St Thomas Cathedral: 300 years of Christmas in Bombay

#1 Dec 25th, 2018, 12:10
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Once regarded as the centre of colonial Bombay, one of India’s oldest cathedrals turns 300 this Christmas


The grand nave of St Thomas Cathedral. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

There are moments when the average church visit takes on overtones of a childhood adventure novel. On a Sunday morning earlier this month, instead of reverentially treading the awe-inspiring nave of St Thomas Cathedral, we find ourselves on all fours, clambering up a steep fleet of stairs. We are headed up to the clock tower of one of the oldest churches in India, one that completes 300 years on Christmas this year.

With considerable effort on the narrow staircase, we reach the first floor of the steeple, where Reverend Avinash Rangayya shows us several hardbound, sepia-toned volumes. The dusty tomes are filed by the year, some going all the way back to 1769. Further categorization is in the form of the letters B, M or D scrawled on them. Rangayya, who currently leads the congregation at St Thomas Cathedral, says, “The cathedral held the records of all the baptisms, marriages and burials that took place across the Anglican churches in the Bombay Presidency. All the churches sent an original record to the cathedral in addition to what they had. That way, people could cross-verify.”

Baptism, marriage and death. The circle of life is complete at St Thomas Cathedral. This isn’t merely a metaphor; we are not just referring to the cathedral’s ornate baptismal font, or the long aisle fit for a queenly bride, or the sheer number of sombre graves and heavy-duty memorials that pervade the cathedral’s architecture. As the centre of religious authority for the Anglican Church in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency, the cathedral amassed a number of maps, documents and official letters pertaining to historic events (see box).

Growing with the city

Completed in 1718, with its first service on Christmas Day, the cathedral has been a defining landmark in the urban development of Mumbai. The church was constructed under the supervision of Richard Cobbe, the chaplain, whose letter in 1715 to the bishop of London, John Robinson, urged for the need to cater to the English community in Bombay that only had “a private chapel for their public devotion”. He also observed that the Catholic Portuguese had enough churches.

But, it wasn’t until 1837 that it was consecrated as a cathedral, along with the appointment of the first bishop of Bombay, Thomas Carr. The clock tower was added after that.

Led by Rangayya, we climb further up the steeple through various levels, one of which features Gothic rose windows that allow light to filter in gently. With renovation work underway, scaffolding has overtaken the interiors, making our climb seem like nothing less than a calisthenics class as we duck and swing across rods. When we ultimately reach the top, a panoramic view of South Mumbai is thrown open to us. Many of the architectural jewels left behind by the British legacy as well as important government offices are part of this view. Despite the towering skyscrapers that have come up around it, the fact remains that the stature of St Thomas Cathedral was once unparalleled.

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#2 Dec 25th, 2018, 13:58
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  • edwardseco is offline
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They might better hire some armed guards in case the u no hoos come a callin..

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