The deserted gothic church of St. John the Evangelist now stands as a landmark of Mumbai's turbulent past.
What now stands as a deserted parish behind the Navy Nagar in South Bombay, the Anglican Church of St. John Evangelist once towered as the lighthouse for the cruising ships near the Mumbai harbour. The beautiful chapel is popularly known as the 'Afghan Church' for its unique backstory and distinct gothic architecture. A forgotten marvel, the church with its 60-meter-high spire has been domination the Mumbai coastline for 170 years now only charms the likes of history buffs and nirvana seekers.
The hidden gem of Mumbai's Southern tip
The Afghan Church should be a part of your SOBO checklist for its strategic location in Colaba and a fable that spins around the concept of power play, between the Russians and the British in the 19th century. The church was built as a tribute to the fallen cavalry of the First Anglo-Afghan War, attributing the peculiar name, born out of a conflict of what is referred to as the 'Great Game' in history. After several political schemes to depose the King of Kabul and a guerrilla war later, the English lost about 4,500 British and Indian troops, their hardest defeat till then.
Since most of the soldiers hailed from Mumbai, it was decided to build a memoir here to acknowledge their martyrdom. The foundation of this parish was set in the 1840s in honour of these frontline warriors. The church is a specimen of gothic architecture, designed by the English Civil Engish engineer Henry Conybeare. The cornerstone of this structure was laid by Sir George Russell Clerk, the then Governor of Bombay. The Church rose to its full glory in 1865.
The touch of perfection
While the imposing structure has been largely minted in local stone like basalt, marble and limestone, the floor tiles were imported from England. A whole host of designers and experts were onboarded to add a touch of perfection to this structure. A stained glass expert, William Wailes was brought on board to design the church's east and west window while architect William Butterfield, known for his iconic inputs in the buildings of England's Oxford, crafted its altarpiece and the Afghan War Memorial Mosaics.
The metal screen on the door near the front was the contribution of Mr. Higgins, one of the most popular metal workers in England Besides this, the bell tower with its eight bells, came from the Taylor Bellfoundry of England and are regarded as the best in western India. Just the dramatic spire of the Afghan Church is said to have cost about ₹5,65,000.
While the church now wears a deserted look, with no regular masses, the parental authority of the Indian Navy hosts weekly services. This one-of-a-kind destination in Mumbai surely deserves a larger footfall than just history and heritage enthusiasts.