St. Luke’s Church in Srinagar had shut its doors in the early 1990s. But a dedicated team of masons and carpenters have brought the sacred place back to life just in time for Christmas. By Eshita Srinivas
Housed in Srinagar city’s Dalgate area, 120-year old St. Luke’s church had been in ruins the past few years after a conflict in the valley led to its closure in the early 1990s. Three decades later, it’s been restored to its former glory and worshippers can finally head back to the sacred place to offer prayers and hear the Christmas bells ring. Although mass prayers were held on Wednesday, the church doors will officially be thrown open on Thursday through an e-inauguration led by Jammu and Kashmir’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, according to a report by the Hindustan Times.
The church restoration was undertaken by the Jammu And Kashmir Tourism Department
A few years ago the local Christian community approached the state administration to request that the heritage church be renovated with its old design held intact. The project was then taken up by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department in relation to the Smart City Mission, which, amongst other things, seeks to restore historic buildings and conserve old shrines of all faiths. Work commenced in April last year and is believed to have cost approximately INR 70 lakh, according to a report by the Wire.
Srinagar’s oldest church’s ceiling has been redesigned with the famous Kashmiri “Khatamband” ahead of Christmas pic.twitter.com/VR2OmhL3jy
— Basit Zargar (باسط) (@basiitzargar) November 15, 2021
Speaking to Firstpost, Reverend Vino Kaul the associate priest of All Saints Church stated that the church was constructed in 1896 for the locals and not many people, including well-informed government officials, knew of its existence. “People stopped going to the St Lukes Church around 1987. For the past three years, we have been visiting the church and we wanted to renovate it. We approached senior officials and urged them to take up the renovation work of the church,” he added.
Over 20 masons and carpenters worked to restore the integrity of the church’s structure
The restoration of the beautiful 125 years old St Luke’s Church in Srinagar is a testimony to our syncretic values and amity!
The Church will be thrown open to churchgoers and public before Christmas!
— Junaid Azim Mattu (@Junaid_Mattu) December 19, 2021
The renovation was done in coordination with the members of the Christian community as well as archaeology experts to ensure that the Srinagar church’s original structure and integrity remain intact. Over 20 masons and carpenters worked to complete the restoration on time. For the uplift, the same materials were used as the original structure. The ceiling, for instance, was redone with traditional Khatambad woodwork and flooring with Devar stones, maintaining the original colour combinations as well. The supervisor of the church renovation Mohammad Afzal Reshi said, “We didn’t change the design and architecture of the church, but worked on restoring its glory and renovated damaged parts. To restore the old traditional Khatamband ceiling alone, it took about two months for carpenters,” according to a report by the Wire.
Dedicated by the bishop of Lahore on December 12, 1896, the foundation stone still remains on the church wall and reads “To The Glory of God”, “As A Witness To Kashmir.” The Church is situated in the tourist hub of Srinagar city, half a kilometre away from the famous Dal Lake, next to the Chest Diseases Hospital. Renovations had earlier slowed down due to the COVID-19 lockdown and, until recently, the Christian population of the valley would head to the Holy Family Catholic Church on MA Road for Sunday mass and Christmas mass, according to a report by NDTV.
In his conversation with the Wire, Reverend Kaul added, “It is admirable how all the Kashmiri masons and carpenters diligently worked hard all these months to replicate the old roof design and Khatamband ceiling work. It was a very difficult job, and we appreciate their hard work and we will always pray for them.”