Also known as the Church of St. John the Evangelist, this church was built in 1847 and is dedicated to the soldiers who died in the Sind campaign of 1838 and the Afghan War of 1843. There are plenty of memorial plaques and some fine stained glass windows.
In the old days it had a sizeable flock of British officers who turned up for the Sunday sermon. At the entrance, there is a big black board, revealing that it is an Anglican church dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. It is impressive with the wide Gothic Arches and beautiful stained-glass windows. It also commemorates different Indian regiments, including the Bombay Army, the Madras Army, and Ranjit Singh's military from Lahore.
The Directors of East India Company transformed a part of the Colaba Island into a military cantonment area, by selecting the remotest part of the Island with a view that the area should be isolated from the rest of the city so that there was not much interaction between the army men and the civilians in order to enforce military discipline. There was a compound located here with some buildings called 'Sick Bungalows' for the invalid officers who required sea air and sun bathing. Nearby was a small chapel with thatched roof allowing the soldiers to perform Sunday services?
The conglomerate of 'Sick Bungalows', during those times, has now given place to a full-fledged hospital - 'INS Ashwini' - and the chapel gave way to the imposing church of St. Evangelist, commonly known as 'Afghan Church'. Few years later, the government provided the land for the building of the church on a condition that its steeple could be seen as a landmark at sea to guide ships navigating the Mumbai Harbor.
Henry Coney Beare, the City Engineer, prepared the designs and construction began in 1847. Mr. Henry Coney Beare was the same person who laid down the great scheme for the construction of the Vihar Lake and distribution of water supply by iron pipes to nearly all parts of Mumbai City. These memorials take us back to the 'History of Afghan War'. Sind, which was the northwest gateway to the Indus valley, had always been a melting pot for many cultures that met and fused into the Indian culture forming a multi-coloured mosaic of the culture of modern India.
The church consists of the nave and aisles, fluted columns with Doric style capitals, a tower and a spire. The walls are made of rubble faced with coarse Kurla Stone (buff coloured basalt). The piers, arches, and dressings are of Porbunder Stone, very similar to the Caen Stone (cream coloured soft stone from Caen in Normandy) of the English churches; the roof is built of varnished teakwood with hammer beam style ribbing.
The floor of the chancel is made of encaustic tiles (in-laid with coloured clay) imported from England. It has a beautiful altar, tall pinnacles, 21 lancet windows with exquisite stained glass fixed in the triangular apexes, on either side of the nave. The remaining portions of the nave windows were fitted earlier with venetians instead of glass, but during the years 1932 to 1937 quarried coloured glass windows have gradually taken its place.
At the entrance of the church one finds plaque giving detailed information on the history of this church. The friends of twelve officers of various corps have erected a reredos (ornamental screen covering wall at the back of altar). The altar was given in the memory of two officers and the marble pavement in the memory of those who had brethren in the Guild of the Holy Standard. The general memorial of all the officers, non-commissioned and the men of the Bombay Army were erected over the principle entrance in 1883.
This was the first church of the famous Victorian architect, William Butterfield. Most of the significant embellishments, such as the stained glass windows and the encaustic flooring are of the finest quality and were imported from England.
The finest segment of the church -
Great West window, was designed by Wailles. It is the finest stained glass window to date in the city, better to both the Rajabai Tower and the Victoria Terminus. The implication of the bell tower is the peals of eight bells that remain unrivalled in western India.