherever they were stationed. The practice of armed forces carrying weapons inside was discontinued after India gained independence.
St Paul’s Church happens to be one of the oldest churches of Lucknow and is one of the finest examples of the Colonial Military Church that primarily catered to the soldiers of the Colonial India constructed in a year’s time, Fr William Gleeson, a foreign missionary got it built with the financial assistance from the British government. Bishop Anastasius Hartmann OFM Cap, Vicar Apostolic of Patna, solemnly blessed the church on 10th May, 1862.
The records suggest that to keep the soldiers occupied during their time of leisure, the chaplain, Father Victor built a library for them as well in 1875, which in the course of time gradually enlarged and turned into a Temperance Hall. Finally from 1922 onwards, it was used as the Priest’s house. Since the seminary was not built at that time, it also accommodated the Seminarians from 1945 onwards.
Talking about the architectural beauty of this church, It is a plain single story church built in the Neo-Gothic style designed by Major Crommelin, rural engineer. In its construction it employed long lancet windows, corner buttresses and drip-course detailing the ornamentation on its brick and stucco frame. It has a uniquely built wooden trussed roof supported by delicately decorated wooden brackets resting on fluted octagonal-shaped brick piers. The Grotto near the church was built in 1946. Fr Fidelis Mary OFM Cap erected the Grotto from the contribution of the parishioners of St Paul’s Church and a few external benefactors.
Since this parish has a floating population, the number of parishioners fluctuates. Presently, it has about 350 parishioners including the military personnel and civilians. From 1862 till now there have been more than 50 priest in-charges besides Assistant Catholic Chaplains / Assistant Parish Priests.
Lucknow Cantonment itself is a great colonial legacy with a lot many structures that are hidden treasures and still reminds one of the bygone colonial era. Though this is a restricted area for photography or touring but a drive through it, passing by these landmarks and marvelous structures could sure be a highlight of the visit to the city. Of course St Paul’s Church is one of the icons, with others in line being the All Saint’s Garrison Church, numerous colonial bungalows, the old water tank, the polo-ground and of course the Lucknow race-course, famous for anti-clockwise horse racing.
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