A heritage Afghan Church in Maharashtra

February 10th, 2008 - 3:39 pm ICT by admin  

By Deepali Gupta

Mumbai, Feb 6 (ANI): A heritage Afghan Church in Mumbai is celebrating 150 years of its existence.

The church of St. John the Evangelist, is more popularly called ‘The Afghan Church’ which is a beautiful example of early Victorian revival and is unlike any of the architecture that sprang up in the city in later years.

The church was in a neglected state until the Government stepped in and elevated the church to a grade heritage structure.

This quintessential symbol of English architecture with wide Gothic arches and beautiful stained glass windows was built by the British to commemorate the dead of the disastrous first Afghan war of 1838.

According to available records out of 16,000 men only a medical officer, returned back to Jalalabad to tell the tale of the war in which British suffered a complete rout.

Dr. Sunil J. Awale, the Priest in charge of the church, spoke in detail about the importance of this church.

“This was especially built in memory of those soldiers who laid down their lives for British Empire in the Afghan War between 1838-43 and it was decided by the Government that the names of the soldiers who laid their lives for the empire be written on the slab in the church and that’s how you find on the church wall’s the name of the officers, soldiers and colonels and commanders,” said Dr. Awale.

Besides British soldiers the Church also commemorates different Indian regiments, such as the Bombay Army, the Madras Army, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army from Lahore.

The British Government had provided the land for the construction of the church.

After its construction, Bishop Harding duly consecrated the church on January 7, 1858.

It may be interesting to note that the only condition imposed by the British Government on the architects was that the spire of the church should be so high that all ships coming into the Bombay Harbour could see it. True to their promise, the tower and the spire were made 198 feet high, and can, even today, be seen from the harbour.

Engineer Henry Conbeare and architect William Butterfield designed the church. At that time, about Rs. 565,000 was spent on the construction of the church.

Though the imposing edifice was constructed by using locally available buff-coloured basalt while the tiles were especially imported from Europe. The beautiful geometric floor pattern created with these tiles still shines.

James Wailles, a nineteenth century stained glass expert, designed the awe-inspiring east and west windows. The quality of stain glass used is considered to be superior even to the ones used in Rajabai Tower and Victoria Terminus.

The church is very popular among the locals as well as among the celebrities.

“This is the one hundred and fiftieth year of this church we have come here to participate in the worship and then also the celebrations. It’s a big church and a prestigious one in the north India,” said S.K. Soloman, a local visitor at the church.

Pop icon Madonna, who had visited India in January, had also paid a visit to the Afghan church during last leg of her visit.

A priest at the Afghan church said that Madonna was impressed by its structure. (ANI)

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