Christian missionaries established several of Kashmir's best schools and hospitals. But they achieved vanishingly few converts. Christianity is a marginal force in the Kashmir valley. The minister of All Saints, the church featured above (and which is loosely in the Anglican tradition), says his congregation consists largely of twenty-seven local Christian families, along with some Punjabi Christians who are living or working in the valley. There's also a Catholic church in Srinagar - I suspect its congregation is of a similar scale.
All Saints church dates from the 1890s - at the time when the opening of the Jhelum Valley road, and the establishment of a British Residency in Kashmir, prompted an increasing number of Brits to come to Srinagar. It was a hill station - a place to escape the heat of the plains. And for a few hundred among the British, it became their home. There was a club, a posh hotel (Nedou's), a social scene, lots of houseboats - and also, in time, a church. (indeed, there were two Protestant churches in Srinagar at one time, and one in Gulmarg, and perhaps a few smaller missionary chapels too).
All Saints has changed hugely over the past 120 years. Only the base of the tower remains from the original construction. The current minister - not a Kashmiri but from Himachal Pradesh - told me that the church had been burnt down during protests in the 1960s and again in the 1970s. It was rebuilt using a Russian design, and making less use of wood to make it less vulnerable to fire. It was badly hit - along with so much of riverside Srinagar - in the 2014 floods. But it has recovered and is well maintained.
Half-a-mile from the church, in Sheikh Bagh in the centre of town, is the Christian cemetery. This too was badly affected by the floods. Part of the boundary wall collapsed and has been crudely repaired with corrugated sheeting. There's no caretaker or gardener and I wasn't able to gain access. But looking over the walls, and through holes in the sheeting, I got glimpses of a beautifully tranquil burial ground of several acres - I do hope the resources can be found to ensure its upkeep. What an asset to the city this could be.
There's more about Srinagar's churches on the excellent Chinar Shades blog.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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