Nestled within a copse of towering Deodar trees, the Church of St. John in the wilderness stays true to its name. As we walk into the gates and approach the church from the busy road leading to McLeod Ganj, the silence is marked – a much needed respite from the honking of cars stuck in a traffic jam outside. The church comes into view, shadowed by the trees, lit by a few rays of light escaping the green canopy.
“How aptly named” is my first thought. It is indeed, a haven in the wilderness, even today. Inside, the centuries-old stone adds a touch of warmth, and the brilliant reds and blues of the stained glass appear like jewels in the evening light.
One of the stained glasses depicts the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, to whom the church is dedicated.
Above is a beautiful depiction of the "Lamb of God"...
Another represents Justice, with a sword, and Sacrifice, with a wreath.
The Anglican church was built in 1852, though the stained glasses were a gift from Lady Elgin, wife of James Bruce, Lord Elgin, who was the Viceroy of India from 1862 to 1863. He died of a heart attack while at Dharamsala, and is buried here. His memorial stands behind the church, an impressive structure despite his too short a tenure as the Viceroy.
More interesting however, are the other memorials inside the church. One speaks of a death due to a bear attack! We can only imagine how wild this region would have been then!!
Another pays homage to British soldiers who died in the First World War, as far away as France, Mesopotamia and Palestine, as well as those who died in Baluchistan. It is a poignant thought to see these memorial stones, commemorating those who left their homes and came so far, only to die away from their loved ones.
We walk around for a while, savoring the silence, searching for the bell a board outside mentions. The original bell and tower were destroyed by the 1905 earthquake, but a new one was cast in 1915 by Mears and Stainbank, and brought all the way from England. The bell tower was never rebuilt, and the new bell was installed outside. After much searching, we find the bell, now enclosed in a cage, keeping it out of bounds from curious tourists and thieving hands. It is sad to see the bell so confined; it is meant to toll, after all.
Yet, it symbolizes so well, the state of our heritage today, which needs to be kept in a cage, under lock and key, to protect it.
We walk back to our car, the honking assailing us as we approach the road. The traffic jam is still on. Our brief tryst with peace is at an end. Yet, there is an odd sense of serenity we carry with us. Isn’t that the point of a place of worship, after all?
Incidentally, the church reminded me very strongly of Jageshwar. We had visited the ancient temple of Shiva during our visit to Binsar, and I have written about it here. The similarity of course, stems from the fact that both places of worship are nestled within Deodar forests. The trees tower over the shrines and their spires, making us look up, towards the heavens. It is a feeling I can only describe as deeply spiritual, and awe inspiring. Is this the reason the builders chose these sites for their shrines? What do you think?
This post is part of my series on my #summertrip 2015, and I hope to take you along with me as I recount stories from my month long trip, which took me across the country. To get an idea of all the places I visited, and what you can hope to read about, click here.
- The Himachal Series-