BENGALURU: As you pass through a busy Cubbon Road, opposite Manekshaw Parade Grounds, stands a brick red-coloured building. Here’s where you’ll find the magnificent pipe organ made in 1880, a stunning stained glass behind the altar and a pulpit with velvet cushions with fine design.
The St Andrew’s Church, which will be celebrating its 152nd anniversary on November 27, is built in Gothic architecture. It has a tall belfry and chiming clocks (installed in 1893) at the apex of its tower. The foundation stone for the church was laid on November 22, 1864. One of the oldest churches in the city, it gets its name from the patron saint of Scotland, St Andrew. Arun Prasad, a historian and researcher, says, “This church opened to cater to Scottish soldiers and army officers.”
According to Stanley R Chellapa’s article, which he wrote for its 125th anniversary, the early worshippers were mostly 19th century Scottish regiment soldiers and a few Scot civilians who followed the Presbyterian faith. The current presbyter-in-charge is Rec Jessie Ranjan.
The construction of the church was completed in 1866 with an overall expenditure of about `45,000, including the cost of the land. Arun Prasad says, “It was consecrated in 1867 in memory of Mary Elizabeth McGoun. She was the wife of Colonel Thomas McGoun, who served as a military officer in Madras infantry, and she passed away in 1867.”
RC Dobbs, the then executive engineer, and Richard Sankey, the then chief engineer, designed the building. Prasad adds that it was chosen as one of the landmarks during the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India in 1907. The project aimed to measure the entire Indian subcontinent with scientific precision. “This survey found that Mt Everest is the highest peak in the world,” says Prasad.
Years and harsh weather have affected the building. Its website says: “The foundation of the bell tower has slowly sunk causing a gentle incline of the building cracking the surface of the front portion of the church.” But it was restored, the website adds, by the Church Renovation Implementation Committee constituted by the Bishop, with the technical advice of professors of Structural Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science.
“The pipe organ, brought from England in 1881, had stopped functioning and was restored in 2009,” says Arun Prasad.
It opened as St Andrew’s Kirk, kirk is Scottish for church. Since the services were conducted in English, educated Indians also gradually started worshipping at this church.
Stanley’s article says the congregation was mostly regiment soldiers and officers who would march around the church every Sunday before occupying the central pews in an orderly way.
Arun Prasad says, “The soldiers would arrive in their colourful kilts, with their skirling bagpipes. The soldiers were allowed their traditional kilts, exempted from British Army dress code. They were called ‘kiltie soldiers’.” Once at the church, each would place their gun in the gun rack provided for them at the entrance and then enter church.
On February 1, 1959, the church was merged with the Church of South India. According to Stanley, Bishop Sargent of Mysore visited the Kirk Session in December 1956 and had spoken to the members regarding the merger of the church. Eventually St Andrew’s Church joined CSI in September 1959. Rev P J Child, the presbyter – then known as the ‘moderator’ of the church – was in charge of the congregation.
Subsequently, during the tenure of Rev RW Rentoul in 1963, the first Pastorate Committee was constituted. Thus the administrative committee of the church, until then known as the ‘Kirk Session Of St Andrew’s Church’, was renamed as the ‘Pastorate Committee Of St Andrew’s Church’, and the church became one of the churches of the Karnataka Central Diocese with Bishop as the head of administration.
Stanley’s article credits Rev Robert W Rentoul, the presbyter-in-charge from November 1963, with “shaping the destiny of the church” for nearly a quarter of a century. This was when worship started to be done in Kannada and English.