19th-century Kashmiri Church restored to its glory set to reopen to the public on Christmas

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The 125-year-old St Lukes Church is now restored to its original glory and will be open to worshipers next week over Christmas

Until a few months ago, a small church in the crowded Dalgate locality of Srinagar was in ruins. Trees and shrubs encircled the structure, making it almost inaccessible.

The 125-year-old St Lukes Church is now restored to its original glory and will be open to worshipers next week over Christmas.

The church is located in the tourist center and is only half a kilometer from the famous Dal Lake and Buchwara Market, frequented by locals and foreign tourists.

The district of Dalgate, where the heritage church is located, is a perfect example of religious harmony. Shankaracharya Hill is home to a famous temple and in the Sonwar region is the shrine of the revered Sufi Saint Syed Yaqoob.

The church has remained closed for over 30 years. Worshipers stopped attending church a few years before activism erupted in Kashmir in the 1990s.

Imtiyaz Kutay, whose house is located directly opposite the church, said: “The church has remained closed since the start of activism in Kashmir. Before activism, Christians prayed in church. I remember going inside the church when I was a student in the 1960s. ”

The church has remained closed for over 30 years. Worshipers stopped attending church a few years before activism erupted in Kashmir in the 1990s. Image obtained by the author

Kutay said the government was doing a good job preserving heritage structures. “All heritage structures, whatever their religion, should be preserved as they do in the West. “

Noor Mohammad, a local whose store is located a few meters from the church, said: “It is good that the church is returning to its former glory. This would keep the market buzzing when foreign tourists visit the church. The church must remain open so that people of the Christian faith can visit it. “

The government has undertaken restoration work on the Protestant church as part of the Smart City project, an official from the tourism department said.

An official overseeing the works, who did not wish to be named, said the heritage structure was being funded under the Smart City project and works carried out by the tourism department.

When you walk through the porch of the church, the floor is covered with dust and building materials. The workers are busy putting the finishing touches on the structure. They hope to have it ready before Christmas.

19th-century Kashmiri Church restored to its glory set to reopen to the public on Christmas

The government has undertaken restoration work on the Protestant church as part of the Smart City project, an official from the tourism department said. Image obtained by the author

“The church was in bad shape. Its roof had collapsed. The scaffolding work took us almost a month. The renovations are now in their final stages, ”said Mohammad Yousuf, one of the masons.

Farooq Ahmed, the lambardar of Buchwara, Gagribal and Dalgate regions, said his ancestors worked as masons when the church was built in 1896. “We did not change any models. We only restored what was in disrepair, ”said Farooq, who is a chief mason.

Entrepreneur Mohammad Saleem said: “We started working on it last year but had to be shut down due to the pandemic lockdown. The walls had been painted green. We had to remove this paint with machines. The tin roof, which was 125 years old, had to be removed.

The old intricate carpentry, called ‘khatamband’ in Kashmir, on the pointed arches of the church had to be removed and a new one repaired.

“The khatamband that was used on the church is called ‘mouj’. It is no longer manufactured, so we had to order it. The rotten beams had to be fixed, ”Saleem said.

19th-century Kashmiri Church restored to its glory set to reopen to the public on Christmas

The church, which shares its grounds with the Government Chest Diseases Hospital, formerly known as Kashmir Mission Hospital, was erected by the Neve brothers in 1896. Image obtained by the author

The original structure of the church has been left intact, he added. Only the buckling of the floor, ceiling and roof were replaced. Remnants of the old days such as the stained glass windows installed over a century ago can still be seen in the windows, and the embossed brick tiles, a rarity, line the walls near the altar.

The stone altar is almost finished and the walls have a new layer of “chuna surkhi”, a mixture of lime and burnt brick dust. Laminate floors are being removed to install a new one.

The church, which shares its grounds with the Government Chest Diseases Hospital, formerly known as Kashmir Mission Hospital, was erected by Brothers Neve – Dr Arthur and Ernest Neve – Christian medical missionaries on September 12, 1896.

Dr Arthur served in Kashmir as a medical missionary for over 30 years, including helping to treat the cholera and tuberculosis epidemic. He is known for his pioneering work in the field of medical sciences in Kashmir and also for relieving the miseries of many.

19th-century Kashmiri Church restored to its glory set to reopen to the public on Christmas

Farooq Ahmed, the lambardar of Buchwara, Gagribal and Dalgate regions, said his ancestors worked as masons when the church was built in 1896. Image obtained by the author

A plaque on the wall facing the church altar reads: “To the glory of God and as a witness in Kashmir”. It was consecrated by the Bishop of Lahore.

St Lukes Church is part of the Church of North India and the Diocese of Amritsar. Four churches in Kashmir fall under the Diocese of Amristar: St Lukes Church in Dalgate, All Saints Church in Sonwar, St Mary’s Church in Gulmarg and St John’s Church in Pahalgam.

“About Rs 60 lakh have been allocated by the government for the renovation of the church. Workers need to replace the floor now. We must also erect the bell, the altar and the pews, ”said the responsible priest, Reverend Eric.

Associate Priest Reverend Vino Koul said St Lukes Church was built in 1896 for locals, while All Saints Church in the nearby Sonwar area was used by the British, including the Vice- king of the time.

“People stopped going to St Lukes Church around 1987. For three years we have been visiting the church and we wanted to renovate it. We approached senior officials and urged them to start renovating the church, ”Reverend Kul said.

He said: “It was difficult to renovate the steeple. We are lucky that we don’t have an injury. They did the repair work well.

Reverend Koul said that since the church is open to people after a long time, they have planned a congregation. “The bishop will visit us when we reopen the church. Even if the church is not full at Christmas, we will organize a small Christmas carol service for 15 to 20 students. “

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