Fiona Fernandez: The other museums
Bombay's historic churches offer fascinating insight into the city's growth, and act as museums in their own right that ought to be converted into experiential visits
St Thomas Cathedral, Fort, which celebrates its 300th anniversary
Each time belief, curiosity or work has led us to enter one of the city's many historic churches - big or small - we've been awestruck by what lay inside. Be it the pipe organ inside the Wesley Methodist Church in Colaba, the remarkably sturdy wooden cross at Bandra's St Andrew's or the frescoes that grace Holy Name Cathedral. While the story behind how the neoclassical pillars of Byculla's Christ Church reached its final home intrigued us, St John the Baptist Church's recreated pulpit left us spellbound.
And so, recently, as we followed the Reverend Avinash Rangayya all the way to the very top of the bell tower of the 300 year-old St Thomas Cathedral in Fort for a vantage, incomparable view of SoBo, the same thought crossed our mind. After all, we had just wound up an hour-long crash course in history that was packed in its sculpted plaques, marbled memorials, pillars, walls and floors. The cathedral was a telling chronicle that displayed the timeline of a city - from its early days as a trading port, to its establishment as a premier city of the Empire. There were stories that sang from its solid stone walls - of gallantry and pomp, of concern and benevolence, and of personalities - both British and Indian - who lived and died either on the battlefield or perished due to unfortunate 'tropical' diseases. And all of these treasures, may we add, were in mint condition.
As if reading our mind, the parishioners who are busy planning its tercentenary celebrations along with the Reverend, dropped the idea that we have been spelling out in this column for years together. They were keen to throw open the doors of the structure to the public to celebrate its integral link with Bombay. Of the several plans they were working on, the one that made us smile was the idea to host regular guided walks inside the church. "We want our citizens and the public in general to understand the connect that this landmark has with the evolution of the city," he told us, with immense pride. It made us do a little mental jig, despite the fact that we had to take leave in a hurry soon after, to combat a looming deadline back at the office.
Years ago, when we had visited Afghan Church, its stained glass panels, arguably one of the finest displays in the city, if not the country, as a few city historians believe, we recall sharing the same concern with the then pastor there. Lack of funds and support to drive the idea was a stumbling block to open up the doors, he had admitted to us. But late last year, after Carnatic artiste TM Krishna performed a memorable concert singing Tamil sufi songs inside the historic British-era church, we felt that another challenge had been overcome.
We'd love to see more churches follow suit, and give Bombaywallahs and tourists a chance to marvel at the invaluable chronicles, memoirs and footnotes that lie etched within their interiors and facades. After all, whoever said that history had to be confined to textbooks and tomes?
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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