An impromptu plan and we were off today. The churches of Delhi had called out to us to drown in the Christmas din!
A cold Delhi winter morning welcomed us into its open arms as we zoomed out past New Delhi and even past the old, till we reached the Kashmere Gate.
Past it till we stood at the gates of the St. James Church. Only to be watered down by a sympathetic guard that it was closed down for some ongoing work! There went our stained glass windows and the graveyard where ol’ Skinner lay buried.
St. James, one of the oldest churches of Delhi, built in 1836, was commissioned by Col. James Skinner, the one who raised the finest cavalry regiment of the British Indian Army – “Skinner’s Horse” – one that exists till date, after being inducted into the Indian Army.
Skinner, born of a Scottish father serving in the East India Company Army and a Rajput mother, the daughter of a zamindar. For he had vowed to build a church if he survived, when he once lay wounded in battle. The church has fourteen of his wives and many children and even many descendants since buried on the premises in the family graveyard. A pity we didn’t get to kick-start our day with this one heaped in history and polygamy!
We trudged back to where stood the historical Kashmere Gate, at the north of the walled city of Dilli, the one that marked the road from the erstwhile city of Shahjahanabad to Kashmir, our eyes stuck to the many rambling buildings lining the roads that probably were a hundred years old or more.
Kashmere Gate – the one that witnessed key strategies being plotted by revolutionaries during the 1857 revolt, and from whose ramparts many a cannon ball had been fired by those patriots against the Britishers.
The one that the Britishers spelled with two ‘e’s instead of two ‘i’s!
The next one was the highlight of the trip for its architectural beauty. They say it is shaped as a two-tiered birthday cake with a candle on the top – the Cathedral Church of the Redemption.
Bang opposite the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Where one is bound to wonder if it was really necessary to give that huge a land space for showing off the grandeur and opulence of just one office – the President! But then that’s another story.
The church was commissioned to allow the British officers posted in the Capital of India to not feel abandoned by their religion. The construction was completed in 1935. After finishing our lunch sitting in the car inside the church’s parking area, we stepped out. The cold December wind grazed my cheek. The sun seemed to have lost itself somewhere in the heavy fog and pollution of Delhi. And yet, the church emerged in all its magnificence as I inched closer. Victorian lamps line a pathway leading around a manicured garden up till the church entrance. The haze made it difficult for me to make out the ‘candle’ at the top clearly, much to my disappointment. But the display of Christmas cards on a dear little board more than made up for it.
A guard had nudged us to leave soon, for a planned service was to begin any time now. So well, we did try to round it up soon honestly. Entering the prayer hall with all intention to leave in a jiffy, we settled into a pew to take in the massive dome. And then it was that we realized what we’d landed in. A memorial service. One that was on. We were ‘church crashers’ as one friend later named us! And in a memorial, to top it all. Goes without saying, we were out in a rush, though not before pausing to admire the splendidly decorated Christmas tree in the side gallery. Once out, we came upon the sandwiches meant for the attendees. We giggled like school kids.
Back in our car, we pulled up outside the boundary of the church grounds, to marvel at the regal Jaipur Column inside the Rashtrapati Bhawan premises, wrapped up in mystic haze as peacocks flitted about on the inner road leading up to it. It was time to round up by visiting the third of the day – the Sacred Heart Cathedral, the one which offered us the privilege of witnessing it all lighted up for Xmas!
We were greeted by a most brilliantly made statue of Pope John Paul II, created during the Papal visit to the city and this church in 1999, a statue that exudes mastery over the art. Proceeding left, it was time to light candles and soak in the warmth of those numerous flames spreading the cheer of Christmas. The giggle of the kids jostling to reach its height, or the helplessness of those parents running to control them – all brought in a smile. A group passed us by chanting prayers.
We headed up to the cathedral hall. Inside, it was decked up in bells, and stars.
The richly done altar has an intimidating fresco depicting The Last Supper, that seemed to gaze upon us.
The silence in a church never fails to mesmerize me, no matter how many I may have been to till date. It grows upon you and seeps deep within you.
As the time neared for us to exit, we were told that the cathedral has a group that started what they call the “Santa’s Workshop” – one where they raise funds to raise a record number of gifts, which are then lovingly wrapped by members of the group personally. An open invite is sent out to the public to help with the wrapping. Some Christmas joy!
Before I left, I turned around once. The church looked resplendent in its shimmering lights. People had started trickling down in groups. A few men stood at a table distributing walnut cake to visitors if they wished.
A day that marked a warm beginning to my Christmas week. The chill was here to stay. But then so was the spirit!
Back home, it was time to bake a sumptuous chocolate cake and wait, rather impatiently, for Santa!
What did you do this Christmas?