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Marking past in the present

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St. Mark’s Cathedral on M.G. Road is a 206-year-old monument that is a picture of architectural elegance, It also speaks of a past when peaceful co-existence of different religious practises was a natural way of life

Stands in historical timeSt. Mark’s Cathedral occupies a tall place in the cityscapePhoto: Murali Kumar k.
Stands in historical timeSt. Mark’s Cathedral occupies a tall place in the cityscapePhoto: Murali Kumar k.

Nestled in the heart of the Garden city is one of the most remarkable monuments that pays tribute to Bangalore’s undying spirit – St. Mark’s Cathedral. Founded in 1808 and completed in 1812, the 206-year-old imperial structure, situated at the prime location of Mahatma Gandhi Road, has a history that plays a significant role in the shaping of the city.

Named after St. Mark, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ and author of the Gospel of St. Mark, the church is testament to the rich heritage that the British mission left to Bangalore.

Consecrated by the Bishop of Calcutta in 1816, the beautiful colonial structure with a graceful dome over a semicircular chancel did not always look like it does today. The structure was initially built between the Fort of Bangalore and the Baird Barracks. It was barely able to accommodate 450 soldiers at that time and was designed like a matchbox structure. Growing to a congregation of over 2000 worshippers in a few years, the need for enlargement soon became a necessity. While the Holy Trinity Church and East Parade Church came up to accommodate the swelling numbers, St. Mark’s Cathedral continued to expand on its own scale.

A massive part of the blossoming British Cantonment, St. Mark’s Cathedral pioneered the establishment of the Bishop Cotton School and was chiefly responsible for the stabilisation and strengthening of the education system in the city.

In 1905, Bangalore became the first city in India to get electricity and on September 9, 1908, which marked its centenary year, St. Mark’s Church witnessed the installation and inauguration of electric lights for the public worship.

On the midnight of February 17, 1923, a serious fire destroyed the interiors of the church following which a large section of the building collapsed. The church was renovated and reopened in 1937 and the structure modified to look as it does today.

Along with its renovation came the shift in its congregation. What began as a church for the garrison later saw elite groups of Indians thronging it. Soon after Independence, local residents started using it and the church was made a part of Church of South India – a union of Anglican and Protestant churches of South India.

The two-manual pipe organ, encased in Burma Teakwood was installed in 1928. Used even today in the Sunday services, the depth and balance of its tonal qualities makes the organ a valuable part of the Church’s legacy. The most notable features of the Cathedral are the Roman archers along the walls. With external bells, elaborate woodwork and ornate carvings coupled with majestically done ceilings and domes, the imperial structure is also famous for its stained glass work, the most notable of which is one depicting the Holy Communion at one end of the church. Adding to its grandeur are magnificent pillars supporting the structure surrounded by memorial tablets.

Beginning with Rev. W. Thomas in 1812 to the present Presbyter-in-charge Rev. D. Moses Jayakumar, the cathedral has seen a rich transformation in its structure as well as the people visiting it. But it has endured the test of time and remained a lasting landmark in the cityscape.

Reverend Prem Mitra, the assistant presbyter, says that being part of such a historic church is a great privilege. With Easter round the corner, the pastor says: “At a time when worship forms are changing and music is evolving, the church upholds the traditions of old. Times are changing but the church stands for something that is still part of our city’s legacy.”

“For the environmentalist in me, the church is also one of the most important lung spaces in the heart of the city,” he adds referring to the wide canopy of trees in the compound.

The magnificent edifice at No. 1 M. G. Road continues to stir hearts and draw people to it, making it a lasting part of Bangalore’s wonder.

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