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Front view of the church

The Church of St John the Evangelist better known as the Afghan Church is a presbyterian church in South Mumbai, India, built by the British to commemorate the dead of the disastrous First Afghan War of 1838. The church is located in Navy Nagar in the Colaba area of Mumbai (Bombay).

Besides British soldiers it also commemorates different Indian regiments, such as the Bombay Army, the Madras Army, and Ranjit Singh's army from Lahore. Records also mention that only one person, one Surgeon Bryden - a medical officer, out of 16,000 men returned safely to Jalalabad to tell the tale, a war in which the British suffered a complete rout.

Contents

History

Side view of the church

The church began as a small thatched chapel a kilometre south in what was then known as the "Sick Bungalows" (now the INHS Asvini, the Indian naval hospital). There were no chairs and patron had to bring their own. Later, the government released a new patch of land for the setting up the church on the condition that the spire be seen from miles away and serve as a landmark for ships in the harbour.

The quintessential English architecture was designed by city-engineer Henry Conbeare and architect William Butterfield in 1847 and was consecrated on January 7, 1858 by Bishop Harding. The spire cost a sum of Rs 5,65,000 and was finished on June 10, 1865. Much of the cost of this was paid by Sir Cowasji Jehangir who contributed a sum of Rs 7,500. He also placed an illuminated clock in the tower.

Architecture

The church spire

The imposing edifice was constructed using locally available buff-coloured basalt and a limestone stones. Inside it is known for its wide gothic arches and beautiful stained glass windows. The chapel has a nave and aisle with a chancel 50 ft (15 m) in length and 27 ft (7 m) in width. The tiles used for geometric floor pattern was imported from England. The east and west windows were designed by William Wailes, a nineteenth century stained glass expert. The stained glass used is superior to the ones used by the Rajabai Tower and Victoria Terminus. Eight large bells in the bell tower came from the Taylor bellfoundry of England in 1904, and are acknowledged to be the best in western India. The tower and spire are 198 ft (60 m) high.

In the chancel a stone inscription reads:

"This church was built in memory of the officers and private soldiers, too many to be recorded who fell mindful of their duty, by sickness or by sword on the campaign of Scinde (Sindh) and Afghanistan, A.D. 1838-43."

Another brass panel set on the chancel commemorates its founder Rev. G Piggot.

Today

After years of decay, the government elevated the church to a Grade I heritage structure. Funds of 30 lakh were collected and restoration of the church is underway. The church holds a few weekly masses.

External links

Coordinates: 18°54′13″N 72°48′54″E / 18.903648°N 72.815076°E / 18.903648; 72.815076

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