Friday, 3 December 2010

Skinner's Church: St. James' Church

Location - Kashmere Gate -Delhi 6 (click here for the map location)

Co-ordinates - N28 39.930 E77 13.861

Closest Metro Station - Kashmere Gate (Yellow Line)

Landmark - Near ISBT Kashmere Gate

I first read about this in 'City of Djinns', the book I come to love more and more as I see more of Delhi. Dalrymple gives extensive coverage to a man called William Fraser, a Scot who came to the then Company headquarters of Calcutta as a student of the orient seeking knowledge and turned into a native guerilla warfare leader. As the deputy resident stationed in Delhi, his duties included stamping out the menace of the Mahrattas. He took to the task and the city so well, he never left. Dalrymple ends Fraser's story with his murder and then the burial in St. James Church near Kashmere Gate. Ever since, I wanted to see Fraser's grave.

Adding to the appeal of the church was James Skinner, the man who ordered the church made. James Skinner was what the British referred to as half caste (Anglo Indian) and was therefore switching allegiance because neither parties identified him as their own. Only Fraser, himself a lover of the orient and a maverick appreciated Skinner. The two were brothers in arms. Skinner survives to this day as the founder of Skinner Horse.

St. James from the entry gate on Madrasa Road
St. James has an interesting history. Skinner was lying wounded on the battlefield when he decided he would make a church to honour god if he survived. And he did. That is both survived and had the church built. The construciton was started in 1826 and completed in 1836. Built in Renaissance style to a cruciform plan (the floor plan is shaped like a cross), it has porches on 3 sides and 2 stained glass windows (presumably original Belgian) towards the altar side. The roof has an octagonal dome, right over the crossing (the point where the arms of the cruciform intersect).

The front porch with the portico.
Close up of the dome.
Stained glass windows near the altar (East side)
The church has extensive grounds with well maintained gardens and is still used as a place of worship. The grounds have some beautiful trees and a graveyard. Towards the north of the graveyard is a special section, cordoned off by a fence; dedicated to the graves of the Skinner family. Holding about 15 graves, small and big, plain and elaborate, the only Skinner I could not find here was Colonel James Skinner himself.

At the West edge of the grounds, as far as possible from the church building while still staying in the grounds, are 2 monuments. One of them, an upright memorial cross, commemorates christian killings in Delhi during the 1857 mutiny. The other, a rectangular, slightly raised platform holds the remains of William Fraser, the man whose grave most inspired me to visit St. James.

One of the fancy Skinner graves towards the North.
The raised rectangular plinth in the foreground is Fraser's grave.
Fraser's tombstone.
In a city otherwise full of ancient, unkempt ruins, St. James gives an almost modern feeling. A crisp, painted building, its less than 200 years of existence and European architecture feel like today's, which is perhaps fitting for it lends an air of antiquity to all the previous rulers of Delhi.

1 comment:

  1. looks quite nice...Now I want to visit it too