Let’s travel back into 1870s’ Lucknow….Armed British solidiers are parading Hazratganj to avert a repeat of 1857. But a group of Roman Catholic soldiers could be seen offering their morning prayers in the Cantonment church before marching for duty--their backs straight, eyes set on the Bible and their muskets and blunderbusses kept upright in the special church furniture… ready for any eventuality.
Well, that’s 150-year-old St Paul’s Church, now housed in St Paul’s School in the state capital.
Built in 1862 for the Roman Catholic Soldiers, the church had a special provision for soldiers to keep their muskets (a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun) erect besides them during divine services.
The old furniture still could seat 450 people at a time. “The priest-in-charge of this church used to be a military chaplain till 1960. He had to travel with the troops wherever they were stationed. The practice of armed forces carrying weapons inside was discontinued after the independence,” says Fr Paul Rodrigues, the Parish Priest of St Paul Church and confirms that it is one of the oldest churches of Lucknow.
Constructed in a year’s time, Fr William Gleeson, a foreign missionary got it built with the financial assistance from the British government. Bishop Anastasius Hartmann OFM Cap, Vicar Apostolic of Patna, solemnly blessed the church on May 10, 1862.
The records suggest that to keep the soldiers occupied during their time of leisure, the chaplain, Fr Victor built a library for them in 1875 which in the course of time gradually enlarged and turned into a Temperance Hall. Finally from 1922 onwards, it was used as the Priest’s house. Since the seminary was not built at that time, it also accommodated the Seminarians from 1945 onwards.
Talking about the architectural beauty of this church, Bishop Mathias says: “It is a plain single story church built in the Neo-Gothic style designed by Major Crommelin, rural engineer. In its construction it employed long lancet windows, corner buttresses and drip-course detailing the ornamentation on its brick and stucco frame.”
He says, “It has a uniquely built wooden t russed roof supported by delicately decorated wooden brackets resting on fluted octagonal-shaped brick piers. The Grotto near the church was built in 1946. Fr Fidelis Mary OFM Cap erected the Grotto from the contribution of the parishioners of St Paul’s Church and a few external benefactors.
Since this parish has a floating population, the numbers of parishioners fluctuates. Presently, it has 365 parishioners including military personnel and civilians. From 1862 till now there have been 51 priestsin-charges besides Assistant Catholic Chaplains / Assistant Parish Priests, says Fr Paul Rodrigues.