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Notes on the Geography of Peninsular India: Chennai / Madras 3: British Churches

Glimpses of St George's, St Andrew's, St Mary's, along with the Anderson and Armenian churches.

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May as well start among the aerial roots of the Ficus shrouding the cemetery at St George's.

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The cathedral early Sunday. The doors were wide open.

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Side doors provided extra (and needed) ventilation.

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Inside felt like outside.

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Part of the 1830 memorial to a peregrinating Bishop of Calcutta who, after 16 years as a parish priest in Shropshire, arrived in India at age 40. He died two years later and is buried in Trichinopoly.

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Heber is shown in a pose that invites mockery. Whether the mockery is justified is not so easy to decide. The sculptor was Francis Chantrey, an eminence of the time. For a payment of 3,000 pounds, Chantrey executed a grand memorial for Heber that was placed in St. Paul's, London.

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A memorial to Herbert Harding, a judge "who on February 22nd 1916 was wantonly murdered on the steps of his courthouse at Trichinopoly... in the thirtieth year of his service...."

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Bengal may have been the hotbed of insurrection, but Madras wasn't a sinecure: Robert William D'Escourt was "... killed by the hand of a political assassin... 1911."

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A domestic story.

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Probably malaria or cholera.

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Here's the austere but elegant St. Andrews Church, modelled on London's St Martin-in-the-Fields. Like the last church, this one, too, was designed by a Major De Havilland and built at almost the same time: work began on St George's in 1816 and on St Andrew's in 1818.

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The Hebrew word in the pediment is "Jehovah."

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From the main entrance. A dark-blue dome rises over the nave.

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The heavy framework isn't there for the fans; it was built to support the old manually operated cloth fans called punkas.

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On the floor of the church.

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On a wall in the church, this may be one of the most beautiful memorials in India.

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Outside, preparations are in motion for a special event.

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St. Mary's Church, built in 1680 and safe within Fort St. George, is the oldest British building in the city. The original church however, is the crenelated part at the back; the tower and steeple were added in the early 1700s and linked to the main building in 1760.

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The nave is covered with a heavy masonry vault, reputedly 20 inches thick, or about half the thickness of the walls.

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The walls are heavy with monuments, some extremely verbose, like this one, for "Sri" Webbe. He's shown with four mourners: a Hindu, a Muslim, a civil servant, and a military officer. The sculptures are by John Flaxman, a prominent and prolific creator of such monuments.

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The inscription reads: "To the memory of Josiah Webbe, Esquire, for many years Chief Secretary to the Government of Madras, and afterwards Resident at the Court of Scindia, where he died the 9th of November 1804, aged 37 years. His mind by nature firm, lofty, energetic, was formed by classic study to a tone of independence and patriotism not unworthy of the best days of Greece and Rome. Disdaining the little arts of private influence or vulgar popularity, and perfect in conscious integrity, he rested his claims to public honours on public merit. An extensive knowledge of the Eastern languages forwarded his rise to stations of high trust, where his ambition was fixed to exalt the honour and interests of his country. But in the midst of a career thus useful and distinguished, preferring the public weal to personal safety, he fell a martyr to an ungenial climate in the prime of life, beloved with fervour by his friends, particularly lamented by the Governors of India, admired and regretted by all. To his public and private virtues this monument is dedicated by his friends."

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Another elaborate monument, this one for Frederick Swartz, a long-serving missionary.

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The caption reads in part: "Sacred to the memory of Rev. Frederick Christian Swartz, whose life was one continued effort to imitate the example of his Blessed Master, employed as a Protestant missionary from the Government of Denmark, and in the same character by the Society in England for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge. He, during a period of fifty years, 'went about doing good,' manifesting in respect to himself the most entire abstraction from temporal views, but embracing every opportunity of promoting both the temporal and eternal welfare of others. In him religion appeared not with a gloomy aspect, or forbidding mien, but with a graceful form and placid dignity. Among the many fruits of his indefatigable labours was the erection of the church at Tanjore.... The late Hyder Ally Cawn, in the midst of a bloody and vindictive war with the Carnatic, sent orders to his officers 'to permit the Venerable Father Swartz to pass unmolested and show him respect and kindness, for he is a holy man and means no harm to my Government.'... The East India Company, anxious to perpetuate the memory of such transcendent worth, and gratefully sensible of the public benefits which resulted from its influence, caused this monument to be erected. Ann. Dom 1807."

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This monument is set in the floor. It reads in part: "Near this stone are deposited the remains of Major-General Sir Thomas Munro. Bart., K.C.B., Governor of the Presidency of Fort St. George, who, after 47 years of distinguished civil and military services, seven of which he passed at the head of the Government under which he first served as a cadet, was suddenly called from his labours on the fifth of July 1827 at a moment 'when,' in the language of the Honorable Court of Directors, 'he was on the point of returning to his native land in the enjoyment of well-earned honors from his Sovereign and from the Company, having recently manifested a new proof of his zeal and devotion in retaining charge of the Government of Madras after he had intimated his wish to retire therefrom and at a period when the political state of India rendered the discharge of the duties of that high and honorable station 'peculiarly arduous and important.' Aetat. 65. ... The resources of his mind rose superior to every emergency of civil government or military enterprise, and he united to these great qualities an unpretending modesty (that exalted sign of innate worth) which courted no applause and which would have obstructed his advancement had not his transcendent merits in the cabinet and in the field forced him into public notice and elevated him to the highest office of this Presidency."

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Laconic in comparison.

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Handsome graphics; Awdry, who was private secretary to Gov. Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff, was killed by a fall from his horse.

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Brass for brass, in this case a general killed by fever while on campaign in Burma.

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A much simpler church, Anderson's Church on Bose Road was completed in 1859 for the then-adjoining Madras Christian College. It is named for the Scottish missionary who was the founder of the college.

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The simple interior.

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An Armenian church was first built on this site in 1712 but was rebuilt in 1772 with funds donated by Aga Shawmier Sultan, who sold some of his ancestral land for the purpose. At one time there was a large Armenian community in the city, and the British welcomed it for its trading prowess, but by 2003 there were almost no Armenians left in the city--only two families, according to Kalpana and Schiffer (Madras: The Architectural Heritage, 2003).

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Inside, there's a quiet garden with a brick bell tower. The columns to the right support a veranda. From the trivia basket: the bells were cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in operation at 32 Whitechapel Road, London, for 250 years until closing in 2017. The same foundry cast the Liberty Bell.

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The veranda runs along one side of the prayer hall. The monument in the distance is to a woman benefactor.

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Mrs. Lemmbruggen was born in 1778 at Surat, married a Dutch factor, and left 40,000 rupees to the Armenian poor in Calcutta, where she has a monument in the Church of St. Nazareth.

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The prayer hall, emptied for a bit of maintenance.


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