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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

DDA to fund restoration of historic St James’ Church

Built in 1836, the structure is battling wear and tear due to water seepage; work to begin after monsoon.

delhi Updated: Jun 27, 2019 07:48 IST
Adrija Roychowdhury
Adrija Roychowdhury
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A Scottish mercenary fighter James Skinner started building the church in 1821. The church was consecrated 15 years later and the first bishop service was held in 1836.
A Scottish mercenary fighter James Skinner started building the church in 1821. The church was consecrated 15 years later and the first bishop service was held in 1836. (Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times)
         

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has promised funding for one of oldest churches in Delhi, the St. James’ at Kashmere Gate.

For the last two years, the church had been waiting for funds for a major conservation project.

“We received a formal confirmation from the DDA last week that the Delhi Urban Heritage Foundation headed by the lieutenant governor has approved the grants for the conservation of the church,” said Kamal Baluja, chairman of the church conservation committee. They had first reached out to the L-G for financial assistance in July 2017.

DDA vice chairman Tarun Kapoor confirmed the plan. “We will be funding the restoration of the church,” Kapoor said.

CONSERVATION PLAN

The current conservation plan is estimated to cost ₹3.5 crore. The church had carried out the first phase of restoration in 2017, when it used funds from the church reserves and contributions from members and few others. The restoration was carried out by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), which is also project consultant.

The main issue with the church’s structure is water seepage. “The main work carried out during the first phase was the consolidation of the foundation,” said Ajay Kumar, director of projects in INTACH. “However, rest of the structure remains to be restored. Seepage and wear and tear are major concerns that need to be addressed. It needs a new layer of plaster,” he said.

“This is not just repair. We need a complete overhaul. Any engineer will tell you that if not repaired now, this kind of damage can bring down the entire structure,” said Baluja. The church building was last restored in 1995 when the then L-G PK Dave, provided the major chunk of the required money.

HISTORIC STRUCTURE

A Scottish mercenary fighter James Skinner started building the church in 1821. The church was consecrated 15 years later and the first bishop service was held in 1836.

“Skinner is a very important figure in Indian history. He had a Hindu mother and a Scottish father and in that sense he belonged to both cultures,” said historian Swapna Liddle. Skinis also known to have repaired the Fakhrul Masjid nearby.

“He had been raised as a Muslim, and entered the Maratha army as a mercenary soldier,” wrote Liddle in her book ‘Chandni Chowk : The Mughal city of Delhi’. He was later forced out by the Marathas when war broke out with the East India Company.

Skinner then joined the British forces. Building the church was part of his attempt to fit into British society, which was largely spread out close to the Kashmere Gate in the 19th century. It was during the church’s consecration, in fact, that he and his three sons were confirmed in their Christian faith.

“What I like about St James’ is that very few additions have been made over the years. The fact that it has survived is something we need to celebrate,” said Liddle about the church, which is listed as grade 1 under the state heritage monuments.

“This is a historic church, not just for the community but also for Delhi,” said Reverend Prateek Pillai, the current Presbyter-in-charge of the church. “Skinner put around ₹95,000 to build this church, but after that the government and the civil society participated in taking care of it,” he added. The total cost of the building the church was around ₹2 lakh

The restoration work will begin after the monsoons and is expected to be completed in approximated 18 months.

“Now the DDA will guide us in terms of what documentation has to be done and what all MoUs have to be signed,” said Baluja.

First Published: Jun 27, 2019 04:36 IST

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