A bishop bringing the gospel to the heathen. That seems to be the message of this ornate memorial in St George's Cathedral, the main Anglican place of worship here in Chennai.
The cathedral - built in 1815 - is stuffed full of imposing high colonial statues and memorials, as well as plaques and tablets (I've already blogged about the memorial to Ralph Horsley, who was 'cut off by the hand of an unknown assassin'). To my mind, the most remarkable are those showing - or at least visually alluding to - the engagement between the agents of Empire and its religion and their colonial subjects.
This is a memorial to Reginald Heber, who was consecrated as Bishop of Calcutta in 1823 and died three years later at the age of 42. This work by the sculptor Francis Chantrey depicts the bishop 'ministering to his flock'.
Here's another in similar style -
- a statue of the first Bishop of Madras, Daniel Corrie, who was 'a preacher of salvation by faith in Christ both to his countrymen and to the natives' intending 'to bring the heathen to the knowledge of Christ and to hasten his kingdom'. In the statue, Corrie's 'convert' is sporting both a tuft and a sacred thread - so I take it this is a brahmin who has been won to Christ..
Corrie also didn't last that long as bishop - less than two years.
Quite as striking are the depictions of women mourning, prostrate in their grief - their design classically influenced (though you also wonder whether there's a nod at 'bibis' lamenting the passing of their partner). This first one is of a medic - and perhaps is more classical than salacious, even though the sight of what seems to be a bare breasted woman in such a stiff and formal cathedral is truly astonishing.
This is a memorial to John Mack, 'assistant surgeon on the Madras establishment' who died in 1832. He was doctor to at least one local princely family. The sculpture is said to show Hygeia, the goddess of health.
And this memorial? Perhaps another classical allusion, but that's not at all clear.
Here's another sculpture which tells a story about the relationship between agents of Empire and those they regarded as their subjects:
And below is the memorial to Thomas Parry, trader and entrepreneur, who gave his name to Parry's Corner, still a Chennai landmark.
In architectural terms, St George's is undeniably imposing - perhaps not of the first order of East India Company churches but not far off. The original Anglican church in the city, St Mary's - a wonderful late seventeenth century building in St George's Fort which is happily still in use - was both too small and a touch too pedestrian for the increasing importance of Madras and of its European community.
St George's was both large and grand - and altogether more of a match for the nineteenth century idea of Empire.
In 1835, with the installation of the first Bishop of Madras, St George's became his cathedral. It has also played an important part in the reshaping of Christianity in India in the independence era.
The Church of South India was established here in the weeks after independence in 1947. It's part of the Anglican communion but has brought together the other principal Protestant denominations of the colonial era: Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational.
But not everyone joined in. And the exceptionally grand Kirk of St Andrew's in Egmore a few miles away - of similar date to St George's and a match in terms of design - continues to go its own way.
The cathedral also has a cemetery - still in use and complete with its own separate bell tower. It's worth coming here just to see that!
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