November 30, 2021 10:58 pm

Decades Later, Bell Set to Toll in Kashmir’s ‘Oldest Church’

St. Lukes Church Dalgate. KO Photos by Syed Burhan

The J&K Tourism Department is renovating and restoring the church under the Smart City Project. Officials say the renovation of the church is in its last phase.

 By Syed Burhan

MASON Naseer Ahmad is busy repairing the old walls of the St. Luke’s Church at Dalgate Srinagar. As he cements the dislodged bricks of the valley’s “oldest Church”, he’s taken down the memory lane to his childhood days where he sees himself coming to the church out of curiosity to discover a Christian prayer.

“I’ve been brought up in this locality,” says Naseer who lives in the adjacent Daesil Mohalla. “During my childhood days, I remember myself coming here as a child and peeping through the entrance of the Church.”

Mason Naseer Ahmad.

The St. Luke’s Church served as an important religious place for Protestant Christians. Setup by Church Missionary Society of England, the foundation stone was erected by Dr. Ernest and Dr. Arthur Neve.

“TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND AS A WITNESS TO KASHMIR” dedicated by “The Bishop of Lahore” on September 12, 1896 remains engraved on a marble stone on the inner wall of the church.

The J&K Tourism Department is renovating and restoring the church under the Smart City Project. Officials say the renovation of the church is in its last phase.

“Officials have told us to speed up the work,” Naseer says. “We’re doing our bit but it seems very unlikely to be complete by Christmas. I have been working at Church for last one month.”

For Naseer working at the church has been exciting and a new experience in itself.

“In the past I have worked at a Hindu temple but for the first time I am renovating a church. It is exciting and gives a different feel. I think it is important to revive our old structures; they are part of our legacy.”

For the miniscule Christian minority in Kashmir, it’s a matter of happiness and joy. Rev. Eric, Priest In charge of All Saints Church expressed his happiness and gratitude to the government for the renovation work.

“There is excitement in the Christian community that our Church is getting renovated. We are thankful to officials who are helping us in getting the Church renovated,” he said. “We could not have managed to do it on our own. The authorities took us on board and the Church is being to its original glory.”

The Protestant Christian community consists of a handful number of families, all based in Srinagar.

“If a congregation takes place at Gulmarg Church, people from Srinagar travel to Gulmarg in a bid to take part in the rituals,” Rev. Eric said. “But the renovation of this church will change that.”

Churches in Kashmir come under the Church of North India, Diocese of Amritsar. At present the Protestant Christian community has four Churches in Kashmir — The St. Church at Sonwar, St. Luke’s Church at Dalgate, St. Mary’s Church at Gulmarg, St. John’s Church at Pahalgam. They are headed by P K Samantaroy, Bishop, Diocese of Amritsar, Church of North India (CNI).

Former Priest In charge at the All St. Church, Rev. Yonatha Paljor recalled his fond memories of attending the prayer services at the Dalgate Church before its closing.

“I have fond memories of attending prayer services during my years as a student,” Paljor, a nonagenarian, said. “Prayer services were held regularly and Christmas and Easter celebrations were a regular feature. Unfortunately the Church had to close down due to unavoidable circumstances.”

Before the partition of 1947, while the All St. Church at Sonwar was used by the British bureaucrats, the St. Luke’s Church at Dalgate was the only worshipping place for the local Christian community. Indians were allowed at All St. Church, Sonwar after the region was free from the British influence.

In addition to the St. Luke’s Church, the Chest Diseases Missionary Hospital was built on the outskirts of Srinagar to treat dreaded diseases, like Tuberculosis.

But mostly Christians working at the hospital left due to the deteriorating situation in the valley during nineties. The staff left the hospital and eventually the Church remained abandoned for three decades.

Meanwhile, Taniya Rigzin, a local Christian, expressed her happiness over the reopening of the Church.

“I am exhilarated to witness the renovation of St. Luke Church, Dalgate,” Taniya said.

“The opening of this heritage church on Christmas seems ideal for those who would want go there to offer prayers on this auspicious day.”

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  • St. Luke’s Church, Drugjan

    My family had been deeply connected with the St. Luke’s Church, Drugjan as my mother was a nursing sister in the adjacent Mission Hospital(now known as the Chest Deceases Hospital) in the 1930’s.
    My father Rev. Sham Lal Kaul (1913- 2006) and my mother Martha were married in the St. Luke’s Church, Drugjan in 1937. My elder sister Dr. Praveen R. Sondhi(Gynaecologist- USA) and elder brother Dr. Surinder A. Kaul( Public Health Consultant - WHO) and myself were all born in the Drugjan C D Hospital in the 1940’s.
    It is really a very noble step by the Government Department of Tourism and Culture to have the renovation of this Church done now.
    May God bless their endeavours.
    Parwez Samuel Kaul
    Director,
    Tyndale - BISCOE and Mallinson Society, Sheikh BAGH, Srinagar.
    Mob. 9622899005

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