Saturday, 23 May 2020

St. Mary's Church, Kotgarh, Shimla - a historical English church

St Mary’s Church Kotgarh, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.  twitter.com
St Mary’s Church Kotgarh, Shimla, HP. a-hotel.com/
Shimla city, now the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh, used to be the summer capital of British India. During the colonial days the  government officials  of various departments and their families, paraphernalia, files, etc would move all the way from Calcutta, (then the capital of colonial India until early 20th century) to Shimla,  fleeing searing summer heat and humidity on the plains. The higher-ups ran the administration of the subcontinent and other near-by British colonies from here. After the summer, the entire officialdom would get back to Calcutta.  Shimla has been a popular tourist destination  for Indians for a long time.  The wooded areas with  tall Oak, Deodar and Pine trees, the sight of  snow-clad peaks of the majestic Himalayas at a distance,  fine  rivers like Sutlej and Pabbar and lots of tourist spots in the quiet, serene surroundings have made this historical city, one of the most preferred vacation destinations for people from Delhi and other cities.
St Mary’s Church Kotgarh, Shimla timesofindia.indiatimes.com
There are popular colonial churches in Shimla and in the surrounding hills and they were all built to catering the European population, mostly government officials, soldiers, tea, coffee estate owners, etc. They were also open to the local Christian community living there then.  The Church Missionary Society from London established St Mary’s Church here, as far  back as in 1872 in  Kotgarh  about 80 km from Shimla  town  on the old Hindustan-Tibet Road. Then  Kotgarh was a part of the Punjab province.  This church is not a big one, one can see a semblance of Gothic style  of design. This simple church in yellow color is surrounded by rolling hills and winding roads leading to it. This historical church has never lost its old charm nor its majestic look in all its simplicity.  The main attractions are  the stained glass panel with Christ on it, stone and wood structure like every other old building here, tablets announcing information, wooden benches for devotees to pray or an old bell hidden in a bell tower above the entrance of the church. An interesting feature is there is an inscription in Urdu hanging on the walls of the church along with a hand drawn colorful map of the region. 
The church is active on Sunday morning for a mass that is held  around 11 am for the local community.  The mass is held in the local language - Hindi  and people who come here neatly dressed up read the Bible in Hindi. Services are not available daily, as the Christian community here is a small one. The school that is close to the church was  built at the same time as church.

Regarding the correct year of  construction of this colonial church by the British, there has been a controversy  that is not yet resolved.  Some records point out the church was built in 1843 but  other records reveal the year of construction was  872.  'Thanedar', is  an important historical place of Shimla  from where people come and visit this old church.  Visitors  have to drive through the Mustard Fields to reach the church.  It was one Samuel Stokes  who was responsible for  planting of the first apple orchard in Thanedar,  Shimla, in the year 1916.
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/travel/destinations/St-Marys-Church/ps49503863.cms
https://www.shimlaonline.in/city-guide/churches-in-shimla