Saturday, 14 May 2011

Afghan Church Mumbai

The Church of St John the Evangelist, better known as the Afghan Church (Marathi: अफ़ग़ान चर्च) is a Presbyterian Church in South Mumbai, India, built by the British to commemorate the dead of the disastrous defeat in the First Afghan War of 1838. The church is located in Navy Nagar in the Colaba area of Mumbai (Bombay).

As well as British soldiers, it also commemorates different Indian regiments, such as the Bombay Army, the Madras Army, and Ranjit Singh's army from Lahore. Records also mention that only one person, one Surgeon William Brydon - a medical officer - out of 16,000 men, returned safely to Jalalabad to tell the tale of a war in which the British suffered their heaviest defeat yet.

The church began as a small thatched chapel a kilometre south in what was then known as the "Sick Bungalows" (now the INHS Asvini, the Indian naval hospital). There were no chairs, and patrons had to bring their own. Later, the government released a new patch of land for the setting up the church on the condition that the spire be seen from miles away and serve as a landmark for ships in the harbour.

In March 1843, the Oxford Society for Promoting the Study of Gothic Architecture (later the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society) received a request from the Chaplain to the Honourable East India Company, asking for a design for the new church. The English architect John Macduff Derick presented his designs to the Society in November of the same year, and they met with the Society's approval. But in June 1845 word came from India that the designs were unfit for purpose and the building would cost too much.[1] Eventually, plans for the quintessentially English Gothic Revival architecture of the church were submitted in 1847 by city engineer Henry Conybeare and approved. The well-known architect William Butterfield designed the reredos, the Afghan War Memorial mosaics, and the tiles, pews and screen.[2] The church was consecrated on January 7, 1858 by Bishop Harding. The spire cost a sum of Rs 5,65,000 and was finished on June 10, 1865. Much of the cost of this was paid by Sir Cowasji Jehangir who contributed a sum of Rs 7,500. He also placed an illuminated clock in the tower.

The imposing edifice was constructed using locally available buff-coloured basalt and limestone. Inside it is known for its wide gothic arches and beautiful stained glass windows. The chapel has a nave and aisle with a chancel 50 ft (15 m) in length and 27 ft (7 m) in width. Butterfield's tiles used for the geometric floor pattern were imported from England. The east and west windows were designed by William Wailes, a nineteenth century stained glass expert. The stained glass used is superior to that in the Rajabai Tower and Victoria Terminus. Eight large bells in the bell tower came from the Taylor bellfoundry of England in 1904, and are acknowledged to be the best in western India. The tower and spire are 198 ft (60 m) high.

In the chancel a stone inscription reads:

"This church was built in memory of the officers and private soldiers, too many to be recorded who fell mindful of their duty, by sickness or by sword on the campaign of Scinde (Sindh) and Afghanistan, A.D. 1838-43."

Another brass panel set in the chancel commemorates its founder Rev. G Piggot.

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