A solemn reminder to the country’s first war of independence
May 10, 2017, the 160th anniversary of the revolt of 1857, is a historic day for Bareilly’s Free Will Baptist Church.
Standing opposite the Bareilly club, the structure houses rich history associated with the country’s freedom struggle. On May 10, 1857, it became the first church to be attacked by the revolutionaries.
But that’s not all. What adds to the historic importance of the structure, considered one of the oldest churches of Uttar Pradesh, is the decision that the British Government took in the aftermath of the attack. The government allowed British officers to carry their rifles inside churches – a practice that was forbidden earlier.
Priests and others associated with the church are observing May as a month of historic significance. Reverend Dr Emmanuel M Lal, 88, the moderator of the Free Will Baptist Church, said, “This church is no less than a time machine for us. Plaques bearing its history, graves in its backyard, traces of being set afire…all of it reminds us of the outbreak that it was once subjected to.”
“It was in May when the confrontation reached its peak in Bareilly. On May 31, 1857 (Sunday), the scene turned ugly when the rebels attacked the British officers who were offering prayers here. The Sunday mass was on when the rebels barged in. Some hurled crude bombs, some opened fire with countrymade weapons, while the others butchered them and set fire to the church,” said Lal, going through archives.
“George Davy Raikes, the founder of the church, died in the same incident,” he added. A plaque that reads “In the memory of George Davy Raikes, who was killed at Bareilly by rebels on the day of outbreak on May 31st 1857, Aged 39” stands as a solemn testimony to that day.
Raikes’s wife Margaret Julia got him buried on the church’s premises.
A few historians who hail from Bareilly say that the church was initially known as the Christ Church. It was erected in 1838 by a group of Englishmen who had come here for trading purposes.
Professor Abhay Kumar Singh, head of department of ancient history and culture, MJP Rohilkhand University, said, “Records suggest that the cost incurred in constructing the church was Rs 7,692. Of the total amount, the British government gave a grant of Rs 1,000. Daniel Wilson, Bishop of Kolkata was appointed as the first priest.”
The church continued its services for another 19 years after which it was completely destroyed by the revolutionaries, he said.
“The attack shook the British government as it was first instance of a church being targeted. They not only decided to allow British officers to carry their rifles inside but also modified the benches in churches across the state. The traditional furniture was replaced with special benches that were fitted with rifle holders,” said Singh who has extensively studied the history of Bareilly. “That kind of furniture still exists in many British-era churches.”
After the mutiny, the church, which was with the Church of England, was restored in 1858. It was then passed on to Church of North India and a few decades later was handed over the Free Will Baptist Church of India, Singh added.
At present, the church has a congregation of around 400 people. To the locals, it also stands as a reminder to the country’s first war of independence.
(Source: The Hindustan Times)