Testimony to a rich past

Testimony to a rich past


Testimony to a rich past

St. John’s church in Bangalore traces its origins to a small school and chapel started in 1853. A distinct red edifice, the church has a towering steeple. In front of the main entrance to Pushpa Achanta.

People who know of St. John’s church road, a major thoroughfare in Cleveland Town in Bangalore Cantonment, can guess how the nomenclature emerged. Well, it is due to the presence of the fourth oldest Protestant church in the city name St. John’s Church. In fact, one part of the area was called St. John’s Hill because of the gradient in some of the central and eastern portions of the City.

A distinct red edifice, the church has a towering steeple standing out from its leafy campus. In front of the main entrance to the church, is a structure commemorating British soldiers who fought in the first World War. Sadly, the names exclude people of South Asian ethnicity, although they might have participated in the battles.

St. John’s church traces its origins to a small school cum chapel started in 1853 near the crowded Haines road which connects Cleveland Town with the busy Frazer Town. Incidentally, the educational institution grew into the famous St. John’s High School.

Rev. R Posnett, the assistant chaplain of St. Mark’s church (located on the eponymous road in present day Bangalore) in the early 1850s, was largely instrumental in establishing the St. John’s church and school. At that time, he had found that there was a need for a parish on one end of the cantonment with a church, school, reading room and library. These were meant for the pensioned soldiers of the East India Company who lived there and for their Eurasian children who were not accepted in the schools of the cantonment area.

Officers stationed in the place contributed money utilising which Rev. Posnett had a chapel with a single room measuring around 750 square feet constructed in 1853. This functioned as a school in the morning and as a library for the pensioners in the afternoon. And on Sundays, it became a place of worship. Interestingly, the file book of St. Mark’s church contains the first mention of this room, dating back to February 1853.

As per historical records, on April 23, 1853, Rev. Posnett wrote to the then Bishop of Madras saying, “It should be mentioned that the Divine Services are celebrated twice during each week, viz. on Sunday and Wednesday evenings in the school room. But this room is now filled to excess, the attendance for the last few months is ranging from 100 to 115. It is also proposed to sell the present school room in which there are 52 girls and 16 boys under instruction, as it is inconvenient and in an otherwise objectionable position.”

The growth

The success of this multi-purpose structure encouraged Rev. Posnett to approach the Church Building Society for financial support to create a separate church and school. He applied to Major General Sewell, the then General Officer Commanding, for funds for a chapel and an educational institution.

As the idea of constructing a church for civilians was uncommon for the British administration, Rev. Posnett’s proposal was refused. However, he managed to raise the money required by appealing to the congregations which collected 2,669 rupees and 11 annas, including ten pounds from Rev. C G Townsend of Hatfield in England. Rev. Posnett had a plot of land lying near the Roman Catholic chapel bought for a sum of one hundred rupees. He had an enclosure built around the site in October 1853 and earmarked it for the new Mootocherry church of the High Anglican Order with a school and library.

Matching with the style for the church, Rev. Posnett decided on Gothic architecture for the school building and library. He had the designs prepared by the engineer responsible for the Attara kacheri (now the High Court of Karnataka). The school and reading rooms were completed by 16th May 1854 at Rs. 2700. New educational institutions, one each for boys, girls and infants, were opened on May 28, 1854 with a divine service by Rev. R Posnett, who was by then the Chaplain of St. Mark’s church.

In September 1854, Rev. Posnett left St. Mark’s church after handing over its reins to Rev. B S Clarke and Rev. D J Rogers. Between September 1854 and September 1857, the duo obtained funds and permissions from the government and the Church Building Society to expand St. John’s church to accommodate 300 persons.

The  enlargement, furniture and compound wall cost Rs. 11,625 with the Madras Sappers and Miners regiment supervising the construction. Rt. Rev. Thomas Dealtry the third Bishop of Madras consecrated the church on April 12, 1858 and dedicated it to St. John the Evangelist, officially christening it as St. John’s Church. Rev. Dealtry (Bishop Dealtry's son) became the first chaplain of St. John’s church.

Soon after, Mootocherry was renamed as St. John’s Hill and the road south of the church leading to the Ulsoor lake was titled St. John’s church road. The local population called the church Sigapoo Oosimatha Koil which translates to the “red church” in Tamil. Incidentally, Rev. Clarke, Rev. Rogers and Rev. Dealtry contributed Rs. 1,000 between themselves for the church tower by the end of 1858 as the wealthier residents who primarily worshipped at St. Mark’s did not donate enough for this cause.

The edifice was extended in 1895-’96 for the sanctuary, choir, two front vestries (rooms for vestments and sacred articles) and the large portico. “The church would have been complete only if a portico and a vestry were constructed on the northern side similar to those on the southern flank”, remarked Arthur D Selvaraj, in the church magazine. A church office volunteer shared, “The pipe organ in the church is among the oldest and rarest and tough to repair. Initially, air would be pumped into it manually”.

Serving the community

The year 1918 heralded the St. John’s Institute for soldiers of the nearby barracks to relax.

And the church created a hostel for Tibetan refugee children in 1959 with shops and petrol pumps on the northern boundary to support it. From the late 1800's, the church congregation was donating to the Poor Fund, Leprosy Mission, etc.

It established Asha Nivas, a home for the elderly in the church compound on 12th August 1978, a unique open-air chapel in the St. John’s church cemetery at Kalpally in 1999 and St. John’s Community Centre in June 2002.

Try visiting this towering institution if you haven’t already!

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