Soon after the grand sesquicentennial celebrations of the All Saints Church, a classic example of Gothic architecture in Trimulgherry entrenchment of Secunderabad cantonment, the devout were caught in a dilemma.
The church building, having passed through 150 Christmas and New Year seasons, was causing concern. Cracks developed in the rain-soaked tiled main and side roofs, disturbing the teak rafters that were supporting it. Turrets, too, developed cracks and lime plaster got chipped off from the walls while the embellishments were in bad shape. The pinkish Anglican hue, hallmark of the church, was on the verge of fading away.
The precarious condition of the structure made the devout huddle into series of meetings. There were two options before them --, the easier one being pulling it down and building a new one or opt for restoration, a long-drawn painstaking job. “The pros and cons were debated for days. The majority favoured restoration despite difficulties as it would mean bringing back the old glory, maintaining identity and ensure historic continuity of the church”, said Frederic Michael, honorary secretary of the Pastorate Committee.
If the choice was for a new building, it would have been a permanent loss of a landmark full of stately columns and majestic arches and more importantly the spiritual solace that was assured with church’s location in the serene, green surroundings of the Cantonment. It is not faraway from a military quarter ‘The Chateau’ where Sir Winston Churchill believed to have stayed as a British Army recruit. But nobody could confirm if he had ever visited this church.
Built in 1860 exclusively for the British Army personnel and consecrated by Bishop Gill, the church has a long history. A typical Garrison Church, it was presided by Army Chaplains before the baton was passed on to the Church of South India in 1947 and the services now are in English and Tamil. It had won the INTACH’s heritage award in 2002.
A technical committee was constituted with Uttam Nathaniel Isaac, a civil engineer, as senior consultant. After a search, the committee zeroed in on APTSORBH (Agency for Providing Traditional Solutions and Restoration of Built Heritage), a Tamil Nadu-based firm that earned a name in restoring old buildings including the St. Mary’s Church.
It was a gigantic task, recalls Mr. Isaac. The list of works included re-laying of the side- roofs, replacement of entire gutter on the main roof, replacement of termite eaten rafters, the entire external plastering, repairs and polishing of the doors including the imposing 25-ft high main door fixing of glass on windows.
P. S. Rajan of APTSORBH detailed the process adopted in restoration. “We had to remove the loose and flaked plaster up to masonry core and then give a base coat of herbal additives to prepare it to receive the fresh lime plaster. Finishing of the surface was with traditionally made fine lime and a combination of additives. These include like aloevera, euphrobia, indigafera- tinctoria, gymnea sylvestal, egg and jaggery grounded in a power driven mortar and keeping it in a sump for a fortnight for fermentation. This mix was applied over the lime plastered surface,” he explained.
Eighteen months of highly skilled and hard work later, the church literally looks like rising from the ashes, resplendent in the pinkish glow with a milky white border. In the process, the face of King George VI above the main door that almost got hidden behind a layer of dust has reappeared again to greet the visitors. Stained glass window with rich colouring showing Jesus carrying the cross forming the altar piece, another feature, looks attractive.
The restoration work is commendable considering the fact that many of the heritage buildings in the twin cities are in a state of utter neglect and disrepair.