Despite working a mere stone’s throw away, in all these years, I have never entered the St John’s Church or ground. Recently at a heritage walk organized by the Alumni of my school, we visited this precinct and I was enthralled by the place. One would never imagine, tucked away in a tiny corner of K.S. Roy Road, is this little gem!
Actually, coming to think of it, this is exactly where such places are to be found but wait till I tell you why it became so special to me.
If you check up the history of St. John’s Church, you will find that the land for construction was donated by Maharaja nabo Kishen Bahadur of the famed Shobhabazar Raj family. It was originally a cathedral and the foundation stone was laid by Warren Hastings, the then Governor General of India. The building is built in stone, at a time when stone was a rare material in India. So the British decide to “procure” the stones from the medieval ruins of Gour or Gauda which is now in the Bangladesh border and shipped down river to Calcutta. In fact it is said that theminutes book in the church office tells in detail the story of how the ruins of Gaur were robbed to build St John's church!
Anyway, that was the British doing what they did best, it’s neither here nor there. The church, the grounds just reek of history. I’m serious. You walk in and you are transported into another world. Over time, several monuments etc have also found their way here. The original Balck Hole monument is here in one corner. From Job Charnock’s mausoleum to the second Rohilla war memorial to the Lady canning memorial, it is all here. You can spend quite a bit of time roaming about, soaking in the silence of the graves. And then there is the church itself. It is still used and the day that we went, Sunday service had just ended.
The interior itself is pretty, stained glass windows to the right, a blue-grey marble on the floor (again, brought from Gaur!), it even has the chair used by Warren Hastings in the office. All very nice.
But what was utterly fascinating was this painting called “last supper” by the German artist Johann Zoffany modelled after the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Only (of course, there is a catch!) the painting is not a replica. Zoffany’s work has little things showcasing India, like a spittoon, a sword, a goatskin bag etc. The most unusual feature of Zoffany's Last Supper lies in the selection of models used to represent Jesus and his twelve disciples, he used people in power in the East India Company at the time So Jesus is portrayed as the Greek priest Father Constantinos Parthenios. Mary is represented by W.C. Blacquiere, the police magistrate of Calcutta during the 1780s. Judas was portrayed as the auctioneer William Tulloh.
Oh, it is fascinating. Come to Calcutta, I will take you to St John’s Church and perhaps you too will be as fascinated as I was!