The Oldest Church of NE India: Christ Church
GUWAHATI: Guwahati today has a number of churches, but do you know about the oldest one?
The Christ Church Guwahati, located near Nehru Park in Panbazar is the oldest church, not just of Guwahati but the entire northeastern region. Its construction started in 1844 and it was consecrated in 1850.
During the 1920s, the British discovered about the possibilities of tea cultivation in Assam. As such, many businessmen and planters settled within the region. And after the Treaty of Yandaboo of 1826, the East India Company extended its hegemony to the state. With them came Christianity. Soon the need for a religious institution was strongly felt.
In 1839, the Bishop of Calcutta notified the Governor General of the Northeast Frontier province “to take appropriate measure for performance of baptism and marriage by public officers.” The planning for a church started under the guidance of Rev. A. Garstin, the chaplain of Sylhet, between 1841 and 1843.
Rev. R. J. Bland of Calcutta was appointed as the first chaplain of Assam in 1844. A committee was formed which mobilized the resources for construction of a Church. The committee comprised Major Francis Jenkins, Lt. Col. James Mathie, Maj. F. Foquet, Capt. E. T. Dalton, Capt. E. A. Rowlatt, Lt. Angew and Lt. H. S. Biver.
The foundation of the Christ Church was laid in May 9, 1844. The inaugural prayer service was conducted by Rev. Bland on October 26, 1845. The institution was however consecrated on August 23 1850 by Rt. Rev. Daniel Wilson, Bishop of Calcutta. Adjacent to the Church a cemetery was also provided.
This original "imposing building with a large square tower and a porch” was damaged extensively during the earthquake of 1856. It was renovated completely by 1861 only to collapse again in the Great Assam Earthquake of 1897. Such was the destruction that Chaplain Rev. G.M. Davies had nowhere to go and took shelter on a boat.
The building that was built in its place was just a small “Assam-type” structure, financed by public donation. It was built in 1903. The diocese of Assam was formed in 1915 and Rev. H.P. Walsh was appointed the first bishop of Assam with his headquarters at Shillong. The Church came under the newly formed diocese of Assam from Calcutta. In 1978, this small structure was renovated and was dedicated by Bishop Rev DD Pradhan on 26th March, 1978.
During World War II, the church rendered yeoman’s service to the Allied Forces.
In 1955, a major part of the Church's land was transferred to the Assam government for developing the Nehru Park. In 2017, the Christ Church got a major facelift. A dedication ceremony was carried out by Reverend Michael Herenz, Bishop of the Diocese of Northeast India, under the Church of North India.
An old black and white picture of the original structure still hangs on the right side of the main door of this 176 year old Church.
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