Kolkata, West Bengal
St. Paul’s Cathedral in Kolkata is the largest Anglican church in India and among the largest in Asia. Located in what was for over a century the capital of British India, St. Paul’s was of particular religious and political importance throughout much of the British colonial era. It is part of a cluster of the city’s major sites, including a number of museums and the Victoria Memorial. It is among the most visited sites in the city.
The city of Kolkata was little more than a handful of fishing villages when the British East India Company purchased the territory from the Nawab of Bengal in 1698. Due to the ongoing conflict with the French in the region, Kolkata became increasingly fortified throughout the 18th century. This led to conflicts with the local Nawab, which led to the East India Company annexing the territory outright.
Over the course of the 19th century, the East India Company made Kolkata one of the most important centers of trade in India, making it their headquarters and ultimately establishing it as the capital of their colonial territories. In 1858, when the British Empire annexed India outright as a colonial territory, Kolkata became the colonial capital which remained for over half a century.
By the time the East India Company had reached the height of its power and influence in the early 19th century, the Church of England had become a prominent institution in India. To serve the large Anglican expat community that had grown up in Kolkata, and in recognition of the colony’s political importance, a new cathedral was constructed in the heart of the city. Completed in 1847, it was one of the largest non-Catholic churches in the world outside of Europe.
The cathedral became the seat of one of the most important Anglican diocese in the Far East, as well as one of the most famous symbols of the city. It stood for exactly one hundred years before the end of British colonial rule in India in 1947. Now part of the Church of North India, it is still an important institution in the Anglican communion, and one of the most important bishoprics in Asia.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is among the finest Anglican cathedrals outside of England. One of the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the Far East, this gleaming white edifice is one of Kolkata’s defining landmarks. The traditional cross layout is crowned with an immense bell tower over the transept. The current tower, modeled after one at Westminster Abbey in London, replaced an earlier tower that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1934.
The cathedral interior is architecturally unusual, with traditional appointments and stained glass windows, but with a modern, arced ceiling which is oddly out of place. This feature of the cathedral, with an exposed structure, was designed to support the installation of celing fans. Despite this practical application, it definitely takes away from the aesthetics of the place, which is otherwise impressive.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is located at the southeast corner of Maidan park in the city center of Kolkata, approximately 700 miles southeast of New Delhi. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: http://westbengaltourism.gov.in/kolkata (official tourism website of Kolkata).
The city of Kolkata has a number of sites of Christian interest, but hands down the city’s star was Mother Teresa, who worked here among the poor of the city for decades. She is buried at the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity.