Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Christ Church, Tiruchirapalli where Bishop Heber died in 1826

Christ Church, Tiruchirapalli.
Christ Church,Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu built  in 1766 by  the Rev. Christian Frederick Schwartz   is believed to be the second oldest Anglican  church,  east of the Suez after St. Mary’s in Fort St. George, Chennai. Located in a prime locality of this big city  on  Nandi Koil Street, near Teppakulam (built by the Nayak king), exactly opposite  to Naganatha Swami Temple, it is steeped in history. The purpose of this church was  to cater to the spiritual needs of the Christian  community  that lived  here centuries ago.
Schwartz  came to India  in 1750  as  part  of  the Danish  Mission to spread Christianity in India and finally moved over to Tiruchirapalli for good. Schwartz (1726–1798), founder of Christ Church,  was a  German Lutheran Protestant  missionary to India and was a mentor of the Maratha ruler of Thanjavur Raja Serfoji with whom he had a lasting relationship. Here, he acted  as  chaplain to the garrison being maintained by the East India Company, and upon  taking  residence  he had a church  built  and also a  home on the same premises where Christ Church stands now.
 The church was built at a cost of 2,000 pagodas raised by British military officers. The construction materials - bricks, lime, and the wood for its doors and windows, etc  were brought  from Fort St. George in Madras. The church has nice stained glass windows that have survived this far.
Rev. Heger buried here. Christ Church, Tiruchirapalli, TN
The 252 year old  Christ Church, which is part of the city's religious fabric, has  a marble  plaque that records its date of  consecration - May 18, 1766 and  also  states  that the  land  for the  church  was donated  by  the Nabob of the Carnatic Mohamed Ali Khan.

Surprisingly, this  church, like most other old churches, has quite a few architectural features that have survived the passage of time and vagaries of weather. Behind the altar lies a curved wall of gilded inscriptions of sacred texts in English, Tamil, Portuguese, and Aramaic. An interesting fact that emerges from the Church records is in the early  periods services at the church used to be conducted in English, Tamil, and Portuguese.

The belfry in the church has a bell  imported from England at the time of the church’s construction and is still in use. Belfry  can be accessed through a wooden staircase which is in good shape. The Mission House located out side the church used to serve as an overnight shelter for travelers and in local parlance (Tamil) it is called Chatram. Now this name covers the entire area. 

Bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826), was a well-known  English missionary belonged to the Church of England. Despite his preoccupation with his compelling pastoral duties and church work, he had set aside  his time for hymn-writing and other work in which he excelled. His church hymns are popular and  his work - the critical study of the complete work of the 17th century Cleric Jeremy Taylor was well received and gave him recognition as a writer. Heber was formally consecrated on 1 June 1823 as Bishop of Calcutta at Lambeth Palace, by none other than  the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Bishop Heber and his family  arrived in Calcutta on 10 October 1823 to carry on his evangelical work. After his  formal ceremonial installation by the then Governor General, Lord Amherst, Heber gave  his first sermon as bishop on Sunday 12 October, in St John's Cathedral Church, still a famous church even to day.

Though an evangelist by calling, he was well remembered for his interesting and attention-grabbing travelogues related to India. He was very much impressed by the diversity of culture, languages, etc., when he was on tour across India. He undertook the tour of India during 1824 to 1826, visiting  churches  from Calcutta to the Deccan in the south within his Anglican Diocese of Calcutta. 
Bishop of Calcutta. Reginald Heber.jWikipedia
 Bishob Heber  died  in Tiruchirapally (then Madras Presidency),  when he was on tour as part of his missionary work. Bishop  Heber gave his last sermon on the steps of the Mission House, just outside the C.S.I. Christ Church on Nandi Kovil Street, inside the Main Guard gate,  Tiruchirapalli before his accidental death the same day on April 3, 1826. His death, it is believed, was brought about by his poor health, fatigue and hot, unfriendly weather conditions,  He was just 42. Fate had it that he was to die closer to the holy church. Rev. Heber, Bishop of Calcutta  was buried here. He left behind his spouse Ameila and two daughters.
In the church graveyard there are 12 graves  dating from 1766 to 1797. The concrete ceiling was laid in 1978-79, replacing the original bomb-proof roof dome. Until Nov. 1980, oil lamps were widely used inside the church.