Funds crunch hits Delhi’s oldest church repair
Delhi: The oldest church in the Indian capital, Saint James, was all set to get a complete face-lift after the restoration work started earlier this year, but the plan might not reach the finishing line now due to lack of funds.
Built in 1836, the church is a major landmark in the Kashmere Gate area. The church committee had directed the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to create a Detailed Project Report, which was submitted in April, 2016. The first phase of restoration started in March, 2017.
However, the crucial part B of Phase I, which involves waterproofing the terrace that was damaged by water, was abandoned midway. The church committee even wrote to the Governor of Delhi and some overseas organisations, asking for funds. But as of today, the work, which requires Rs 2.7 crore more, remains suspended.
The 180-year-old colonial structure with classical architecture and a Florentine dome is historically significant. Over a period of time, the rising pollution and vibrations due to trains passing nearby have left the building vulnerable to damages. Every two-three years, the church committee gets it painted, but the damage due to the underground Metro tunnels has caused havoc to its structure. The two tunnels are only 15 and 35 m away from the church.
Kamal Baluja, Chairman of the Church Conservation Committee, said, “We realise that the church needs urgent attention. That is why he had collaborated with INTACH. The part A of Phase I, which involved stabilising the structure and taking care of the damages caused over the years, is complete. A four-feet construction below the surface, around the boundary wall, has been finished.”
“This part cost us Rs 50 lakh. After that, we had to stop the work. Part B of Phase I requires Rs 38 lakh and the complete restoration, including Phase II, requires Rs 2.7 crore,” he said.
When queried, an INTACH source said, “This structure has a rich past. We hope that the church generates enough funds to get the work done without any disruption. It requires intense conservation as decades of work has caused damages. It requires careful work to maintain its authenticity and integrity. The church is a living testimony to events of the last 150 years in the city.”
Some valuable objects, which have high antiquarian value and need to be restored using scientific methods, also belong to the church. The list includes original European stained-glass windows depicting the crucifixion, ascension of Christ and his resurrection, a painting titled ‘The Prodigal Son’, original work of Italian painter Pompeo Batani, a processional cross gifted by Lord Irwin, a rare pipe organ gifted by T Ralph in 1899, and a church bell.