In 1856, the Methodist Episcopal Church started its mission in India, when William Butler came from America. He spread such missions over Oudh and Rohilkhand. Being unable to secure a residence at Lucknow, he began to work at Bareilly. However, the first War of Independence interrupted the work at Bareilly. In 1858, when Britishers regained their hold in the subcontinent, missionary work started again.
After three decades of expansion, the Central Methodist Church was built in 1887 Agra. Made in revivalist Gothic style architecture, the building was situated just opposite to District Collectoriat on Drummond road (which was named M.G. Road post-independence). Locally called as Diwani Church, it has been a place of spiritual connectivity and rejoices to the locals. Festivities have always offered to the locals a way to celebrate beyond religion. I personally will always remember the Moth ki chat that I had after attending the Easter mass, a couple of years back.
St Mary’s Church
The Second Church in India dedicated to mother Mary was built in Agra by John’s family. When Mary, wife of Nicholas Anthony (owner of ‘Agra Spinning and Weaving Mills’ ) died in Richmond Surrey on 19/09/1918 age 79, Her body was repatriated to Agra where she was buried on 06/03/1920. Dedicated to her memory, In April 1920, the foundation stone of St. Mary’s Church Agra was laid. Johns also donated the adjoining compound with a large bungalow in it for the maintenance of the Church and the chaplain.
Opened for the public on April 5th, 1923, The Church was dedicated to Mary, Mother of Good Counsel. Since the population of Roman Catholics was growing rapidly in that time, the church came to fulfill the long felt spiritual needs of the residents of the locality.
In 1968, at the request of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited employees, the dedication was changed by Archbishop Dominic Athaide to Mary Mother of Good Health.
In the last century, this campus has been a center of community welfare and has and the archdiocese opened St. Anthony’s School, orphanage, and Old Age Home also in the same compound.
The last personal memory I have of this place is full of serenity and peace. May mother Mary bless us all.
St. Paul’s Church
Standing in the precincts of a school by the same name, St. Paul’s church is also popularly known as ‘Tin ka Girija’ or ‘Tin Church’ due to its roof being made of tin. Recently the tin was replaced with tiles which only added to its splendor. It is also said that the church was originally built over the site of a Dutch factory and still has the biggest campus in the city.
Construction is believed to have begun in the 1840s, a period when Agra was the capital of the territory known as NW Provinces and in that capacity was the home of a sizeable — and growing — British civilian population. The curved ceiling effect symbolizes the amalgamation of Mughal & British architecture while the high rise bell tower represents the significant increase of Britishers growing in the continent during that period. Painted glass windows behind the altar are also a highlight of the church’s interior.
Images courtesy- Sarsonkekhet, Atul Bakshi
St. George’s Church
After the second Maratha war when the British took possession of Agra in 1803, the city became the capital of the United west Province. In the next few decades population of Christians increased in the city and hence need of having a place for worship was felt strongly. In 1826 Colonel J. T. Boileau, the Garrison Engineer deputed in Agra cantonment designed St. George’s church which eventually turned into a cathedral and became the seat of Bishop of Agra diocese. Relatively much bigger in size then any other churches It has a very small gateway for entrance. The interior is divided into a central core point and side corridor by six classical columns, carrying a slightly concave or domed roof. Later on, the cathedral in the eastern end was gothicised with a carved white sandstone screen, and the church table was prepared with what Agra is famous for- the marble inlay work. It is a very well preserved, typical cantonment church that contains several memorials to the East Surrey Regiment. Also, the service used to be always in English in comparison with other native churches in the city. The place is also very important for keeping the historical records of generations of Anglicans who were baptized, married, or christened here on many occasions. This was also the only church in north India where THE PRINCE & PRINCESS OF WALES (KING GEORGE V & QUEEN MARY) had attended the mass during their visit to Agra on 17th Dec 1905.
Akbari church was the first church in Agra where Christmas carols were sung for the first time in history. Right after a hundred years when Vasco-De-Gama reached the Indian shores, Agra was already becoming home for somewhat European traders, mercenaries, Jesuits, and many. Going forward with his belive in syncretic religion Akbar granted land near an existing Armenian settlement for the first church to come up. This is the site where the ‘Akbar’s church’, originally built in 1598, stands today.
According to the historian RV Smith, the festival of Christmas would see the Emperor and his nobles come to the church in the morning, followed by ladies of the harem and young princes in the evening. It is in this period of religious experimentation that the first Nativity plays in India were staged, with Europeans playing a part within, often with the Emperor as the audience. The practices begun in Akbar’s reign continued in that of Jahangir. Gradually the play grew in scale and became better organized, with rehearsals taking place in an area called Phulatti. It is also said that a few of Jahangir’s nephews were baptized in the same church. During the Shahjahan period some conflicts occurred- Jesuits were prosecuted and church was pulled down and reconstructed again in 1635. When Abdali’s troops ransacked the place and put it on fire in 1769 somehow the church again found a great patron named Walter Reinhardt, who helped to rebuild and extend the church.
In 1848 a new church was built alongside, standing close to Akbar’s church, and dominating what is now a large complex of church buildings is the imposing Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. Possessing a Baroque exterior at its front, the cathedral from within resembles a magnified version of Akbar’s Church with the same curved ceiling effect, the difference between the two places of worship being the altar.
Even today going there for a Sunday mass one can easily envisage the feeling of the city of confluence and understand how living in harmony has always been an integral part of the Agraite lifestyle.
Havelock Memorial Church
Henry Havelock is one of the most celebrated names in modern Indo-British history. He was called Hero of Lucknow for his extra-ordinary skills and war tactics he demonstrated during the Rebellion of 1857.
Far before when as young second lieutenant who served with distinction in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826), after which he returned to England and married Hannah Shepherd Marshman, the daughter of eminent Christian missionaries Dr. and Mrs. Joshua Marshman. At about the same time he became a Baptist. He introduced some of his new family’s missionary ideas to the army and began the distribution of bibles to all soldiers. After returning back to India, when he was stationed in Agra cantonment, he built the first Baptist chapel of India in 1832. Later after his exemplary achievements as an extraordinary general of East India Company forces during Rebellion of 1875. This memorial chapel was erected in 1873 by voluntary subscriptions and by the exertions of the Baptist missionary at present stationed in Agra, Rev. Gelson Gregson.
Havelock Memorial Church’s main building is 105ft long and 50ft broad. It has enclosed verandahs, which are paved with red and white sandstone, and are used as aisles. The main building is supported inside by six light Gothic arches; the roof is of corrugated iron; the interior is extremely light and plain. The pulpit is a handsome piece of Agra stonework, with stone handrails on each side. In addition to the chapel, there is a large reading room and library. Mr. Thomas Cook, the well-known tourists’ conductor, whose portrait is kept here, collected and forwarded a valuable library of nearly one thousand volumes, which was called the Havelock Library.
St. John’s Church
Hidden in the plain sight behind the busy streets of Sindhi Bazar, St. John’s church is a native church Founded By the Rev.Abdul Masih in 1856, run by the Churches of North India. It is a magnificently beautiful building of yellow color with white dressings. The church is constructed in Gothic Revival style architecture and set in a small lush green garden. Being one of the oldest locality of the civil Anglo-Indian Christian community around the place carries the feeling of peace & harmony in its very existence.
How many of these churches have you visited? Let us know in the comments below