Volume: 12, No: 11 ; November-2018
There are certain churches in India which are famous not only across the length and the breadth of this large country, but also the world over. They are, particularly, historically popular and also known for their architectural brilliance. The associated Christian and the Anglo-Indian communities, though in minority, have been contributing immensely in elevating the education and health standards in the Indian sub-continent region. Also their contributions cannot be denied in Indian Railways and India Post. Then, a few people, belonging to different Christian denominations, contribute significantly to schooling of Indian children and are also credited for running the finest institutions in the country.
In fact, substantial population of Christians and Anglo-Indians in India reside in the present state of Uttar Pradesh. The existent churches in the region not only hold religious importance, but also constitute an integral part of the social fabric of this state of India. In this article we have tried to explore the uniqueness of a few important and accessible churches of Uttar Pradesh.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Lucknow
Amongst many grand buildings located at Hazratganj in Lucknow, St. Joseph’s Cathedral is, perhaps, the most striking structure. The history of this old-time church is known to few.
The cream coloured church was constructed by a British officer of the Royal Corps of Engineers for the soldiers. As per certain aged natives of the city of Lucknow, in its initial phase the church resembled small, Gothic style architecture with a roof made of timber. Then, it could accommodate at the maximum three hundred people.
Thereafter, the church was demolished in the year 1969 as its roof gave way. The design of the present day church was made by Austin Lobo, a previous chief architect of the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Distinctively, in the past, no permanent priests were deployed at the church. Later in 1940, the church was turned into a Diocese. At that time, as a result of an ongoing war, the visiting priests being Italian were arrested by then governing British officers in Lucknow. Thereafter, they were sent to Dehradun and imprisoned. So, the church was rendered with no priests. Next, once the cathedral also remained without a bishop for a continuous period of seven years.
The Mass conducted on Christmas at the famous church bears a special significance to people. It provides a mixed feeling of the festival and the history associated with Lucknow.
In fact, people belonging to various faiths become a part of the Christmas celebrations at this Catholic Church. The reason is the traditional manner in which the festival is celebrated here.
Two morning Masses and one grand late evening Mass are held on December 24. These Masses are also attended by many from different cities of India.
The construction of the church began in the year 1860 after a land for the same was bought in Hazratganj in 1858 by a visitor and an Irish priest, Father William Gleeson. It was dedicated to St. Joseph. It was blessed by Bishop Anastasius Hartmann on May 10, 1862. Then, in the same year the church also witnessed the construction of its boundary wall and the house for priest. Today, Cathedral School stands at the original site of this priest’s house. The church was later handed over by Fr. William Gleeson to Fr. Felix, O.F.M.
After a few years, another parish priest of the church started teaching two deprived boys in his house’s veranda. Upon realizing the pressing need of formal schooling he started St. Francis’ School and Orphanage.
In 1890, a later priest carried the noble task forward by laying the foundation stone of St. Francis’ Boarding and Day School. In 1908, in order to support the school’s expansion, a land adjacent to the church, was bought by the then Bishop of Allahabad. Then, after an elapse of a decade, St. Francis’ School moved to this extensive land which serves as the current site of the school at 8, Shahnajaf Road in Lucknow.
Holy Redeemer Church at Alambagh in Lucknow
Holy Redeemer Church at Alambagh in Lucknow is popular for various reasons. For instance, the associated architectural style and its tall tower render it as a unique church in the region. While the former is a fine combination of Irish and Indian techniques, the latter was constructed bearing in mind that it should be visible from a distance. In fact, the tower can be, amongst similar ongoing constructions, uniquely spotted by passengers onboard a train nearing Lucknow.
The unique architecture associated with this church, located near Mawaiyya span of Lucknow Metro, is admired throughout India. Stately Irish-style doors, beautifully carved Indian interiors and small footsteps located outside the church provide it an old-fashioned, but attractive look. Then, the beauty of the structure also became a matter of much discussion in London when an article about the church’s history appeared in April, 1934 edition of the ‘The Tablet’ in the UK.
On a stone slab of an imitation cave in the church, titles of ‘The Marian Grotto’ and ‘Hail Mary’ are inscribed in Hindi. Also, of late, passages from the Bible in Hindi were placed on the compound of the church. The history of this church goes back to 1922 when Father Lawrence endeavoured to meet the need of a church for the residents of Alambagh, Mawaiyya and Charbagh. He started collecting money from the Christians working in the railways. Thereafter, in the year 1933, the foundation stone for the church was laid by Father Endilowar and the construction work started. The work was completed in a year.
The tall tower of the church was so built that it may be visible from a kilometre of distance. The construction work of the church was completed, then, for Rupees 30,000. Today, in fact, the structure acts as a landmark for visitors in Lucknow. On Sundays, the church is attended by Christians from the nearby located railways colony. Also, here, Catholic missionaries run an orphanage for girls and a vocational training institute.
St. Marie’s Church in Varanasi
St. Marie’s Church or the Garrison church in Varanasi is considered as, perhaps, the oldest church in the eastern region of Uttar Pradesh. The tall church stands in the cantonment area of Varanasi and bears, as well, a significant historical relevance.
The current surrounding area was once a British cantonment. The foundation stone of the church was laid by Father Daniel Correy in the year 1810. In 1812, the construction work was completed. The floor of the church was provided an enhanced look by covering it with a peacock carpet. Also, then, in order to accommodate the guns of the British soldiers who came to the church to pray, separate benches were designed and placed.
Earlier the prayers, at St. Marie’s Church, were offered in English alone. As such, the church is also known as the ‘English Church’. Then, the religious structure is referred to as the Anglican Church as well.
The church had been visited by many renowned personalities. In 1961, on her visit to Varanasi, Queen Elizabeth offered prayers at the church. The prince of Scotland, John Duke, also visited the house of worship.
The Garrison church which is known for its architecture, today, is in need of renovation.
Lal Girijaghar, another famous church, is also located in the cantonment area of Varanasi. The foundation stone of Lal Girijaghar was laid in 1879 by Father Albert Fentiman, a British. Since then, the church has been painted in red and white. British soldiers offered prayers here as well.
All Saints Cathedral in Allahabad
All Saints Cathedral, also known as Patther Girija (church made of stones), is a popular tourist destination as well. It is located in Allahabad, also known as Sangam city. The church resembles the Gothic style churches of the thirteenth century. During the British rule, ‘Gothic Revival’ buildings had been built by them in India. Patther Girija is an example of such endeavour.
Everyday several people arrive by train in Allahabad. As they step out of the railway station, they witness this exceptional work of art surrounded by lush green gardens.
The site of the Archbishop of Canterbury, considered as the symbolic leader of Anglican Communion at the global level, is the Canterbury Cathedral in England. Patther Girija almost resembles the same in architecture. This resemblance can be noticed in the 240 feet by 56 feet Anglo-Gothic stone structure and the 130 feet by 40 feet central congregation hall of the cross-shaped ‘The All Saints Cathedral’. While Sir William Muir, the then lieutenant governor of North Western Provinces of India provided the land for the construction of the cathedral, his wife, Elizabeth Huntly Weymss, laid its foundation stone on April 10, 1871.
The design of the cathedral was made by Sir William Emerson, a British architect. He is also credited with the designs of the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, Crawford Market in Mumbai and Muir Central College in Allahabad, now a part of the Allahabad University. Original large stained-glass paintings on the walls-resembling the ones at Fatehpur Sikri-and complex detailed designs on the marble altar of the cathedral exist till date. Then, the carvings on the throne of the bishop bear the influence of the Lahore School of Art. As a matter of fact, the construction of the cathedral was completed in fifteen years.
The two portions of the cathedral that run at right angles to the long central congregation hall lie in the north and the south respectively. Then, at the intersection of them, the congregation hall and a covered entrance in the west stands a central tower. Victoria tower is lantern tower of the cathedral and is named after Queen Victoria. Next, the pulpit, made of alabaster, is a fine piece of work credited to Nicholls of Lambeth. Also, the unique cathedral houses plaques depicting scenes of deaths of British citizens in the colonial era. The scenes resemble a ship sailing effortlessly. Moving forward, if all the narrow aisles in Patther Girija are taken together, their aggregate length would be equal to the width of this architecturally unique house of worship.
Holy Trinity Church in Allahabad
Holy Trinity Church is the oldest church of the city of Allahabad. It was built in 1840. It is another Gothic structure present in the city.
While the design of the church was made by Major Smith, his colleague Lieutenant Sharp did build it. Then, the built structure was declared holy by the fifth bishop of Kolkata, Bishop David Wilson, on February 19, 1841 and was named as Holy Trinity Church.
Besides being the oldest church and an architectural delight of Allahabad, Holy Trinity Church is also historically relevant. The building stands as a mute testimony of the First War of Indian Independence that took place in 1857. Then, it also stands as a witness to the Gwalior Campaign of 1843. Next, the church is supposed to be attended by Lord William Muir and Lord Canning.
Also, Holy Trinity Church played a role in introducing Air Mail Service to the world. The initiative was taken by the first chaplain of the church, Rev. WES Holland.
An aircraft exhibition was underway when Rev. Holland was looking for donations to construct a youth hostel on the premises of the church. At the exhibition, he met an English pilot, Piquet, and asked him to explain the workings of his plane.
Piquet suggested an idea to the postal department for transporting messages from one place to another. Unaware of the associated positive impact, the department gave their approval to the pilot to execute his idea.
Christ Church in Kanpur
Christ Church is the oldest church of the city of Kanpur. It is also famous for its tower which is considered as the highest tower in the city. Its height is 130 feet. The church is located on the Christ Church College campus of Kanpur.
The church was started in 1810 in a hut with a roof made from thatch. Army chaplain, Henry Martin is credited with starting this church near the DAV College’s hostel.
In 1827, the clergy and the parishioners of the church did put forth the suggestion for the construction of a concrete house of worship. The Lord Bishop of Calcutta Diocese, Bishop Wilson, became interested in the proposal and started raising funds for the building on college grounds at Mall Road. The foundation stone of the church was laid by him on February 4, 1837. Going forward, Christ Church opened for prayer service on January 4, 1840.
The church was built to seat 800 people. Its tall tower dominated its surroundings. Next, a sum of Rupees 32,402 was spent then in constructing the church.
‘Sunday School’ is run by Christ Church for its parishioners and their children. The church has been constantly pushed, in various respects, to ever higher ranks.
Today, the church’s surroundings comprise of a beautiful lawn and flower beds. Then, in addition to the gate installed near the All Souls’ Parsonage, there exists a road leading to the church.
Besides being known for its architecture, the church was popular for other reasons as well.
The church is well decorated before the arrival of Christmas and the brilliant decorations continue to hang around for a long time even after the culmination of New Year celebrations. The lights used for decorations further enhance the beauty of Christ Church.
The church remains filled with Christians during Christmas and New Year as they are special occasions for them. They gather there in large numbers to celebrate the birth of Lord Jesus Christ and give thanks to Him.
Basilica of Our Lady of Graces at Sardhana in Meerut
Basilica of Our Lady of Graces in Sardhana stands as a true evidence of religious tolerance till date. It is dedicated to Mother Mary.
In the Catholic Diocese of Meerut, the church is known as the ‘Church among Churches’. It was built by Begum Samru, a professional dancer. She married Walter Reinhardt Sombre, a European soldier who fought particularly for money. In 1781, she adopted the religious belief of Roman Catholicism and also named as herself as ‘Joanna Nobilis’.
In 1822, Begum Samru dedicated the church to Mother Mary. So, till November 07, 1957 the church had been referred to as St. Mary’s Church. Then, with the installation of the ‘Holy Image’ by an Archbishop, the Holy Shrine of ‘Our Lady of Graces’ came in effect. In addition to thousands of Christians, this church in Sardhana has been visited by people of other faiths, including tourists from both India and abroad.
The church was, then, famous both historically and architecturally. Thus, in December of 1961, it was raised to the level of minor Basilica of Our Lady of Graces by Pope John XXIII.
The church is located 20 kilometres away from the district headquarters in Sardhana, situated 5 kilometres north on Meerut-Karnal highway. The school of the Covenant of Jesus and Mary is attached to this church. It is a residential school which provides instruction to girls from grade I up to the level of Degree College. Since March 28, 1924, the church has been protected by the central government.
The jagir, i.e., land, of Sardhana was inherited by Begum Samru after the death of her husband in 1778. Thereafter, she decided to build a church there. The design of the church is based on the model of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and was made by the famous Italian architect Antonio Reghellini. The architecture is a blend of both Palladio and Indian architectures. The church’s altar and the nearby surroundings are made of marble with coloured stones.
Much of the basilica’s interior is made of carved marble par excellence. It is through a unique octagon set in its dome that the first rays of the morning sun enter to illuminate the church. The church is, in fact, one of the most beautiful churches located in India.
Three majestic Roman domes made of stained glass, the pyramidal structures placed atop two towers and an eighteen feet tall Begum’s tomb add to the magnificence of the structure. Then, the event of dedication of the church to Mother Mary in 1822 is engraved in Latin on its main door.
St. John’s Church in Gorakhpur
St. John’s Church is the oldest church of the city of Gorakhpur. It is situated at Basharatpur, Medical Road. The church was established in 1823 in a hut. Thereafter, it was renovated with ‘khaprail’ and further, a beautiful prayer hall of two storeys was built. 1,500 acres of land for the church was given by Governor General Lord William Bentinck to Missionary Association in 1931. As the area was, then, surrounded by a dense forest, thus, the land was given on the condition of doing farming as well. The people of the Missionary Association cleared 600 acres of the land and started doing farming on it. Meanwhile, they lived in huts around the agricultural land. Upon learning about the social work of the Association, the then collector, Robin Martins, arranged for funds for the construction of the church. Subsequently, the house of worship was established by Michael Wilkinson of the Association.
Akbar Church in Agra
‘Akbar Church’ in Agra is a 400 years old church built by the Mughal emperor Akbar. In addition to his heroism, the emperor is also remembered for his policy of religious tolerance, Sulah-kul. Today, the church stands as an evidence of this policy.
The land for the construction of Akbar Church was given to Christians by Akbar. Concurrently, he also granted permission to them to build a cathedral church in West Bengal, then known as Hooghly.
According to the literature available at Bishop House here, on his journey from Lahore to Delhi, Akbar was accompanied by Father Jerome Xavier. During the journey, Father Xavier expressed his desire to Akbar of building a chapel in Agra. Akbar granted his wish and issued a farman, i.e., a royal order, for the construction of church at the requested site. So, Jesuit priests, with the help of the funds provided by Akbar, built a church in 1600. It was named as Akbar Church. Later, emperor Jehangir, Akbar’s son, made the church as magnificent as the one located in Lahore by donating money for the purpose.
The church’s tower bell, when rung, could be heard in almost entire Agra. In 1614, Jehangir denied the parishioners’ access to Akbar Church owing to then prevalent tension between the Mughals and the Portuguese. He did so by building a wall in front of the church. Later, however, he restored the access. Then, when his son Shahjehan came to power in 1628, he attacked the community of Portuguese in Hugli. He not only killed Christians-allies of the Portuguese-but also destroyed Akbar Church. However, in 1636, he reconstructed the church.
Christ Church in Bareilly
Christ Church is one of the first few buildings constructed in the area of Rohilkhand. It was constructed 180 years ago by East India Company. The activity coincides with the period when the Company also thought to annex the region.
The Gothic architecture is painted in red and white. The building of the church comprises of an altar, a central hall and a porch. Next, a gravel path outside the porch connects the church to the main road. The British garrison officers not only supervised the construction of the building, but also named it as Christ Church. A British official, then, used to arrive in a buggy, i.e., a horse cart to attend this church in Bareilly. During their visits, while the senior officers got out of the carts at the church’s porch, the junior officials were required to alight near the outer wall of the church.
In accordance with the Gothic style of architecture, two 50 feet high pointed towers stand at the corners of the 10 feet by 10 feet porch of the church.
The sitting area inside the church can accommodate 200 people. It is divided by two rows of four pillars. Concrete sheets supported by wooden frames serve as the roof of the central hall. The altar is located across the sitting area. The entire construction work of the church was completed, then, for a sum of a little over Rupees 7,000 by the British administration.
The building of the church was almost destroyed by rebels in 1857 when a mutiny in India took place. However, the church was restored in 1860. Thereafter, till 1947 when India was declared independent, it remained as the house of worship for the British officials. It is the faith on Lord Jesus Christ that keeps a church safe from all harms.
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