Mumbai Memoir 141- Exploring the ‘Church’ near Churchgate station in Mumbai.
Whenever I use to commute by train, I never use to see any church nor any gate near Churchgate- the first southern-most train station of Mumbai’s Western Railway service. On reading Dr. Vijaya Gupchup’s book named ‘St. Thomas Cathedral, Bombay- A witness to History’, a long-standing mystery finally got resolved in my mind. After the British East India Company established its roots in Mumbai (then Bombay) the British officers felt the need of having a church of their own to pray. Thus in 1676, in the honour of Saint Thomas the Apostle, the first foundation stone of St. Thomas Cathedral was laid. But due to scarcity of funds the church was ready and open for public on Christmas day in the year 1718. At the inauguration of this church, among all British invites there was just one Indian native invited named Rama Kamat- a wealthy businessman and Philanthropist of those times.
Today this church is the cathedral church of the Diocese of Mumbai of the Church of North India and is located at Horniman Circle area of Mumbai’s Fort area. The church operations are controlled by Cathedral and John Connon School and is maintained with high class care.
My school and college education was in the area which is very near to this church but inspite of being a Mumbaikar all my life, I never knew the facts of this church, until recently. As I explored the interiors of this church (prior to the lockdown) I was mesmerised on the architecture, murals and artifacts that the church nurtures in it. There is a stone cauldron in the church used for Baptism. I got to know that Rudyard Kipling, the ‘Jungle Book’ fame, Mumbai-born English writer, who won the first ever Nobel Prize for English Literature, was baptized in this church!
Another fact that was interesting to know about this church was in earlier days it was the city centre or ‘Zero Point’ of the city of Mumbai (then Bombay). All the roads that were made from Mumbai city were measured from here. On the church’s 300th anniversary in 2018, a plaque was established to acknowledge the role of this church in building the city of Mumbai.
The Churchgate station is not far from the location where St. Thomas Cathedral stands today. The fact that, during the early British era, a gate use to exist in front of the St. Thomas Church, which was one of the entry points of the Bombay fort area. Later, even after the walls and the gate of the fort were broken down, the area kept being referred as Churchgate!
It is a common belief that ‘mystery creates attraction’. As the facts of Mumbai gradually unfolds in front of me, I fall in love with the city, more than ever.