The Afghan Memorial Church of St. John the Baptist, also known as St John's Church is located in the Colaba area, which is the long arm of South Mumbai that stretches into the sea. The church was established in 1847 AD and consecrated 11 years later as a memorial to those who fell in the First Afghan War of 1843 and Sind campaign of 1838. At the entrance, there is a big black board, which reveals that it is an Anglican Church dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. It is impressive with the wide Gothic Arches and beautiful stained-glass windows.
The Directors of East India Company converted a part of the
Colaba Island into a military cantonment area with army barracks during
early 19th century. They selected the remotest part of the Island with a
view that the area should be isolated from the rest of the city so that
there was not much interaction between the army men and the civilians in
order to enforce military discipline.
There was a compound located here with some buildings called "Sick Bungalows" for the invalid officers who required sea air and sun bathing. Nearby was a small chapel with thatched roof where the soldiers could perform Sunday services. There used to be no chairs in the chapel, hence the soldiers were asked to bring their own chairs during the service.
The conglomerate of Sick Bungalows during those times has now given place to a full-fledged hospital - "INS Ashwini" - and the chapel gave way to the imposing Church of St. Evangelist, commonly known as 'Afghan Church'. Few years later, the land for the buil ding of the church was provided by the government on a condition that its steeple could be seen as a landmark at sea to guide ships navigating the Mumbai Harbour. Henry Coney Beare, who was the City Engineer, prepared the designs, and the construction began in 1847 .
The Church was built in Gothic style of
architecture. The church consists of the
nave and aisles, fluted columns with Doric style capitals, a tower and a
spire. The walls are made of rubble faced with coarse 'Kurla' Stone (buff
coloured basalt). The piers, arches, coignes (vantage places) and
dressings are of Porbunder Stone, very similar to the Caen Stone (cream
coloured soft stone from Caen iNormay) of the English churches.
The roof is built of varnished teakwood with hammer beam style ribbing. The floor of the chancel is made of encaustic tiles in-laid with coloured clay imported from England. It has a beautiful altar, tall pinnacles, 21 lancet windows with exquisite stained glass fixed in the triangular apexes, on either side of the nave. The remaining portions of the nave windows were fitted earlier with Venetians instead of glass, but recently during the years 1932 to 1937 quarried coloured glass windows have gradually taken the place of Venetians. In the clerestory, there are 30 lancet windows glazed with coloured quarries. At the west end of each aisle are triplet windows, one in the south aisle behind the organ is filled with plain glass but the one in the north aisle behind the side altar is a memorial window.
The 'great west window', which consists of stained glass with five lights, has an intricate tracery design above and is one of Wailes's best works. The 'great east window' is a large triplet lancet window filled with stained glass of a beautiful design. The baptistery window, which has beautiful stained glass with triple lights, is situated at the East End of the south aisle. The inscription underneath reads: "To the memory of Philip Anderson, Pastor of Colaba, Bombay." A general memorial consists of series of white marble tablets bearing the names of 158 of its officers.
Sassoon Dock is always interesting to visit around dawn, when the fishing boats come in and unload their catch in a colourful scene of intense activity. The auction of the day's catch takes place early in the morning around 5:30 am. Bargaining is noisy and mandatory and photography is prohibited.
Beyond the church near the tip of the Colaba promontory lies the Observatory and Old European cemetery in the naval colony. One is required to have a permission to enter this place and the best time to pay a visit is during weekdays.
Mumbai being the capital city is well connected by air, rail and road with all the important places within and beyond the state. To reach the church Taxis, city buses and local trains are available.
Being a major metropolis of India, Mumbai offers tourist a wide range of accommodation that vary from posh five star hotels to tourist lodges and cottages. There are many budget hotels also available in the city at reasonable prices.