St. Mary’s Church, Kolkata (Calcutta)
Also see my compilation of Calcutta (Kolkata) Churches
It was a winter Sunday morning Prasanta (da) Banerjee lead me inside the St. Mary’s Church. The Sunday Mass was already on and a choir was being sung, strangely the language seemed Greek to me. As I settled down on the beautifully carved bench of the the St. Marys Church, I realised that the language was my very own mother tongue Bengali. But in the dimly lit environment of the Church Bengali appeared totally out of the world.
It has been a couple of months I have been in touch with my on line friend Prasnta Banerjee, a Bengali Protestant Christian, who in a very short span of time became my “beloved dada.” Prasanta da personal invited me to the church not only to attend the Sunday Mass but also to photograph its interiors.
As the Mass progressed my eyes got adjusted to the dimly lit interiors of the church. The beautifully wood carved alter crowned with a intricately decorated stained glass attracted my attention. The alter was also flanked by two stained glass windows on either side, each depicting Biblical events.
My attention shifted toward the walls lined with marble memorials, to mu utter astonishment I found many of the memorials curved out in Bengali. No wonder the St. Mary’s Church is popularly known as the “Bangli Cathedral.”
The concept of the Bengali Cathedral dates back to July 1885, when Rev. Harihar Sandel, a pioneer missionary started worshipping in the Cathedral with a few Christian employees. It was later decided to build up a separate church for their worship. He acquired the land and mobilize fund for the construction of a church for the Bengali Protestant.
Sadly Rev. Harihar Sandel (Sanyal) died on 4 Sept. 1887 when his dream church was yet to open its doors. The St. Mary’s Church (Bangali Cathedral) finally opened its door on 16 Feb. 1889, under Rev. Aghore Nath Banerjee. Rev. Aghore Nath Banerjee later became the Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral. He was the first Indian to receive this distinction.
Today the St. Mary’s Church stands on the Elgin Road (Lala Lajpat Rai Sarani) opposite the Bhawanipur Education Society College.
The Mass was soon over and Prasanta Da introduced me to Rev. Sukhendu Biswas, the present Canon of St. Marys Church, who immediately gave me the permission to shoot inside the church. Armed with my camera I headed for the beautiful alter flanked with the even more beautiful stained glasses.
Soon I shifted my attention to the marble memorials, and a memorial located very next to the alter attracted my attention. Written in English and followed by Bengali it was a memorial dedicated to Rev. Harihar Sandel (Sanyal).
As I moved towards the main entrance the memorial of Rev. Aghar Nath Banerjee, but unlike Rev. Harihar Sandel (Sanyal), it was written in English only. Next to Rev. Aghore Banerjee’s memorial lies a beautiful ,written in beautiful flowing Bengali font, dedicated to the father & daughter duo of Lukswarup Chandra Singh and her daughter Grace Khemankari.
Finally it was time for home. I bade good bye to Rev. Sukhendu Biswas, Prasanta da and all the other church members and returned with memories to last a life time.
Rev. Sukhendu Biswas, Prasanta (da) Banerjee and the entire community of St. Mary’s Church, Kolkata.
St. James’ Church, Calcutta (Kolkata)
Jora Girja, Church with the twin spires
Also see my compilation of Calcutta (Kolkata) Churches
Jota Girja is an important bus – stop on the Lower Circular Road (Presently AJC Bose Road). The name originated from the twin spires of the St. James Church.
The original St. James Church of Kolkata (Calcutta) dates back to 1823 and was located in the Nebotola Lane, near Amherst Street. The foundation of the church was laid in 1820 by the first Bishop of Calcutta T F Middleton. The church was open to public by the Bishop Heber in 1823.
But the church had serious construction errors and soon started developing cracks and chunks of masonry soon started crushing down. The church authority were forced to close down the church in 1855.
The present building, sandwiched between the St. James’ and Pratt Memorial School, of the St. James’ Church dates back to 1868 and was designed by the East Bengal Railway Architect Walter B Granville, who also designed the Kolkata High Court, GPO and Calcutta University Senate Hall (the last one no longer exists).
Built in Gothic style the St. James’ Church or the Jora Girja is one of Kolkata’s elegant churches, with pointed Gothic arches on both its exterior and interior.
The twin spires, one of which contains a clock, is joined by a beautiful triangular pediment. The interior contains a long passageway leading to the alter.
But the star attraction of the St. James’ Church is the beautifully decorated black mahogany wood work at the ceiling. Something so durable, that even the termites of Kolkata have spared it for 146 years. But the termites haven’t spared the wooden floor of the second level. With the church crumbling again the parishioners finally decided to give it a face-lift.
Kolkata based conservation architect Manish Chakraborty was assigned the job of restoring the 146 year old St. James’ Church. The beautifully restored church was handed over to the parishioners of 11 December 2011. I was specially invited by Manish Chakraborty to photograph the St. James’ Church on the eve of the hand over.
- Mr. Manish Chakraborty, conservation architect.
- Swasat Kolkata by Nishitranjan Roy
List of my Blog entries on Calcutta (Kolkata)