Wednesday, December 3, 2008

First, in a way

The Directors of the British East India Company were clear in their minds about the separation of the Church and the Firm. They were in it to make coin, not save souls and did not vex their minds too much about attending to the spiritual needs of their representatives in the newly created outpost at Madraspatnam. The honour of the first church in the Fort, therefore does not go to this building with the imposing spire. Yet, it has a first to its credit, being the oldest Anglican church east of the Suez.

In the late 17th century, the task of designing buildings often fell to gunners - maybe because they knew how a building could be destroyed, they could design one that could not be. In any case, William Dixon, the Chief Gunner of Fort St George was assigned to build the church. The money? Since the Company had refused to sanction any finances for such frivolity, construction of the church was funded by subscriptions from the 'locals'. Dixon was a gunner who knew his business, for St Mary's Church was consecrated in 1680, with a four-foot thick, dome shaped roof; one that withstood the cannonballs that de Lally threw at it from Parry's Corner during the siege of Madras in 1758. (The spire was added 200 years after the church was built, in 1884)

But that was much later; within a week of its consecration, the church recorded the first marriage, on November 4, 1680. The groom? A certain Elihu Yale, Esq., who is well known as the benefactor of that great academic institution!


Hilda said...

Yale? Whoa, awesome history! The construction's amazing too!

Shantaram said...

>> Hilda>> You bet! The building does look rather indestructible!!