We’d been told by the receptionist at our hotel, Kasmanda Palace, which is right next door, that Christ Church is open to the public only on Sundays, and that too till 5 PM. He also mentioned that matins was at 11.30 (a fact I’d already been told by a friend, who’d visited recently). My husband and I toyed with the idea of attending service, then decided against it, since we had a only a couple of days to spend in Mussoorie, and too many sights to see.
We therefore set off from Kasmanda Palace at about 10 in the morning, walked for about two minutes downhill, and were at the church. We found it shut, but the caretaker—who stays in the house behind the church—saw us, and came to ask if we’d like to have a look around. He opened it (the main entrance seems to be not the one nearest the door, but a door on the side), and led us in.
Christ Church has the distinction of being one of the oldest churches in north India—and possibly the oldest church in the hills. It was built in 1836 (incidentally, the neighbouring Kasmanda Palace was also originally part of the same complex of buildings). According to a small plaque above the front door, "Nave and tower erected, by private subscription, AD 1836. Transepts, chancel and Gothic roof added, by private subscription, AD 1853. Architect:- Captain Thomas Renny Tailyour, Bengal Engineers. Chaplain:- The Reverend Henry Smith, M.A.
The church’s architecture is nothing exceptional; it’s pretty much what you’ll see in colonial churches across most of India. The good bit here is the fact that it’s well-maintained, all the way from the freshly-painted exteriors to the gleaming brass plaques and the polished wood of the pews. The caretaker showed us the organ (unfortunately no longer in use), and then let us take our time strolling through the church, admiring the stained glass windows. These, actually, constitute the one single reason you should visit Christ Church: they’re exquisitely crafted panels depicting scenes from the Bible (particularly the New Testament). It is generally believed that the stained glass at the Christ Church is the best in India. Two years ago, in 2010, an artist in stained glass came all the way from Kerala to restore these panels, and he’s done a magnificent job on them.
If you need another reason to visit, there’s the historicity of the church, embodied in the plaques that line its walls. People very famous in the history of Mussoorie and colonial India per se are commemorated here: members of the Skinner family, for instance, and the Australian-born novelist John Lang, who was Dickens’s correspondent in this part of the world. Lang (who’s buried at the Camel’s Back Cemetery in Mussoorie itself) has a well-polished plaque to his name: "…Barrister, writer, journalist, wanderer. Editor of "The Mofussilite". First Australian-born novelist. A scholar and a friend of India. A brilliant and restless soul. At peace in his adopted country."
Outside, in the churchyard, is a tall deodar cedar tree, surrounded by a low railing on which hangs yet another interesting plaque, this one adorned with the royal coat of arms of Britain. The tree had been planted by the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary) in March 1906, when she had visited Mussoorie and attended morning service at Christ Church.
The best time to visit Christ Church—when you can expect it to be open—is before 11.30 on Sunday morning. No entry fee is charged, but you’re welcome to put something in the poor box. Photography is allowed.
New Delhi, India
November 12, 2012
From journal Mussoorie: Jaded Queen of the Hills