Heritage Walk: The Garrison Church, Chennai

This year, as part of the Madras Week celebrations, a series of Heritage Walks were organised all over the city. Organised by different individuals and organisations like INTACH, the walks covered some interesting routes like 'Heritage Walk of Madras Christian College', 'Railway Buildings of Perambur', 'Fort St. George', 'Temples of Madras'. The spouse and I went for the Heritage Walk at St. Thomas Mount on 22nd Aug - considered as the day when Madras was founded.

For those of you who do not know, St. Thomas Mount in Chennai, is a small hill near the Chennai airport. It derives its name from St. Thomas, the apostle of Christ, who is believed to have been martyred here. Organised by Vincent D'Souza and Richard O'Connor, the heritage walk started at the St. Thomas Garrison Church and ended at the historic St. Thomas Mount Church on top of the hill.

To be honest, my going for this heritage walk was a matter of chance. When the spouse first mentioned it, I did not pay attention. When he mentioned it again on Friday night, it finally registered. Seeing a golden blog opportunity, I jumped at it. When I sat down to write it though, I realised that just one post would not suffice. There was so much to write that I decided to write it as a series of posts. The first one is about the Garrison Church.

6AM on Sunday saw a bleary eyed me and spouse at the gates of the Garrison Church. We were the first to arrive and were apprehensive that the walk had been canceled due to rains the night before. A while later people started arriving and we were set to go.

Our first stop was the Garrison Church itself. Situated just off the GST road on the way to the airport, this church is 175 years old. It being a Sunday, some of the regular church goers had arrived to offer prayers and were kind enough to share the history of the church. In fact, one of the ladies present had done her M.Phil thesis on the Garrison Church. What a stroke of luck!

Till the 70s, the church had a three storey spire. It had to be lowered to make way for the air corridor due to the construction of the Meenambakkam airport. Here is a picture of the church:



Inside the church, there were many interesting artifacts. Three of these caught my attention. The first was this memorial tablet:

This was put up in memory of one Lt. Charles Wade Crump who died in September 1857, aged 32, fighting under General Havelock at the 'Relief of Lucknow'. It was put up by his 'Brother Officers' to salute his bravery. Very nice and noble indeed. But I'm sure you will understand that my sympathies are for the Indian side in the war.

The second was a painting over the alter. Of Doubting Thomas. You might have used the term many times to express disbelief. It has its origins in a Biblical anecdote, that Thomas, one of the disciples of Christ, refused to believe in Christ's resurrection and asked to feel his wounds before being convinced. St. Thomas being the patron saint of the Garrison Church, it was but natural to have this painting hanging over the alter. Here is the only photograph I took of it:

The last was the Baptismal Font. A baptismal font is an object that is used in the baptism ritual. Unfortunately I did not pay attention when its unique features were explained (probably busy capturing other Kodak moments!). I tried to supplement the gap with some net research. Unfortunately I could only find information about the Baptismal Font at St. Mary's Church in Fort. St. George. Here is a picture of the Baptismal Font at Garrison Church

A bit of trivia before I sign off on this one. The rolling greens beside the Garrison Church serves as a golf course today. We were told that it used to be a polo ground during British times and the place that is now the Chennai airport was the erstwhile golf course.

Seeing planes taking off and landing from the airport runway, it was difficult to imagine it as an idyllic setting where the sahibs and memsahibs whiled away their leisure time.....

This entry was posted in ,,. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Heritage Walk: The Garrison Church, Chennai

  1. It is indeed a marvellous feeling to see the heritage of our country and cities.
    Lovely post.

  2. This is a very nice post in a different flavor. I love travel essays, so I hope to see more from you.

  3. Quizzerix says:

    Very nicely written :)

  4. RGB says:

    Thanks for the insight. Enjoyed the virtual heritage walk to Garrison Church.

  5. "golden blog opportunity"

    ... Succinct! Waiting for the next installment :)

    "This was put up in memory of one Lt. Charles Wade Crump who died in September 1857, aged 32, fighting under General Havelock at the 'Relief of Lucknow'. It was put up by his 'Brother Officers' to salute his bravery. Very nice and noble indeed. But I'm sure you will understand that my sympathies are for the Indian side in the war."

    But then... the 'Brother Officers' of the soldiers on the Indian side may not have given credit where it was due.

    ... Looks like much of the info on the '71 war is lost forever... since files seem to have been 'misplaced'.

    So... in the mist of war... fake and undeserving heros have been created... successfully.

    P.S. Early Christianity apparently borrowed heavily from the Bhagavad Gita. Jesus was a Jew and an Arab (Asian). Europeans no doubt found it difficult to digest. Hence they have given him a complete makeover. From being referred to as 'Jesus Christ'... to sporting blonde hair... and blue eyes!

  6. Deepa says:

    @ Roshmi: War is all about taking sides. Heros or villains are decided based on which side of the war you are on. In any case, it is the loss of life and shedding of blood. Btw, which '71 war did you mean?

    I find it wonderful the way different religions, cultures and traditions have influenced each other. Wish it was happening more today when right wing fundamentalism of religions is causing so much upheaval and divide in society.

  7. radha says:

    Really nice. I have told my sis-in-law that the next time I come to Chennai, I have to go on a heritage walk, and not to Raasi Silks ( there, more because it is located next to the temple and not for the sarees!). This makes me more determined!

  8. Deepa says:

    Nice thought Radha. Although I cannot fault you or your sister-in-law for visiting Raasi. The saris are heavenly! During Madras week they had organised heritage walks in Mylapore also. So next year, plan a trip to Chennai around Aug 22nd and you'll be able to join the heritage walks!

  9. Yep... the '71 war.

    "I find it wonderful the way different religions, cultures and traditions have influenced each other."

    This would have been ideal. However... this has resulted in a lot of negativity... primarily due to the game of one-upmanship.

  10. Deepa says:

    @ Roshmi: Indeed it is sad that the fabric of our society is being threatened in this way. I like to think that maybe our blogging can help reduce tensions and promote a respect for diversity.

  11. paul says:

    Thanks for the Garrison Church.image I Love My church

  12. Mary says:

    Hi

    Loved reading about Garrison Church.
    Am now living in Bangalore and I miss going to the Garrison Church. I was a member there from the age of 16 and was confirmed there by Rev Varkey. We used to enjoy our youth fellowship there in 1977 onwards.

  13. Deepa says:

    Hi Mary and welcome to my blog. You're very lucky to have been a part of this church. In that sense you're an 'insider'. It would be great if you can share some interesting anecdotes / trivia about it.

  14. Mary says:

    Hi

    Loved reading about Garrison Church.
    Am now living in Bangalore and I miss going to the Garrison Church. I was a member there from the age of 16 and was confirmed there by Rev Varkey. We used to enjoy our youth fellowship there in 1977 onwards.

  15. Yep... the '71 war.

    "I find it wonderful the way different religions, cultures and traditions have influenced each other."

    This would have been ideal. However... this has resulted in a lot of negativity... primarily due to the game of one-upmanship.

  16. "golden blog opportunity"

    ... Succinct! Waiting for the next installment :)

    "This was put up in memory of one Lt. Charles Wade Crump who died in September 1857, aged 32, fighting under General Havelock at the 'Relief of Lucknow'. It was put up by his 'Brother Officers' to salute his bravery. Very nice and noble indeed. But I'm sure you will understand that my sympathies are for the Indian side in the war."

    But then... the 'Brother Officers' of the soldiers on the Indian side may not have given credit where it was due.

    ... Looks like much of the info on the '71 war is lost forever... since files seem to have been 'misplaced'.

    So... in the mist of war... fake and undeserving heros have been created... successfully.

    P.S. Early Christianity apparently borrowed heavily from the Bhagavad Gita. Jesus was a Jew and an Arab (Asian). Europeans no doubt found it difficult to digest. Hence they have given him a complete makeover. From being referred to as 'Jesus Christ'... to sporting blonde hair... and blue eyes!