The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sing Glory Hallelujah
Stained glass windows in St Paulís Cathedral; (top) a sketch of the cathedral by Desmond Doig. File pictures

As sunlight streams through the Great West Window of St Paulís Cathedral, the giant images of the archangels and other characters from The Bible suddenly turn into incandescent forms in glowing raiment. This is the most stunning vision afforded by this great cathedral which celebrated its sesquicentenary on October 8, 1997.

This sheer trap of sunlight and colour was designed by Edward Coley Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelite artist, and is one of the best pieces of the art of stained glass in the country. The figures are depicted realistically enough but they wear make-believe medieval clothes.

St Johnís church may be older than this cathedral but at one time St Paulís held the prime position of Metropolitan and northern church of the Anglican province of the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon till the inauguration of the Church of North India in 1970. So from 1835 to 1970, most bishops were consecrated here. The church does not witness such ceremonies any longer.

The structure of the cathedral next to the Academy of Fine Arts is almost bang opposite the other Calcutta icon, namely Victoria Memorial Hall, and is in reasonably good repair. This in spite of the thousands of vehicles rumbling past it everyday, and the pall of exhaust fumes that envelops the area. But nobody is afraid of pollution.

However, environmental concerns could have stalled the erection of this church, or so the records say.

When the fifth Bishop of Calcutta, Bishop Daniel Wilson, sought land on the Esplanade to build a church ďworthy of the first city of IndiaĒ the Army was against it.

To begin with, the Army did not want it too close to Fort William. The governor general was more concerned about his own well-being. He was afraid that a large building located there would block the supply of fresh air and he did not want to feel claustrophobic.

Of course, the cathedral overcame this man-made impediment but many natural disasters were to follow, although it has survived them all. A devastating cyclone in 1864, smashed the Great East Window, which was insecurely fixed. It was a gift from the Dean and Chapter of Windsor, although originally it was intended as a present from King George III.

Designed by Benjamin West, R.A. it depicted The Crucifixion. The present one was erected by subscription from designs by Messrs Clayton and Bell.

Then again in 1897 a great earthquake shook the structure to its foundation, and the original steeple, which was taller, crumbled. We can see the spire in old photographs and prints inside the church. So it was dismantled and rebuilt.

But disaster struck again in 1934, when the spire collapsed. The spire was demolished completely and rebuilt and dedicated on 1938. The tower was designed after the Bell Harry Tower of Canterbury. Although the tower is not as tall as it used to be it still has one of the largest unsupported roofs and has no pillar, which is unique.

The unique reredos behind the altar represent the life of St Paul and Christís Nativity. The cathedral possesses a silver communion service gifted by Queen Victoria and a Last Supper by Jamini Roy.

The compound of this house of God is surrounded with trees and greenery ó an oasis of peace, one would think, but only if one can turn a deaf ear to the din outside.

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