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St. Andrew's Kirk, Egmore, Chennai

St. Andrew's Kirk, Egmore, Chennai

The St. Andrew's Church, Egmore is popularly referred to as 'The Kirk'. It was consecrated in 1821 AD especially for the Scottish Community in Chennai. The church was the result of efforts of Major Thomas Fort de Havilland and Colonel James Caldwell. St Andrew's Kirk was built to serve the members of the Scottish Church serving in the East India Company.

It is one of the finest examples of Georgian Church architecture in Asia and was modeled on the plan for St.Martin's Lane, London. The East India Company had borne the expense of the construction of St George's Church of England and therefore decided to construct a church of the sister kingdom, Scotland. Thus St. Andrew's Kirk came into being.

The plan was not suited for the hot and humid climate. The proposed roof was a big challenge to implement. Financial constraint was also there. The dome had to be built with the help of masonry, which suited the local climatic conditions. A Bishop of the Church objected to the construction of steeples outside of Scotland saying that it was "unusual and unconstitutional" practice.

The height of the dome of the St. Andrews Kirk is 51.5 ft in diameter from inside. Sixteen fluted Corinthian columns support it. The dome was constructed using the 'Syrian masonry' technique. The dome was painted with lapis lazuli shade of blue. It is believed to be one of the few in the world to be supported by columns of such huge height. The interiors are done with woodwork of mahogany and black and white chequered marble floor, which adds to the beauty of this church.

The land was purchased because of the low land value and its proximity to the Fort St. George. But the land was on marshy lowland and was subject to sinking and flooding. The 14 ft foundation of the Kirk sits on a bed of pottery and brick wells 9 ft deep. The wells were sunk into the marshy sand by first weaving a wicker ring to sit under the brick or pottery ring. The walls of the well were built with specially made curved bricks or pottery rings cemented with watery mortar over it. The entire tube was then bound completely with coir rope.

The well digger gets into this tube to excavate the hole beneath, taking utmost care not to upset the perpendicularity of the constructed cylinder. The total of 150 wells were set close to each other and were filled with material whose volume did not alter in water. The foundation was created as a strong series of connected low vaults that could serve as catacombs if necessary in the future. The building was kept in equilibrium as all the wells were placed on the same type of surface and would all be affected uniformly. On the April 6, 1818, Rev. Doctor John Allen D.D laid the foundation stone of the church. The circular central congregation hall is cool and airy.

The beauty and grace of the church is by lovely stuccowork of Madras Chunnambu or lime stucco renowned for its superiority. The pillars and walls are decorated with a relief of grapes nestled in leaves. The two enormous stained glass panels glow on the back wall depicting scenes from the Bible. They are examples of excellent artistry by 'W&J Jkier, artists in Stained Glass, Glasgow, Scotland'. 15 enormous olive green and gold pipes are arranged in a beautiful vertical and lateral pattern to make an astounding organ. Behind the pipes, connected mass of levers, hinges, pipes, chords and beams are placed that made this complex instrument work.

A narrow stairway leads to the roof of the main structure. There is the bald top of the dome. Two new stainless steel bands reinforce the dome, which had begun to crack. At the front end is the steeple itself. A bell is suspended from a large beam in a square room having a beautiful sound. An interesting story is associated with the bell. The original bell was 4 m in diameter and was meant especially for this Church. It was cast by an experienced bell founder from Bengal, in a Powder foundry, which is otherwise used only for military purpose. The British bureaucracy had, however, refused to spare the founder of the establishment to cast the bell. The bell was duly hung and tolled for the first time at the funeral of the aged pastor. Very soon a controversy surrounded the bell, following the complaint by the jealous powder- mill founder who was sidelined from this project. The bell was brought down and the Military Board ordered an inquiry. The bell was ordered to be sold and was broken up and replaced by the existing one.