Squalls spare no one!Jun 1st, 2009 | By editor | Category: City Culture, Heritage
Squalls do bring relief during the sweltering summer days but they also cause a lot of damage – uprooting trees, crushing cars, causing injuries and death and damaging buildings. Last week’s freak storm sprang up on what had hitherto been a bright afternoon but it vent its fury on the Church of St. James in Kashmere Gate, dating back to 1836 and knocked down the cross and orb surmounting the elegant dome.
According to press reports this was not the first time that the historic artefact was damaged. During the Uprising of 1857,the cross and orb were shot down by the sepoys who had shaken off the foreign yoke and sworn loyalty to the last Moghul emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar (some accounts say that the damage was actually caused by the British artillery firing from the Ridge!). Whatever it was the “Crown” of the church was damaged. Not only that, the grave of the controversial British Resident, William Fraser, in the church compound was also vandalised. For the freedom fighters the church was a symbol of the Raj and an attack on it was considered an act of revenge against those who had usurped power from the ruling dynasty.
The church was built by Col. James Skinner, who being the son of a Scottish father and a Rajput mother, was an Anglo-Indian. As such he regarded himself as more of a Nabob than a British aristocrat. Incidentally, Col. Skinner would not have become a legend had his life not been saved by an old cobbler woman after the battle of Uniara. The woman had come to collect firewood and was aghast to see bodies lying on the ground which had become a battlefield overnight. As fate would have it, she saw a young man struggling for breath and hurried to his aid. She gave him some water to drink and villagers managed to take the wounded officer home, where she nursed him back to health. Skinner never forgot the kindness shown by her and regarded the old woman as his mother (having lost his own in childhood) as long as she lived. While fighting for life, he had made three vows; that he would never forsake his saviour, build a place of worship and never fight again. The last promise he could not keep, but he fulfilled the other two. The church was erected in perpetuation of his vow.
Now back to the orb and cross the one that had been shot down in1857 “was preserved in the church garden till it was stolen in the 1960s, ostensibly for its metal value. Some years later the peal of four bells in the belfry was stolen but recovered before it could be melted and sold as a scrap, according to a report.
The orb and cross damaged in the squall was the one which replaced the original symbol of regal sanctity. It was made in London by the same firm that had supplied the earlier one (or so they say). Now it would be a problem getting the second replacement, unless of course the damaged one is repaired by the metal smiths of Delhi or Moradabad, a task which should not be insurmountable for them and the masons who would restore it to its lofty perch.