Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Historical St. John's church, Kolkata - colonial legacy

Kolkata, the capital of the state of West Bengal was once the capital of the British Empire  as ell and the British had built innumerable buildings of beauty and grandeur for administrative purposes, etc., during their glorious days. The historical St.John's church in the prime part of the city is the oldest English structure.

During the colonial days St. John’s Church, Kolkata was an important place of worship for the Europeans designed by Lieutenant  James Agg, a Bengal Engineer, representing  English and Greek architecture characterized by tall columns that support the church complex, impressive portico and eye-catching paintings  by Johann Zoffany, floor with  a rare hue of blue-gray marble stones, brought from  the medieval  ruins of Gour, and were shipped down the Hooghly River to the site.  It was built using a combination of brick and stone on the model of  St.Martin-in-the fields of London.

Thanks to the the Maharaja Nabo Kishen Bahadur, the founder of the Shovabazar Raj Family who donated the land for building the the church. The foundation stone was laid  by Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India on 6 April 1784.

St. John`s Church, Kolkata, The Victorian Web
The  amazing painting here on the walls  brings out the  Last Supper, with Indian features, a rare one. There are large windows with colored glasses and they appear beautifully when the sunlight passes through them. This church has simple altar and behind it, there is a semi circular dome.  Walls of St. John’s Church adorn the memorials of James Achilles Kirkpatrick,  James Pattle, Johann Zoffany's paintings, besides numerous plagues of British people - officers and servants.
Interior of St. John's Church, Kolkataen.wikipedia.org/

Located at the NW corner of the Governor House (Raj Bhavan)  St. John’s Church was built in 1787 and is the third oldest church in Calcutta (Kolkata), the others are  the Armenian and the Old Mission Churches. This  Anglican Cathedral of Calcutta functioned till 1847 when it was transferred to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The cost of construction then was Rs.30,000.00.

interior, St. John`s Church, Kolkata,
Deep's Travelogue
  Originally built on an old graveyard, there are tombs and memorials, but only a few dating  back to the date of construction of the church. They are: Job Charnock’s Tomb, Black Hole Monument, Rohila War Memorial, Lady Canning Memorial, Francis (Begum) Johnson’s grave.  The church was  active in the colonial time and was used for  conducting baptisms and weddings of  Kolkata's  prominent families. It was the oldest English building in Kolkata after it became the capital of  the ESI.

James Achilles Kirkpatrick (1764-1805):

Resident of Hyderabad), popularly known as the White Mughal   died in Calcutta on 15th October 1805 at the age of 41 and was buried at the North Park Street Cemetery. But there is neither his grave nor the cemetery existing today. James Kirkpatrick' father and his brother erected the Plaque of James Kirkpatrick, on the southern wall of Church still exists. But the epitaph is odd and inappropriate.

  James Pattle (1775 - 1845):
There is a memorial of James Pattle who is great-great-grandfather of William Dalrymple, noted novel writer,  on the south walls of St. John's Church. James Prattle was known as the greatest liar in India. A man supposed to be so wicked that the Devil had a strong hold on him  and wouldn’t let him leave India after he died.

  Johann Zoffany (3 March 1733-11 November 1810):

Last Supper by German Johann Zoffanyst.John's, Kolkata. iCapture
He was a German neo-classical painter  who drew the Last Supper as drawn by renowned Leonardo Da Vinci and  presented it  here on the walls of the church with Indian elements. It is not a  replica of the original one and the painting shows  a sword, Indian spittoon and a  beasties bag - a goat skin bag used for storing water. They 
seem to be the odd items found in the painting drawn by Johann Zoffany.  Yet another  unusual feature of Zoffany’s lies in the selection of model used by  him to represent Jesus and his twelve disciples. Jesus Christ was portrayed as Greek priest, Father Parthenio, while  Judas was portrayed as the auctioneer William Tulloh from whom the Tollygunge, a suburb in Kolkata  was named.

The old graves and the monuments of St John’s Church include Job Charnock’s Mausoleum, a Monument dedicated to those killed in the Black Hole of Calcutta, Second Rohilla War Memorial and the graves of Lady Canning, Lord Braboune and the judges of Supreme Court of India at that time, which is now the Calcutta High Court.

 Job Charnock (c.1630–1692/1693):

Job Charnock’s Mausoleum, located at the back northwest corner of St John's Church grounds is in memory of Charnock (an administrator with East India company), who is believed to be the founder of Calcutta City.   The octagonal cenotaph, erected by his his son in law  Charles Ayer, includes the grave of Job Charnock.  He died in 1693, just three years after his third visit to what would become Calcutta. The grave gives his date of demise as January 1692. There is a small gated cemetery part-paved with 18th century grave stones. The Mausoleum was built of pinkish stones brought all the way from Pallavaram near Chennai,formerly Madras, Tamil Nadu.

Black Hole  Memorial (20 June 1756):

June 1756-Blackhole of Calcutta. The Gemini Geek
Blackhole memorial, St.John's church, Kolkata. apis.google.com
 The Monument  was erected by Holwell, British general includes a tablet carrying the name of the British who were  imprisoned by the Nawob of Bengal during the siege of Ft.William in a small room, measuring  14 feet by 8 feet without ventilation and consequently out of 146, only 23 survived and the rest were purportedly died due to suffocation, heat and stroke. The number of casualty and the very nature of this incident are still a subject of debate. the British made a mountain out of a mole hill to get sympathy from the public in England.

Rohilla Memorial:

It is the name of the Pashtun tribe of the Pakistan and Afghanistan border settled in the Oudah region and they were in the employee of the Nawob. Being sturdy and obdurate, over a period of time, they became a menace to the Nawob of Oudah  Shuja - ud - Daula. Conflicts broke out between the Nawob's forces and the tribes. The British backed the Nawob in the 1774 battle. At last, the ruler suppressed the warring tribes. A memorial was erected on the premises of St. John's  church, Calcutta  in memory of those British who lost their lives in the war. 

Second Rohilla war memorial www.wikiwand.com
Lady Canning (1 March 1817-18 November 1861):

 Lady Canning, daughter of the British ambassador, Charles Stuart (later Baron Stuart de Rothesay) married Charles Canning in 1836 in England. Lady Canning arrived in India in 1856 to be with her husband.  In1861,she contracted Malaria and  died  in her husband's arms. Her mortal remains are near St. John's church. Lady Canning elaborately decorated memorial lies on the Northern corridor

Ref:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._John's_Church,_Kolkata