History of St. James Church
Colonel James Skinner aka ‘Sikander Saheb’ was a renowned Anglo-Indian adventurer born in Calcutta to a Lieutenant Colonel and Officer of the East India Company and an Indian Rajput Princess. James therefore had a partial British origin and consequently he could not directly serve as an officer in the East India Company. He firstly had to settle with the post of a low-rank officer in the Mahratta Army at the age of 16 and later joined the British Indian Army. While serving in the Mahratta Army in the early 19th century, James was once badly injured in a war. Sensing that his possibility of survival was very less, he prayed to God in the battlefield for his survival. In exchange, he promised to build a church to commemorate his faith in God. As he remained untouched by death in the battle he fulfilled his promise. The St. James Church was thus erected on his own expense. Later while serving in the British Indian Army he won many battles. In 1803 he raised a regiment of light cavalry (horses) and named it as the ‘1st Skinner’s Horse’ or the ‘Yellow Boys’, referring to their color of uniforms. Another regiment was raised after the success of the first regiment. Currently, both the regiments are part of the Indian Army. The British Indian Army eventually rewarded Skinner with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He thus became the Colonel of British India.
It is believed that the land on which the church stands was once a mango grove owned by Mughal prince Dara Shikoh, who was executed by his brother Aurangzeb. Currently, it is mostly grass and gravel.
Architectural Design of St. James Church
The St. James Church is designed by Major Robert Smith. The amount sanctioned by James Skinner to build the St. James Church was about 95,000 rupees. The church is believed to be an imitation of St Paul's Cathedral in London but according to Percival Spear, the Church in Venice models the St. James Church. Its Italian Renaissance architectural design is evident in the octagonal dome shaped central roof also called the 'Cruciform' or the 'Greek Cross'. This roof closely resembles the architectural roof design of the Florence Cathedral in Florence, Italy. According to the cruciform plan, the altar faces the eastern direction and the entrance faces the western direction. The entrance of this Church is shaped by three portico porches which is an open front platform with a roof supported by massive columns. Elaborate and colorful stained glasses grace the large framed windows of the Church. The Copper Ball and the Cross were also part of the architectural plan of the Church. They were constructed on top of the Church, but got damaged during the Revolt of 1857 called the Sepoy Mutiny. They were again constructed and are taken care of so that their original shape is retained. Seating arrangements are provided in the centre of the church under the dome. Its front row, once reserved for the Skinner family, is called Skinner’s Pew. This church was consecrated on 21st of November 1836 by the bishop of Calcutta Daniel Wilson.
Graveyard at St. James Church
The church has several tombs. Adjacent to the large Memorial Cross erected in memory of the victims of the Revolt of 1857, there is the tomb of the British Commissioner of Delhi, William Fraser. The tomb of Thomas Metcalfe, who lived in Delhi from 1813 to 1853, serving as an agent to Governor General of India and a Commissioner, is located at the back of the Church. Colonel James Skinner's grave is near Kashmiri Gate in Delhi. Skinner died in Hansi on 4th of December 1841 at the age of 64 and was first buried there. Later he was disinterred and buried in Skinner's Church on 19th of January 1842. He is buried in a vault of white marble immediately below the Communion Table. North of the Church lies the family plot, Skinner’s family, where many of his fourteen wives and children are buried.
To commemorate 200 years of Skinner's Horse, the cavalry regiment raised by Skinner in 1803, a special service was held in the Church in 2003. Amongst those present were Margaret Skinner, great granddaughter-in-law of Skinner, Admiral Sushil Kumar, retired Chief of Naval Staff, Colonel Douglas Gray who commanded Skinner's Horse from 1935 to 1947 and several former British officers.
St. James Church is about half a kilometer from Kashmiri Gate at the intersection of the Church Road and Lothian Road in Delhi. Tourists can take local buses from anywhere in the city to reach this monument. They can also hire auto-rickshaws and taxis or metro rail. Nearest Railway Station to the church is Old Delhi Railway Station. Nearest Metro Station to the church is Kashmiri Gate.
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