Kolkata is an amalgamation of eclectic wonders - historical, cultural, architectural, artistic et al. And then, there are those wonders that blend all the said traits and some more. The St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of Kolkata is one such gem. Kolkata was the capital of India from 1772 to 1911 under the British rule and was known as Calcutta back then. As a result, the European community in Calcutta kept on swelling, and this Anglican cathedral was constructed to make room for the arriving expatriates and their families. The St. Paul’s Cathedral opened its doors in 1847 and was the first cathedral to have been built outside the UK. In fact, it was the first Episcopal church in Asia. With such a rich heritage, the St. Paul’s Cathedral is a must-visit during your trip to the City of Joy.
Bishop Daniel Wilson was the true force behind the construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Even though the European circle in the city was rife with talks of a new church ever since 1810, it was not until 1832 that the project was finally greenlit after a last-ditch effort by Bishop Wilson. The cornerstone of the church was finally laid in 1839, and it took eight years for the construction to get completed. The principal designer of the building was Major William Nairne Forbes, and the commissioned architect was C.K.Robinson. To mark the occasion of the cathedral’s consecration of 8 October 1847, Queen Victoria sent ten silver-gilt plates. After the death of Bishop Wilson in 1858, he was buried in the cathedral's premises.
The St. Paul’s Cathedral was built in the Gothic Revival architectural style, incorporating Indo-Gothic elements to bear the intense tropical climate of Kolkata. The cathedral has a huge nave flanked by intricately designed wooden pews and two frescoes created in the classic Florentine Renaissance style. To its west, there are three stunning stained glass windows designed by Sir Edward Burn Jones, a pre-Raphaelite maestro. Look out for the reredos at the southern end of the altar as it depicts the Annunciation, various happenings in the life of St. Paul, the Adoration of the Magi and the Flight into Egypt. All these carvings on the reredos and several other murals in the St. Paul’s Cathedral were done by Sir Arthur Blomfield. The nave is visited not only by devotees but also by people looking to spend a few quiet moments in a tranquil ambience. The immaculate white edifice boasts a towering 200-feet spire, a thing to behold in the gorgeous Kolkata skyline. There is a library in the church premises and a beautiful garden that is adorned by pretty flowers all year round and charming lights during Christmas.
The St. Paul’s Cathedral is located at a very convenient location. The nearest metro station is the Rabindra Sadan Metro Station (SSKM Gate) from where the cathedral is a kilometer away. It falls on several bus routes from all parts of Kolkata. And you can always count on Kolkata’s signature yellow cabs to take you to your destination. St. Paul’s Cathedral remains open all week in shifts - 9 AM to 12 PM and 3 PM to 6 PM. However, on Sundays, it remains open from 7:30 AM to 6 PM. If you ask me, the best time to visit the church is on Christmas Eve to experience its amazing Midnight Mass that is attended by thousands of people irrespective of religion, caste and creed. You will seldom experience such symphonic and communal harmony. If you visit on a regular day, you must maintain silence inside the cathedral. Take it from someone who has been thrown out for violating this particular rule.
The British era has had a lasting impact on the architecture of Kolkata. The St. Paul’s Cathedral is a colonial-era addition to the cityscape. It is located just across the road from the Victoria Memorial, another such colonial-era monument. So, when you visit Kolkata, make sure to squeeze both these landmarks of Kolkata into a day in your itinerary.
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