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Faith in the familiar lap of history

R.V. SMITH traces the fascinating history of churches that dot the roadmap of Delhi


A lot of history is housed in the churches of Delhi though the oldest ones built during the reign of Jahangir and Shah Jahan no longer exist. These were the two Armenian churches - one near Sarai Rohilla and the other near the old Subzi Mandi, which were destroyed during the invasion of Nadir Shah in 1739.

Now St. James's Church in Kashmere Gate is the oldest church in Delhi. It was built in 1836 by Col. James Skinner in perpetuation of a vow he made on the battlefield of Uniara in 1800. He was lying wounded when a village woman saved his life. Skinner was born in 1778 of a Scottish father and a Rajput mother in Kolkata and died in Delhi in 1841. The church was badly damaged in 1857 by the rebel sepoys.

For many years it was the church the Viceroy attended until the Cathedral Church of the Redemption was built. The beautiful building, with its impressive dome and cross, is a landmark few can miss. An old cemetery is also attached to it with many prominent graves, including the one built by Col. Skinner for his friend, William Fraser. This grave was badly vandalised during the Mutiny. The Skinner and some Metcalfe graves also exist here. St. Stephen's Church in Fatehpuri was built in 1867 in memory of Christians killed during the "Mutiny" 10 years earlier and bears testimony to the good work done by the Rev. B.R. Winter and his wife, Priscilla.

Older history

Though Dhaka church was built about 50 years ago, it has an older history, dating back to the time of the Coronation Durbar of 1911. At that time a chapel of sorts existed in Dhaka village, which got its name as the place was ordered to be covered up by the British authorities who considered it an eyesore for the visiting Royals, King George V and Queen Marry. Ever since, the church, which is near Patel Chest Institute, came to be known as Dhaka Church

Christ Church, near Tis Hazari, has a very impressive Gothic building, which was renovated recently during the 75th anniversary celebrations of the church. Holy Trinity Church in Turkman Gate was built by Alfred Coore in 1906. This domed church is modelled on the lines of the early Byzantian churches and held its centenary celebrations last year. The St. John's Church in Mehrauli, built in 1928, was also designed by Alfred Coore of the Brotherhood of the Ascendant Church and is unique in the sense that its design combines the features of a church, a temple and a mosque.

There used to be a chapel in Daryaganj, on the opposite side of Golcha Cinema, right up to the 1960s. Now a bank occupies the site. The second oldest church in Delhi is the Baptist Church in Chandni Chowk, which too was destroyed in 1857 but rebuilt. It was near this church that the famous inter-religious debates used to take place in the 19th Century. A British band played outside the church almost up to Independence.

St. Mary's church just at the entrance of the Kashmere Gate area in S.P. Mukherjee Marg was originally built in 1857 by Father Zachary of Trent, an Italian priest, who was murdered during the Mutiny. In 1865 the present building was erected.

St. Martin's Church, Delhi Cantt. is the oldest church in West Delhi. It was built in 1929 and was originally known as garrison Church as it mainly catered to the British troops. The church building was designed by Arthur Shoosmith. Three-and-a-half million bricks were used to build it! St. John de Britto Church is a unique church in Mayapuri because of the fact that it is housed in a flat since 1991 when Fr. E.D. Sebastian became parish priest.

Earlier this church was attached to St. Paul's, Delhi Cantt. parish, but was separated in 1985, after which it existed in various houses in Harinagar and Mayapuri. St. John de Britto was a Portuguese priest who was martyred in Madurai in 1693 after he admonished the local raja for keeping five wives. For this he was beheaded. So the church dates back nearly 314 years.

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