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Mumbai: History lives on in stained glass splendour

Updated on: 29 February,2024 07:08 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Hemal Ashar |

The power of the divine and design come together in newly restored Afghan War Memorial Church at Colaba

Mumbai: History lives on in stained glass splendour

These windows have soul; (right) A breathtaking inside view. Pics/Shadab Khan

Key Highlights

  1. 165-year Afghan War Memorial Church in Navy Nagar, Colaba, is restored and raring to go
  2. World Monuments Fund India has led the effort for restoration of the Church
  3. The restoration started in March 2022, it was said at guided tour of newly-restored Church

The 165-year Afghan War Memorial Church in Navy Nagar, Colaba, is restored and raring to go.  The World Monuments Fund India (WMFI) has led the effort for restoration of the Church, to be opened to the public on March 4. The restoration started in March 2022, it was said at a guided tour of the newly-restored Church on Wednesday morning, which was heavy with some hurrahs and much history.

To give the tour some historical context, this Church of St John the Evangelist is commonly known as the Afghan Church, and is an Anglican structure. Designed in the Gothic architecture style, it is designated as a Grade I heritage structure and was constructed between 1847 and 1858.  

Experts cited that the Church’s intrinsic value lies in its memorial tablets and emblematic stained-glass windows. It was constructed using locally available buff-coloured basalt and limestone; the gothic arches of the doorway and the spire showcase classic Gothic design.

Amita Baig, executive director, WMFI said, “The restoration was executed without interrupting the church services during the last two years.”

Sangita Jindal, WMFI Board member, said, “Recognizing the Afghan Church’s architectural brilliance and its role as a poignant war memorial is crucial on a national scale.”

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The Afghan Church Pastorate Committee spokesperson said, “This house of God urgently needed renovation and repairs. There were huge challenges but God opened a window and enabled successful restoration.”

The sunlight streamed through its magnificent windows at the tour on Wednesday as Rashmi Poddar, director WMFI Association board, stated at the site, “this is a beacon of historicity. We have always been passionate about monuments. I hope it will be maintained.”

Kirtida Unwalla, lead conservation architect claimed that the restoration was, “like a dream come true for me.” Giving credit to her team and all involved, Unwalla added, “I was the orchestra conductor. It was the choir/chorus that played [did the work]. Even a labourer who picks up the dust here is skilled.”

Unwalla pointed to a number of plaques in the Church, for “soldiers killed in two Afghan wars”.

The experts all claimed it was seamless teamwork and a vision for restoration with stability. “The sense of fulfilment is huge,” they said as the morning turned to early afternoon.

There has been a lot of work undertaken, but to highlight only some: over the last 100 years, ad hoc repairs to the immense roof timbers caused extensive damage. This has now been resolved by replacing wall plates and rafters. There has been a restoration of the Bell Tower and Spire. The Bell Tower was once a beacon for ships coming into port.  It was first installed at the Church in 1865 and stands at 210 feet in height. This restoration was undertaken by employing uniquely designed scaffolding for work at heights. Then the altar, a medieval Gothic masterpiece was restored. It features a Porbunder limestone altar wall with marble memorial plaques. Now, restored, the Navy Nagar landmark building’s future plans include playing host to cultural events like public concerts, and art shows and community initiatives like health camps. The WMFI restoration was in collaboration with the Afghan Church’s Pastorate Committee & Custodian with funding support from Citi.

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