The island city of Mumbai (previously called as Bombay) has over hundred churches safeguarding the strong religious culture and history of our society. Some churches were raised during the Portuguese era between sixteenth and seventeenth century. And when the Britishers took over from the Portuguese in the later half of seventeenth century, a number of churches were commissioned during their rule. With an increasing english speaking population in the city, the need to have a place of worship was felt by the rulers. This lead to the commissioning of Saint Thomas Cathedral at Fort, Mumbai.
Saint Thomas Cathedral is one of the oldest churches in the city. The Anglican church was consecrated in the year 1718 on the Christmas Day. As recorded in history, the foundation stone for Saint Thomas Cathedral was laid way back in 1676 by the governor of Bombay, Gerald Aungier. After initial commencement of building work, the construction work stopped for thirty three years due to the governors demise. Later, Mr. Richard Cobbee, Chaplain to the East India Company took charge of the project and led to its completion.
The church was declared a Cathedral in 1837 coinciding with the appointment of the first bishop of Bombay, Thomas Carr. The structure has gone through several architectural modifications since its inception. Like many other historic sites in the city, the upkeep of the church was neglected and many of the original creations of the site were left to ruin. Sadly post independence, the city failed to look after important properties of inheritance. But in the recent times adequate measures have been taken towards preservation and restoration of our rich legacy. The Royal Opera House in Mumbai is another case of excellence in restoration of a project. Likewise, the heritage conservation committee of Mumbai undertook the task to restore this marvel structure and successfully managed to bring back its lost glory. Saint Thomas Cathedral was officially rededicated for the divine services in 2016.
The cathedral was marked as ‘Zero Point’ of colonial bombay – ‘The City Centre. From the Zero Point, distances along all major roads were measured in Miles and out of the sixteen milestones which were commissioned in 1817, ten have been found at their original location.
From the exterior, Saint Thomas Cathedral wears a white facade and has a clock tower. There is a beautiful circular fountain inside the church building which was designed by Sir Gilbert Scott. Surrounded by a garden, the fountain has a cross on top and the entire fountain is light up in the evenings for visitors.
The interiors of gothic style structure are delicately restored with plaster of paris, polished brass, stained glass, arched windows, and memorials dedicated to the late British parishioners. The memorials convey yesteryear stories of prominent personalities who left their stamp in Mumbai’s history. Carved marble and stone sculptures from the British era and East India company rule can be seen. The memorials are of lieutenants, admirals, commanders and officers from the army and naval services during the reign of the British rule. The marble plaques were erected by wifes, families and friends in remembrance of their loved ones.
To the left of the main altar is a stained glass window showcasing Saint Thomas. He is said to be responsible for spreading Christianity in this part of the world hence the church is named after him.
The main altar windows were designed by Charles Eamer Kempe, a Victorian designer in the eighteen hundreds.
A life size memorial of Reverend Thomas Carr, the first Bishop of Bombay lies to the right of the main altar.
The church received ‘Urban Heritage’ Award in 2003 by UNESCO.
I attended a morning mass on 23rd of December and the iconic church is celebrating THREE HUNDRED YEARS of completion on the 25th of December 2018.
Some more pictures taken during my visit to the Cathedral:
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai