St. Paul's Cathedral, Kolkata: The united Anglican Cathedral of the Church of North India and the seat of the Bishop of Kolkata Diocese is the enormous and majestic St. Paul’s Cathedral in Kolkata of West Bengal in India. Located at 22°32 39"N and 88°20 47"E, St. Paul’s Cathedral is on the west of Queen Victoria Garden on Cathedral Road - between Birla Planetarium and the Nandan Film Centre in Kolkata.
Sprawling over 7 acres of land in the heart of Kolkata City is St. Paul’s Cathedral – built in the Neo-Gothic Style of Architecture which emanates from the larger than life, brightly coloured and intricate stain glass window work which covers almost the whole of the towering eastern and western walls of the Cathedral and also from the two Florentine styled frescoes and floral design motifs on the interior walls. The eastern stain glass window depicts the life of Lord Jesus Christ. And in honour of Lord Mayo, the western stain glass window was gifted to the Cathedral by the Government of India. The pictures inside the Cathedral depict the life and work of St. Paul, after whom this Cathedral was named.
The main Sanctuary of the Cathedral seats 550 people on 17th Century fashioned wooden pews which bear the crests of the Dioceses of the former Anglican province of the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon during which time, St. Paul’s Cathedral was the Mother Church of the province. The ornate overhead ceiling is a brilliant display of engineering which has the ability to sustain any load without a tie rod – a structural unit that is capable of carrying tensile load. Mosaic panels depicting the life of St. Paul; flank the High Altar in the Cathedral. The High Altar has interesting aspects to it. Made from charred timber of a burnt house in Bangladesh is the wooden Cross – the central aspect of the Altar.
The Cathedral rises to a height of 241 feet and is 247 feet long and 81 feet wide and is set amidst century old huge trees on vast open grounds. Commemorating the soldiers who lost their lives in the War, the Northern Toc H Chapel was dedicated on 11th November 1927 – the Armistice Day when an armistice was signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany to end the World War I. The Parish Hall is designated for Sunday school and Vacation Bible School.
To the south of the Cathedral lies the Chapel which was also dedicated on the Armistice Day in 1927 post which, both the Chapels have been conducting daily Morning and Evening Services in English and Bengali.
St. Paul’s Cathedral congregation is pastored by the Vicar – an ordained Parish Priest who has been bestowed upon - the authority to administer the Christian sacred rites – especially at the Altar in the Cathedral. The Vicar is assisted by the Assistant Presbyter and a Pastorate Committee comprising 15 members elected from among the congregation.
The Cathedral follows an Anglican Order of Worship where the Church Service commences with the Choir making an entrance first into the Cathedral who walk down the aisle and are led by a Cross bearer and followed by the Presbyter and the clergy of the office; followed by Old Testament reading; the Epistle reading; the Gospel reading; singing hymns from the Anglican hymnal; preaching the sermon and then the Holy Communion which constitute the Eucharist Service on Sunday Morning. The Service is open for non-Christian to join as well and you’ll be surprised to see quite a few of them who participate in the weekly Sunday service and then stay on for the Fellowship gathering over tea in the Church porch in order to meet with friends in Church – a practice that’s been in progress for decades. The closing of the Service is equally grand and ceremonial where the same procession moves from the Altar to the main entrance of the Cathedral during the recessional hymn and burning of incense and candles. The vestments of the clergy in Service add to the awe of the experience and the choir and the congregation gloriously singing hymns in parts (soprano, alto, tenor and bass of choral music) in perfect synchrony several times during the service – the voices resonating under the high ceiling of the Cathedral is simply soul-stirring and a big crowd-puller.
The Church Carnival – an annual event held in the month of November converges all the members of the Cathedral along with their families to partake of the Holy Communion Service and then participate in the Carnival which follows – on the open grounds of the Church. Live music, food stalls and games are hosted individually by the congregation members and their youth which creates a lively; colourful; fun-filled ambience in the Carnival that lasts the whole day. The proceeds that are raised in this Carnival are used in the restoration of the Cathedral or towards a cause of social service. Once a year, all the members of the Cathedral along with their families go on a picnic just before the offset of winter in the month of January and spend the whole day in music, sports, potluck and other fun-filled activities. The Cathedral also hosts a Camp-fire service for its members and their friends where the Vicar says a word of prayer followed by a few hymns and then a fellowship dinner for all. The youth take active initiative in organizing fun games such as treasure-hunt etc. while others spend time getting to know one another better. This time is also spent in getting to know newer members.
St. Paul’s Cathedral also reaches out to the poor and the needy through social Relief Services such as empowering the poor with education, training in handicrafts and provides them avenues to sell their crafts and thereby make a living on them. The Cathedral runs several schools in Kolkata slums in Bhawanipore and in Scotts Lane and sponsors education for those who cannot afford higher education.
The Cathedral has 5 groups of members who perform different short-term and long-term service for the Cathedral organization:
1. Women s Fellowship: comprising women members of the Cathedral have been assigned the responsibility of visiting the sick and housebound Church-members to pray for them; raise funds by raffles in order to feed the street children; and provide formal counselling to the youth to address their professional and personal dilemmas. The Women’s Fellowship also conducts an annual Fete called the ‘White Elephant Stall’ on the first Saturday of December every year where they urge the members to donate old by usable clothes, books, toys, shoes, bags which are given to the under-privileged.
2. Youth Fellowship: enthusiastic and active, the Youth help organize all activities of the Church – be it social service or conducting Worship services. The Youth also run the Sunday School – which runs parallel to the Sunday Service ever Sunday and is meant to educate the children about the Bible. All the tenors on the Church Choir are the youth who sing in high pitches effortlessly.
3. Servers’ Guild: comprise members of the Youth Fellowship who are formally trained to assist the Vicar in performing the Church Services especially in at the Church Altar during the Holy Communion – the Sung Eucharist and the rest of the Service; during the ceremonial procession at the beginning and the end of the Service by carrying the Cross; by lighting the Altar candles; by burning incense and bearing lights during Liturgical Entrances (when the Church Clergy enter into the Cathedral for Worship Service) and processions wearing the designated ceremonial Liturgical vestments. The Servers’ Guild also assists the Vicar in administering Holy Communion to the aged or those who are unable to approach the altar for Holy Communion.
4. The Readers’ Guild: comprising a cross-section of the members, are instituted as Lectors (a Latin term of ‘the one who reads’) of the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, the Psalms and the Epistle from the Bible during the Worship Services.
5. The Choir: The most sought after position by the Youth of the Church and certainly the most skilled set, the Choir forms an integral part of a Worship Service with their voice accompaniment. The Choir consists of an Organist who plays the piano; the Choir – a musical ensemble of singers and the Conductor who conducts the choir and the musicians. People who have been formally trained in ‘A Capella’ (all-vocal group performance especially of hymns in Church) are eligible to be in the Church Choir. The melodious rendition of the Choir singing in parts in Church especially on Christmas and Easter is breath-taking and a must-hear!