Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A church for the Uplands

In the early 1800s, Waltair Uplands was the preferred place of residence for the British population, at least those of them who were elevated enough on the government ladder to deserve one of the pretty white-washed bungalows that dotted the hilly places all along the coast. The devout among these fortunate people, however, faced a problem. The only church for Europeans was located in the Old Town, four or five miles away from the Uplands, a not inconsiderable distance in those days.

Though it was easy enough to come up with the idea of building a new church in the Uplands, funds for churches were not easy to come by at the time, as the British East India Company left religion alone as a matter of policy and rarely paid up for churches, orphanages, chaplains or such other religious paraphernalia.

The chaplain of Vizagapatam, Vincent Shortland, raised the money from the congregation; in fact it was the congregation that paid for the furniture and most repairs over the next several years. Captain J.H. Bell of the Madras Engineers designed and supervised the construction of the building, which could house 150 people. The church -- named after St. Paul -- was completed in 1838 and consecrated by one Bishop Spencer.

Apart from the addition of a belfry in 1863 and the rebuilding of the same structure after it was destroyed in a cyclone in 1872, on the opposite side of the original one, the church has survived until today almost unaltered.