St. Mary’s Church, Chennai, The Oldest British Building in India
Saint Mary’s Church is the oldest Anglican church, located East of Suez, at Fort St. George, Chennai, India. Its the first Anglican church in Asia. St. Mary’s church was constructed by the British East India Company.
St. Mary’s Church at Chennai is a CSI Church and is also known as the ‘Westminster Abbey of the East‘. Construction started on 25 March 1678. Consecrated on 28 October 1680, this church was the only bomb-proof building in the Fort at the time of construction. The Present church tower was added at the end of the seventeenth century. (Fort Saint George which now houses the Tamil Nadu state government secretariat, was constructed by the British East India Company in 1644.) The church was constructed using voluntary contributions from the Governor and other officers, who inhabited the fort.
St. Mary’s church was designed by Edward Fowle or or William Dixon, Gunners of the fort. There are numerous memorials, commemorative inscriptions, wooden and glass furnishings inside the church. A painting of the “The Last Supper” by unknown artist, believed to be brought to Madras by the British troops who stormed Pondicherry in 1761, is synonymous with the Church. In 1710, a spire was added.
During the Second Carnatic War between the British and the French (1758-’59) and again when Hyder Ali invaded, Saint Mary’s Church was used as a barrack and granary.
There are 104 tombstones at the Church premises. The oldest tombstones is that of Lord Pigot, dating back to 1777. (There are a few Catholic tombstones also, which were brought to this church cemetery from a catholic church, which got destroyed.) Baptism, death, burial and marriage registers, right from the consecration day, are still preserved. The very first registers are stored at the Fort Museum and the remaining ones at the Church itself. Fort Museum has some plates and chalices on display, that were presented by Elihu Yale. There is also a large silver basin, silver flagon and communion cup on display at the Fort Museum.
The ancient prayer house which exited before the construction of the church, solemnized the marriages Robert Clive (governor of Fort St. George) and Elihu Yale. Yale University in the United States of America was funded with Elihu Yale’s gift of money to the institute.
How Do I Go to Saint Mary’s Church, Chennai?
Saint Mary’s Church is situated on Rajaji Salai (Salai means Road in Tamil language), which is one of the major roads in Chennai.
Chennai Central railway station, one of the major railway stations in India, is situated at around 3 kilometers distance from St. Mary’s Church. Chennai International airport is at around 20 kilometers distance from Saint Mary’s Church at Chennai Fort Complex.
St Mary’s Church Mass Timings
St Mary’s Church Mass schedule is as follows:
Mass in Tamil Language at 6.15 am, 7.15 am
Mass in English Language at 8.30 am, 6.00 pm
Week Days – 8.00 am to 4.00 pm.