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St. Paul’s Cathedral is a CNI(Church of North India) Cathedral of Anglican background in Kolkata, West Bengal, India, noted for its Gothic architecture. It is the seat of the Diocese of Calcutta. The cornerstone was laid in 1839; the building was completed in 1847. It is said to be the largest cathedral in Kolkata and the first Episcopal Church in Asia. It was also the first cathedral built in the overseas territory of the British Empire. The edifice stands on Cathedral Road on the “island of attractions” to provide for more space for the growing population of the European community in Calcutta in the 1800s.
Following the 1897 earthquake and the subsequent massive earthquake of 1934, when Calcutta suffered substantial damage, the cathedral was reconstructed to a revised design. The architectural design of the cathedral is “Indo-Gothic”, a Gothic architectural style designed to meet the climatic conditions of India. The cathedral complex has a library, situated over the western porch, and a display of Plastic art forms and memorabilia.
Apart from that of Bishop Daniel Wilson, the founder of the cathedral, the other notable burial in the church is that of John Paxton Norman, an acting Chief Justice who was assassinated in 1871.
-The cathedral was built to replace St. John’s Church, which had become too small for Calcutta’s growing European community; by 1810 there were 4,000 British men and 300 British women in Bengal.
In 1819, at the request of Marquess of Hastings, then Governor-General of Bengal, architect William Nairn Forbes produced a design for the proposed cathedral; however, it was not accepted as it was deemed too expensive to build. Bishop Middleton suggested as a site for the new cathedral the part of the city now known as “Fives Court”, where the cathedral now stands. In 1762 the area had been described as a forest so wild that it harbored tigers, and, at first, it was regarded as “too far south” to serve as a location for the cathedral. Middleton died in 1822 before building plans took shape. The next three bishops, Heber, James and Turner, all died after brief tenures, and it was not until 1832, under Bishop Daniel Wilson, that the project to build the cathedral was revived.
Following acquisition of 7 acres (3 ha) of land to build the cathedral, a Cathedral Committee was set up to build it. The military engineer, Major William Nairn Forbes (1796–1855) (who later became a Major General of the Bengal Engineers), at the request of Bishop Wilson, designed the cathedral with the assistance of architect C. K. Robinson, modelling the tower and spire upon the Norwich Cathedral. On 8October 1839, construction was initiated by laying the cornerstone. The cathedral was completed after eight years and consecrated on 8October 1847. The consecration ceremony, to mark which Queen Victoria had sent “ten pieces of silver-gilt plate” for the cathedral, was largely attended by Europeans and local people. The cathedral was built in Gothic revival style, but with modern construction elements, including an iron framework. It was built with a chancel, a sanctuary, chapels and a 201 feet (61 m) tall spire; the cost of construction of the edifice was then Rs.4,35,669. The cathedral can accommodate 800 to 1,000 people.
In the 1897 earthquake the cathedral suffered damage and was refurbished. In the subsequent massive earthquake of 1934, when Calcutta was devastated, the cathedral’s steeple tower collapsed. It was reconstructed to a revised design. Following the 1934 Calcutta earthquake, the tower was rebuilt along the lines of the central Bell Harry tower of Canterbury Cathedral. On its completion, St.Paul’s replaced St.John’s Church as the cathedral. The cathedral also has a statue of Bishop Heber (1783–1826), who was the Second Bishop of Calcutta; the statue was sculpted by Francis Leggatt Chantrey. The Bishop’s House across the street is also architecturally notable.
The cathedral is well maintained in a serene and peaceful atmosphere. People of all religious denominations can visit the church. Service is held regularly. Christmas is a special occasion when a large number of people assemble to participate in the festivities.