Known as the Sangam City, Allahabad is also home to some richly ornate and historically significant churches
Rarely will you find Allahabad quoted on the same lines as Canterbury. The two cities are divided by more than just 7,200 kilometres of land, sea and civilization, if not history. Their most apparent link today, however, could be their equation as pilgrimage sites for Hindus and Christians respectively.
But as one ambles in through the lush gardens of the All Saints Cathedral in central Allahabad, the likeness with Canterbury starts to show, one door at a time.
The Patthar Girja (Church of stones) as the All Saints Cathedral is popular here, is the most distinct figure of colonial architecture in the city. Its 240 feet by 56 feet Anglo-Gothic stone mass, with a 130 feet by 40 feet nave, resembles most the east end of Canterbury Cathedral in England which is the site of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the symbolic leader of the global Anglican Communion.
The Canterbury cathedral was founded in 597 A.D. but was completely rebuilt in 1070-77 A.D. Following a fire in 1174 A.D., its east end was enlarged and rebuilt in the present Gothic style.
That style was used elaborately by eminent architect Sir William Emerson, famous for designing the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, when he crafted the Patthar Girja in 1871. The stained-glass murals, resembling those in Fatehpur Sikri, and intricate designs on the marble altar have retained their originality even today. The Bishop's throne is engraved in the style of the Lahore School of Art.
The Girja is also known for housing plaques, which depict the deaths of British nationals during the colonial era. A passionate author has gone as far as comparing it to a peaceful coasting ship.
However, the Patthar Girja is not an aberration to the Hindu heritage of Sangam City. Besides the first church which was built inside the Allahabad Fort, the city has at least 14 other churches that pay tribute to colonial, neo-colonial, Indian, Roman, Greek and modern architectural designs.
The oldest one, built around 1840, the Holy Trinity Church is another sample of Gothic sculpture. It stands on eight pillars, each measuring 125 feet by 70 feet. For the scholar, the church has much historical value as it stores memorials from the Gwalior campaign (1843) and the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. But for the common eye, its brick and stone structure can be as thought provoking.
A similar gothic style is noticeable in the half moon bordered clock tower of St. Joseph's Church (1884). Its red brick and stone structure also showcases Roman influence.
The Medhodist Church, or Lal Girja due to its distinct red brick figure, presents a contrasting style. With stone pillars and a tinned roof structured on the Indo-Roman style, it can be easily identified in any collage. The oval window on its east wall is so finely placed that it allows the first rays of the sun to fall directly on the prayer spot. Its tiles are similar to the ones in St. John’s Church, and are unique in a sense that they present a curious blend of gothic and colonial art.
The Indo-Roman style is also used in St. Patrick’s Church, which is the only one here whose hall is built in a north-south direction; its entry is from the south. Most other churches are built in the east-west direction.
Stone carvings in Urdu and Hindi fonts welcome you to St. Paul's Church. Its eight pillars appear attentive like a formation of erect bananas. Constructed in 1856, it served as a school till 1881, when it was granted the status of a church by England. It has a high roof of finely laid stone slabs, with a tin shed and wooden pillars under an iron net. On the east end of the hall, a bell made of German silver hangs from the roof.
The Pentecostal Church, however, welcomes you differently. A wooden portico, whose upper half is hidden, strikes you at the entrance. If you stare long enough, you could even estimate its original shape. This church, built of stone and red bricks in 1840, was the first to be built on rented property. But today, the compound is scattered with encroached homes, leaving behind only a legacy of architectural finesse.
Nevertheless, such diverse architecture can definitely not go unnoticed. The Allahabad Museum, one of the four national museums in the country, has taken note and during Christmas last year, it hosted a 12-day photo exhibition on the ‘Churches of Allahabad’.
“It was to highlight the architectural vividness of the structures. And also to draw the audience’s attention to the intricate designs and architectural beauty within the city,” says Rajesh Purohit, the Director of Allahabad Museum.