Unseen Mumbai: Afghan Church
Stained glass panels, Minton tiles, intricate ironwork, and a 158-year-old legacy lies steeped in history inside Colaba’s finest Neo Gothic landmark
It could make for an extract straight out of an 18th century seafarer’s diary. The spire of an imposing church in the southernmost tip of the island, built as a memorial for soldiers who lost their lives in the First Afghan War, greets ships as they enter the waters of Bombay’s natural harbour.
Architect Henry Conybeare was the first to use Kurla stone and basalt for the exterior, and Porbander stone for the interior piers and arches.
In the early 1800s, Rev Philip Anderson, the Pastor of Colaba, set up a small structure that served as a makeshift church, which was destroyed. By then, the First Afghan War (1838-43) was underway. Britain won the war but thousands of Indians and Britons died. Rev Anderson approached the Company for a memorial to be built in their honour. Visionaries like Bartle Frere, the private secretary to the Governor of Bombay in the 1840s, and architect and engineer Henry Conybeare sped up plans to construct the Afghan Church. Anderson acquired the present plot, with one condition from the Company — that the tower or spire should stand out as a landmark and be built at a height of 210 feet. The original lease specified that the land west of the church was to always remain open, enabling ships approaching Bombay an unobstructed view of the spire.
Built with the help of private contributions, and opened in 1858, the Minton tiles (imported from Britain), stunning stained glass panels and marble inlay work wows the visitor till date. Each square foot of its 158-year-old interiors have a tale to tell.
RC CHURCH: Set up in 1853, St Joseph's was the first church for stationed British military (Roman Catholics) in the cantonment, and is popularly known as 'RC Church' The original structure, church bell and grotto is intact. Look out for two flags perched near the entrance, belonging to the Bombay Battalion, with the Queen's Colours that dates back to 1893.
AT: Near Colaba Bus Depot, Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg.
Bombay Baptist Church: The Bombay Baptist Church (BBC) is a church nestled within a robust, granite structure in the Neoclassical and Saracenic mould. Established in 1911 by Sir Henry Procter, the original church was set up in Byculla in1867, before it eventually settled in the present structure. The parish is a mix of Europeans, Africans and Asians.
AT: Opposite Colaba Post Office Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg
MUMBAI PORT TRUST GARDEN: Also known as Sagar Upvan, this botanical space is a haven for space-seekers, joggers and green thumbs. With a seafronting vantage location, it’s a treasure trove for banyan and peepal trees, includes a greenhouse and also has a jogging track. If you’re lucky, you will spot a few migratory birds.
AT: Off Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg, Colaba
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