Churches of the Cantonment – Come all Ye Faithful

A month ago, I walked into Fatima Bakery on Hosur Road and found it filled with eggs in baskets, eggs in chocolate, marzipan stuffed eggs, eggs with silver icing. There were more than enough eggs on display to confuse the hens across the road in Johnson Market who could not lay claim to even one of them.

It took me back to my childhood memories of Easter in the Cantonment. Days were spent decorating egg shells with funny faces or fancy designs, carefully filling them with molten chocolate and hiding them in the garden for a Great Easter Egg Hunt. The best part? We weren’t even good Christians.

It was the same at Christmas. Colourful paper stars and fairy lights twinkled everywhere and strains of ” Silent Night “  would waft across the cold winter evenings, getting louder as cheery carollers reached our gate. On Christmas Eve we would go for a drive past the churches of the Cantonment – Shoolay Circle to Residency Road, Trinity Circle, Cubbon Road and back via St. Marks Road to see smartly dressed people headed to Mass at St.Patrick’s Church while we desperately longed to be old enough to wear out our stilettos jiving all over the Cantonment.

Our Lady of Good Health

My saga with the Churches in the Cantonment continued as friends got married, baptised their children, or brought loved ones in here tearfully before a final journey to the arms of He who is ever forgiving, ever loving. I now sit here often in silent conversations with the Force that determines our lives, finding peace in these stained glass windows, vaulted arches and high roofed sanctuaries.But I rarely sit alone.

I sit in the pews with strangers, unknown foreigners- eager young men, simpering young ladies and society queens, crusty dowagers, battle weary soldiers, young babes and flustered mothers – all long gone, dying of disease and epidemics, childbirth, battles and animal attacks in a hot, dusty corner of the British Empire, far away from their homes in green, rain drenched England. Who were they ? These people who followed their flags, regiments, lovers and sense of duty only to go from ashes to dust here. Who ever they were, their memories have lingered on, preserved forever in the wall plaques within these churches of the Cantonment.

Trinity Church

My personal favourite

Built in response to a demand for a new Church for the Regiment (St. Marks was where the English speaking population had gathered hitherto) this gracious English Renaissance building was completed in 1852, becoming the largest `Military Church ‘ in Bangalore. According to church records, the foundation stone for Trinity Church was laid on 16th February, 1848 by Major General Aitchison, Commanding Mysore Division and the first official ceremony conducted in this church was the baptism of little Frances Eleanor, gurgling in her new white lace dress on 27th July, 1852.

The belfry here did not contain bats but a bell that was cast in London’s Mears Foundry in 1847 and the stained glass near the pulpit was also shipped over from England. The brass plaques here are moving stories, dedicated to soldiers (some terrifyingly young like Augustus Dobree, aged 22) and civilians who made Bangalore their final resting place.

Inside Trinity Church, MG Road

Before the monstrous Metro Rail blocked the view, the undulations on MG Road were visible right up to Cubbon Park and beyond from the Bell Tower, because Trinity Church is actually built on a little hill of extremely modest proportions as is St.Marks Cathedral. In 1802, way before the Cantonment as we know it was born ( 1809) Trinity Church is also where William Lambton stood as he measured the exact altitude of Bangalore ( ref Bangalore Walks ) in his historic venture, the Great Trigonometric Survey of India.

Where: Trinity Circle, MG Road

St.Andrews Church

St.Andrews and the Muncipal Jubilee Memorial Clock

Established for a homesick Scots regiment pining for their whiskey, highlands and heather, this wee little Gothic Presbyterian Church was originally called the St. Andrews Kirk and its foundation stone was laid by a Lady Hope Grant on 22nd November, 1864. It was completed in 1866 and boasted of the unique Municipal Jubilee Memorial Clock with four dials that gave churchgoers not one but four options to view the time of day !

When a great fire almost destroyed sections of St. Mark’s Cathedral in 1924, in true Christian spirit, St. Andrew’s Church graciously volunteered itself for the congregation to worship in till St. Mark’s was rebuilt four years later.  Here you read of Scotsmen who died in Bangalore while on duty because back then ( according to information at the National Library of Scotland ) “one in five East India Company officials was of Scottish origin at the end of the eighteenth century… with St.Andrews Day dinners, complete with sentimental toasts to ‘the Land of Cakes’ being celebrated…“

Which is why I often imagine hearing the faint sounds of bagpipes while ghostly young Scottish ladies in light summer dresses with parasols stroll around the church grounds. I wonder if among them might be a Miss Margaret Tait, born in Bangalore in 1907, daughter of Annie Smith and John Guthrie Tait ( 1861-1945 ), Professor of English Literature and Principal of Central College. Ms. Tait was an active member of the church and keenly supported her father’s explorations of Sir Walter Scott’s connection with India. She played a key role in reviving an interest in his Indian novels – Guy Mannering, St.Ronan’s Well and The Surgeons Daughter.

Where: Cubbon Road

St. Mark’s Cathedral

St.Marks Cathedral at the other end of MG Road

I didn’t know Bangalore was so closely connected to the famous Scottish writer, Sir Water Scott (1771 -1832) till I saw the memorial tablet at St.Mark’s  dedicated to Lt. Col. Sir Walter Scott, 2nd Baronet, Abbotsford  who died prematurely at the age of 46, off the coast of Madras. He was nephew to the afore mentioned Sir Walter (1st Baronet) whose brother-in-law, Charles Carpenter was a Collector at Salem, Tamil Nadu. Scott’s own son served as a young Cornet under the famous Sir David L Baird then Commander in Chief in Ireland, who led the final assault against Tipu on Srirangapatna in 1799.

There are other stories recorded here (such as the plaque dedicated to a British officer who reached safety but died in the Cauvery swimming back to rescue an Indian workman). The colours of the disbanded 77th Moplah Rifles and tablets commemorating those killed in the ill-fated Moplah Revolt are also poignant reminders of lives wasted over the centuries to further political aspirations.

The Cathedral was begun in 1808 after which it had its fair share of bad luck. The original structure collapsed on the east side in 1902 (restored in 1906), and in 1923, an accident reduced the interiors of the building to ashes. It was restored in 1927. Today, it is the oldest Anglican Church/Cathedral in Bangalore (with a dome that reminds me of St. Paul’s in London) and is conveniently located behind Koshy’s for a wholesome Sunday breakfast after Mass.

Where: MG Road, near the Cubbon Park Junction

St.Patricks Church

Built around 1844, this Catholic Church with its graceful twin spires was consecrated as a Cathedral in 1899. Built essentially for a small representation of leprechaun believing, clover wishing, shamrock cherishing Irish soldiers in Bangalore, it was dedicated to St. Patrick ( latter half of the 5th century) who is generally recognised as the patron saint of Ireland. It also served as a final resting place for many men of the church including Father Chevalier ( Bishop of Mysore, 1873, ) who died in 1880 and was laid to rest here, as was his successor Fr. Jean Yves Marie Coadou.

I wonder if it might have also been frequented by a certain Irish soldier named Michael F. Lavelle, who served in the regiment that fought against Tipu Sultan in Srirangapatna, near Mysore, in 1799. He retired from the British Army in 1850 and went on to found the Kolar Gold Fields. Lavelle ( or `Lavileeee’ as our local auto drivers call it ) Road was named after him ( perhaps to honour his contribution towards accelerating economic activity in this laidback Cantonment of ours ).

Where: Brigade Road

St.Mary’s Basilica

St.Mary’s Basilica, Shivajinagar

Ever since I read `Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies ‘, I confess to have developed a secret affection for its author, the very observant Abbe Dubois, a French missionary who moved from `Seringpatam’ to Bangalore after the fall of Tipu in 1799. In 1811, he built a small chapel in Blackpully while continuing his valuable documentation of South Indian society with all its wonderful complexities. ( I found a copy of this fascinating book at Blossoms Bookstore for just Rs.150, and have embarked on a wild ride into 18th century South India with this Frenchman ever since ! )

The massive Church around this little chapel was built by Fr. Kleiner and consecrated in 1882 by the very same Fr. Jean Yves Marie Coadou who now rests in St. Patrick’s Church. In 1974, St. Mary’s became a Basilica and is the site of the well known St. Mary’s feast celebrated at the beginning of each year. Here, Mother Mary also assumes a new avatar – “Annai Arokyamarie “ ( Our Lady of Health ) a name that can be traced back to the great Plague in Blackpully ( 1898) when people in the area fled to her and the Church for succour.

While Colonial architecture in India is largely viewed from perspectives of power and subjugation, it can also be seen as enrichment that created new contexts of living as well as thought. A lot of beautiful Bangalore -be it our parks and trees, roads or lakes, tanks and architecture, was undoubtedly built during this period and just after. We can knock down all traces of their existence, but we cannot stop the ghosts in them from staying on.

Where: Shivaji Nagar, Russell Market Square

Also see : St.Luke’s (Chamrajpet), St.Francis Xavier’s (Frazer Town, St.John’s Church Road ), All Saint’s Church ( Richmond Town, Hosur Road).

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2 comments

  1. “Before the monstrous Metro Rail blocked the view, the undulations on MG Road were visible right up to Cubbon Park and beyond from the Bell Tower, because Trinity Church is actually built on a little hill of extremely modest proportions as is St.Marks Cathedral.”

    So true.

    Having lived in the Trinity church compound from 1976-1993 words fail me. I remember watching the rain clouds bringing rains to Ulsoor from Cubbon Park from the top most window of the church. That window exists no more because it has been sealed off to showcase the cross!

    Your blog is outstanding but it chokes me up…

    Ajit

    1. Ajit, the window sealed off is symbolic of the way we Bangaloreans ignore this fast disappearing city.We will weep for it only when it is gone.We don’t fight to keep it alive.

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