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St Stephens Church

St. Stephen's Church is a major landmark on Church Mission Road in the area known as old Delhi. The church was constructed in the year 1862, not far from the main market of Chandni Chowk. It was most probably built by the DPW (Department of Public Works) Engineers and Anglican missionaries, though it cannot be confirmed. However, its construction is of the Architectural style now classified as Italian Gothic architecture, which was extremely popular with the DPW in the second half of the 19th century, which is the reason why it is attributed to it. Today it is a part of the Church of North India, Diocese of Delhi. The church also includes the now famous St. Stephen’s College and St. Stephen’s church, though all three institutions are not located at the same place. The hospital is in Tis Hazari and the college is in the University enclave.

St Stephen's Church is prominently situated on a bustling and wide street of Old Delhi. It is near many buildings of substantial importance during the colonial era, such as the colonial railway station and the old town hall. However, much of the atmosphere of the street is derived from the different fabric, spice, cotton and other traditional markets around the primary bazaar of Chandni Chowk.

History of St. Stephen’s Church

The missionary organisation that was responsible for the building of St Stephen's Church was the SPG or the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The Society was forced to find a way to resurrect its Mission in Delhi, which had been wiped out during the uprising of 1857. The Society was subsequently absorbed by the Cambridge Mission. It was then that the Cambridge Mission founded the esteemed St Stephen's College, which has now become a part of the University of Delhi. The church is of a striking red colour. It is said that the church was made so, in order to symbolise the blood and suffering of St Stephen. He is said to be the first Christian martyr and he is also the patron saint of Delhi. The colour of the church is also said to represent the blood of those who were killed in Delhi in 1857, as they are the first Christian Martyrs of Northern India.

About St. Stephen

St. Stephen is the first martyr of the Christian religion. In the Acts of the Apostles, it is said that he was a deacon in the first church at Jerusalem. It says he aroused the hostility of the members of various synagogues because of his teachings. He was accused of blasphemy, and at his hearing he gave a fierce and long speech denouncing all the Jewish authorities judging his trial. Ultimately, he was stoned to death. His death was seen by Saint Paul (at the time Saul of Tarsus) - a Pharisee who subsequently converted to Christianity and later becomes one of the apostles.

Stephen is honoured as a saint in the Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. His name is derived from the Greek word Stephanos, which means crown. In Christian Tradition, St. Stephen is portrayed with the crown of martyrdom. In art, he is often depicted with the martyr’s palm and three stones. In the iconography of Eastern Christian Churches, he is portrayed as a beardless, young man wearing the vestments of a deacon, with a tonsure, often carrying a miniature church or a censer.

Complex and Architecture

As is written on the information board outside the church, it is a - “Large Romanesque Church with a series of fine pilasters forming an arcade on either side with intricately carved sandstone columns that line the façade."

The name of the architect has not been mentioned but comparing the architectural style and the interiors and decorations, the colour of the building and the asymmetrical placing scheme, one cannot help but notice the similarities to the G. E Street’s St James the Less (1861) Church in Westminster in England. The Church in Delhi is most likely the work of DPW engineers and Anglican missionaries who duplicated current architectural trends in England which in this case was Italianate Gothic.

The interiors of the structure have been well preserved. Once again, according to the information board – "Clerestory lighting with arched openings between circular pilasters. The stained glass rose window stands out as the only of its kind in Delhi."

The information board installed by the church nearby says that it also has – "A very high ceiling with baroque style of decoration gives the feeling of divinity. All the carvings, motifs and icons of the church are well kept and preserved."

Address and Location

St. Stephen’s Church is located on Church Mission Road in Old Delhi. It is very close to Chandni Chowk. The Simplest way to get there would be to reach Chandni Chowk by bus or by taking the yellow line on the metro and catching an auto rickshaw from there.

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