Located on 2/2, Council House Street, at the North-Western corner of the majestic Raj Bhawan of Calcutta, St. John’s Church, is known to be one among the first public buildings constructed by the East India Company, after Calcutta became the capital of British India. Initially, it was a chapel. However, following the Armenian and the Mission Church, it is the third oldest church in Calcutta. Land for the proposed building was donated by Raja Naba Krishna Deb, of Sobhabazar Raj family and the foundation stone was laid by Warren Hastings, the then Governor General of India, on the 6th day of April 1784.
Two separate marble plaques, commemorating the memory of the said two significant events, are still there, at the entrance of the St. John’s Church. A fund of Rs. 30000/ was raised by public lottery for the construction of the building and it was opened for the public in 1787. The St. John’s Church served as the Anglican Cathedral in Calcutta and continued till the consecration of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1847.
Built by architect James Agg of Bengal Engineers, the Church is almost a replica of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London. The large square shaped structure of the Church with the Neoclassical look was built with a combination of brick and stone.
The impressive 174 feet tall clock tower was also built in the neoclassical style, with stone blocks. Since stones were rarely used as building material in this part of the Country, the blocks were collected from the medieval structures of Gaur, near present Malda, and were shipped to Calcutta through the Hoogly River. The minute book in the church testifies the fact that, the ruins of Gaur were practically robbed to build the St. John’s Church. The tall majestic columns framed the building from outside and inside. The entrance is through a graceful and dignified portico. A rare hue of blue-grey marble, brought from Gaur, was used for flooring. Unlike many other churches, the altar of St. John’s Church is very simple.
Beautiful stained glass windows, memorial tablets, statues and plaques adorned the walls. The altar is placed in front of a semicircular dome. There is a beautiful stained glass window on the right side of the altar. On the wall, to the left side of the altar, hangs a ridiculous painting by Johann Zoffany, a British artist of German origin. Though the title of the painting is ‘The Last Supper’, it is not actually a replica of Leonardo’s masterpiece. Zoffany rather gave it an Indian and a hilarious touch to the historic Biblical event and used well known persons in India as his models. Mr. Tulloh, the owner of the eminent auction mart, ‘Tulloh & Cothe Auction Mart’, has been immortalized as Judas in the said painting. It is said that Tulloh took objection to it and went to the court of law against the painter. However, no documentary evidence was found to prove the claim of the alleged legal action.
The St John’s Church was constructed on an old graveyard and the walled compound of the Church contains a number of tombs and memorials. Among others, the compound accommodates Job Charnok’s Mausoleum, Replica of the Black Hole Monument, Second Rohilla War Memorial and Lady Canning’s Memorial.
Location of St. John’s Church