St. John’s Church, the third oldest Church of Kolkata is one of the first public buildings to be erected by the East India Company. Inaugurated in 1787 it served as the Anglican Cathedral till 1847, when newly built St. Paul’s became the new cathedral.
The land of the St. John’s Church was donated by Maharaja Nabo Kishen Bahadur the founder of the Shovabazar Raj Family. James Agg, of Bengal Engineers was the chief architect. The church is built with a combination of brick and stone with a towering stone steeple. The steeple rises to a height of 174 feet and holds a two dialed clock. The church was modeled according to the St. Martin in Fields Church in London.
Tall columns frame the church on either sides and entrance is through a stately portico. The floor is a rare hue of blue and grey marbles and large widows allow the sunlight to filter through coloured glasses.
The main alter is simple and crowned with a half dome. In spite of its simplicity the alter houses some excellent mosaic work. On the right of the alter is a large stain glass window and to the left hangs the painting of Last Supper, drawn by Johann Zoffany.
Zoffany’s Last Supper is not an exact replica of Leonardo da Vinci master piece in Milan, rather Zoffany gave the painting an Indian touch. Indian styled swords and water carriers are part of the painting.
But the greatest feature of Zoffany’s Last Supper lies in the selection of model used by Zoffany to represent Jesus and his twelve disciples, they all represented British and other European men from Kolkata.
The walls of St. John’s Church contain memorial tablets, statues and plaques, mostly of British army officers and civil servants. Most of this tablets have a distinctive Indian touch with ladies wearing saris with the backdrop of banana and coconut trees.
The most interesting plaque of St. John Church belongs to James Achilles Kirkpatrick, popularly known as the White Mughal, the central character of William Dalrymple best selling work of history White Mughals.
The St John’s Church was constructed on an old graveyard, so the compound houses a number of tombs and memorials, but only a few dates back to the date of construction of the church.
Among the most notable of the graves in St. John’s compound is the grave of Job Charnock, who was once considered as the founder of the city. The octagonal Moorish style tomb was erected by Charnock’s son in law Charles Ayer. Built of stones brought all the way from Pallavaram, near Chenni, which later came out to be known as Charnockte. Charnock’s epitaph is in latin. The grave also contains several other graves, including Charnock’s wife and daughter.
The church compound also contains the controversial Black Hole Memorial. The octagonal obelisk styled memorial contains the names of 123 people killed in the Calcutta Black Hole.
The St. John’s Church compound also contains the Rohila War memorial and Lady Canning’s Memorial. But the most interesting grave in the church yard belong to Francis Johnson, popularly known as Begum Johnson. The grand old lady of Kolkata lived upto the age of 87 and married four times.