A century-old church, owing its legacy to the British tea planters in Old Munnar, is a place where visitors from Britain, who are the third or fourth generation descendants of the planters, arrive to find the life their ancestors led in a far away land.
The present CSI church, built in 1910, is well preserved. It was constructed using rough hewn granites in Gothic style. The stained glasses on the sides of the church depict the saints and Biblical characters. It has a number of memorial brass plaques with the names of prominent planters inscribed on them.
One plaque reads, “In memory of Lee William Alexander, who worshiped here till Ju1y 1925, died on January 4, 1944.” Some others read, “In memory of Marjorie Innes”; “Archibald Williams”, and so on.
The history of the church is linked to the missionaries who arrived here. The first to be buried was young Ilianor Knight, wife of Henry Knight, supposedly a missionary, and who is believed to have died of malaria in 1899. The church was built in memory of her in front of a small hill where she was buried, later making it an exclusive cemetery for British planters. Before the church was constructed, there was a cemetery at the back of the present structure where many Britishers were laid to rest. History records that the work of the church was completed and dedicated on April 16, 1911. An in-house publication of Tata-Finlay Ltd “Hundred Years of Tea Planting,” says that the church provided refuge for many during the heavy floods in Munnar in 1924. It was the first place people reached for refuge as it is on a hill and near the then main town.
Rev. J. Mithran, the present vicar of the church, said that young people from Britain come to Munnar only to visit the church. A few tombs have the names of persons buried there written on them, and their descendants come with details of those buried there.
“It is part of Munnar’s history and attracts tourists, especially foreigners and the church is maintained well”, said Riju Varghese, a former staffer of the church.
As one courses through the history of Munnar, where the Britishers introduced the rope way, railway and even the first motor bike, one finds many such monuments to its glorious past.