Is there anything about India in St Pauls Cathedral?
The answer is yes, a lot. I had the pleasure of visiting St Pauls recently and walking around as a tourist, just looking, not giving a guided tour. The number of references to India in the cathedral surprised me as I had not noticed them before. This week’s blog is the result of some research I did on the subject.
India was a British colony when the memorials were created so apologies in advance. The attitudes expressed in them may offend sensibilities today.
Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India in 1876. From that time onwards she took a great deal of interest in all things Indian.
In 1886 she visited a Colonial Indian Exhibition in South Kensington. She liked the colourful, exotic clothes the Indian exhibitors wore. The following year she would celebrate her Golden Jubilee and she suggested two Indian servants might assist her. One of the men chosen was Mohamed Abdul Karim from Calcutta. The two became friends. He taught her Hindi and worked as her clerk or Munchi. He stayed in her service until her death in 1901.
For Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 a special service was planned. A service of thanksgiving was to be held at St Pauls. She wrote to the Keeper of the Privy Purse, her financial secretary saying St Pauls was “most dreary”.
Sir Christopher Wren had designed a cathedral with elegant lines that he felt need little embellishment but in the C19th simplicity was not fashionable. People stuffed their homes with furniture, highly patterned wallpaper, carpet and curtains. Lace doilies and antimacassars were scattered on every available surface.
To beautify St Pauls the spandrels at the base of the dome had been covered in mosaic between 1863-92 and after the queen’s letter, William Richmond was commissioned to design mosaic decoration in the choir area as well. He finished the work in 1907.
There were no statues in St Paul’s during Wren’s time. The first one to be erected had been in 1795. It is at the base of the dome and is of Francis Howard (1726-90) by John Bacon. He was a famous as a prison reformer and wrote Plan for the Improvement of Prisons and Hospitals.
India related statues
There is now a statue in each of the four “corners” at the base of the dome. One is of William Jones (1746-94).
William’s father was a Welsh mathematician, also called William Jones, who had been a friend of Sir Isaac Newton and a fellow of the Royal Society.
William Jones junior’s flair was for languages. He spoke 8 languages, and was reasonably competent in another 20.
After gaining an MA at Oxford he worked as a tutor and translator. He was commissioned by the Danish King, Christian VII to translate a Persian book into French. It is called the Histoire de Nadir Shah.
He then studied law and became a circuit judge. In 1783 he was appointed to a minor judiciary post in Calcutta. He loved Indian culture and founded the Asiatic Society there. Jones spent the rest of his short life in India.
In the south aisle is an 1832 statue by John Graham Lough of a clergyman blessing two Indian children. He is Dr Thomas Fanshawe Middleton (1769-1822).
In 1814 Dr Middleton was made Bishop of Calcutta in a ceremony at Lambeth Palace. He arrived at his new diocese at the end of November and delivered his first sermon on Christmas Day. He was the first Anglican bishop in India.
The House of Commons originally opposed having a bishopric there because of the offence they thought it might cause with the indigenous community. India was controlled at the time by the East India Company and it wanted the bishop to care for the British based in India but not to proselytise. However he founded the Bishops College which did train Indian students for the priesthood.
His cathedral in Calcutta was dedicated to St John and its design is on St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. Bishop Middleton is buried there.
The next memorials are to soldiers.
In the south Statue of Charles Cornwallis (1738-1805) by Charles Rossi. Cornwallis is best remembered for his surrender after the Siege of Yorktown which spelled the beginning of the end of the War of American Independence.
Later, in 1886 he was appointed Governor General of India and took part in battles against Tipoo Sultan. He made a treaty with Tipoo at Seringapatam in 1792. Cornwallis was given the title of Marquis as a result.
Plaque to the Indian Army
In the north aisle is a plaque to the Indian Army. It commemorates the different regiments of soldiers from the Indian sub-continent. It was designed by Sir Bernard Melchior and sculpted by John Skelton in 1971.
St Pauls is the spiritual home of the Order of St Michael and St George. The order was founded in 1818 by the Prince Regent to honour those who had fought Napoleon in Mediterranean territories. It then became an order of chivalry for both military and civilians to recognise their service anywhere overseas or in the Commonwealth.
For more about St Pauls visit their website Home – St Paul’s Cathedral (stpauls.co.uk)
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