New Delhi, India
March 25, 2009
Akbar’s Church lies next door to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, in the Roman Catholic Complex at Wazirpura. The entrance to Akbar’s Church is through the cathedral yard; if you’re facing the cathedral, walk down the driveway as it curves to the right, till you come to the Cathedral House. Just past this is the enclosure that contains Akbar’s Church.
It’s possible that this church derives its name from Akbar, because Akbar was the ruler who first welcomed the Jesuits to settle in Agra and build a church in the vicinity. That church was destroyed in the late 1600’s, but this one was built in 1772, and later extended. When we visited the church, it had been freshly painted and was a brilliant white in colour. The facade consists of a triangular wedge supported on six pillars. This is an extension to the original facade of the church, which had a more typically Latin look to it—curving lines and a baroque front with a cross on top. Even further beyond that is a dome with a lantern-like chhatri (a small domed pavilion) surmounted by a cross.
Stepping into Akbar’s Church between the pillars, the first thing to draw our attention was a Latin inscription which we were, between ourselves, able to decipher: it stated that the church had been repaired and extended in 1835. Beyond, the interior of the church is small and rather nondescript (no stunning rose windows or ornate altars!) except for the very unusual dados along the walls. These are made of red sandstone, carved in floral patterns that look replicas of what you’ll see at the Taj Mahal or the Agra Fort. Outside too, there are other signs of native architecture and decoration: one of the doors facing the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception has a doorway with a trim of red sandstone, again carved in a typically indigenous design, with little vase-like niches in it too.
Akbar’s Church lies within a neat enclosed garden. Behind the church is a very small churchyard with a few old graves. Of those we took the time to examine, none were older than the late 19th century, and all were badly neglected. But still, the church itself is an intriguing mix of Western and Indian architecture, and since it’s the oldest in Agra, definitely worth visiting. Go on a Sunday, when you can be sure it’ll be open—preferably in the afternoon, when you won’t interfere in mass.
From journal The Colonial Face of Agra