200 year old Anglican Church of Kannur

Jul 01, 2012 | Vol. 4, Issue 3
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St John’s CSI Anglican Church, the first Protestant Church in Malabar, established in 1811, is one of the oldest British monuments in north Kerala and is situated in the Kannur Cantonment.  The church, the tomb stones in the graveyard and many documents related to the church like Baptism register, Cemetery register, Books on Prayers and songs, utensils etc. take us back to the glorious past of the British in India.

St John's CSI Anglican Church, the first Protestant Church in Malabar, established in 1811, is one of the oldest British monuments in north Kerala and is situated in the Kannur Cantonment. The conclusion of the bi centenary celebrations of the church was conducted on fourth Feb 2012.

The church was established for the British militia who was camping here and was constructed by the Military engineers from Madras (now Chennai, in Tamilnadu). In a treaty with the Tippu Sultan of Mysore, in 1792, the whole of Malabar (north Kerala & part of south Karnataka) became under the British East India Company. In 1805, the East India Company decided to establish churches in all their seven military garrisons, including Kannur.

As directed by the Chaplain of Madras Presidency, the plan and estimate for the chapel with a capacity of 600 persons was then prepared by the Military Board. In 1811the work of this chapel was completed with an amount of 5000 pagodas (Rs.36,000/-). A cemetery was also provided near the church.  In 1808, Rev. John Dustar Willy was appointed for conducting Holy mass for the military and civilians and the construction was under his supervision. Later he served as Chaplain for more than 15 years, till his death. Immediately after the completion of the Church, the directors wrote a letter to the Senior Chaplain the Archbishop of Canterbury, seeking permission to officially dedicate the church and cemetery. But the function was delayed due to various reasons. In 1833, with the withdrawal of the Military Guards from the church, it became more civilian oriented.  Later when Basel mission arrived in Kannur, their missionaries conducted services. In 1852, the church has renovated and modified.

The construction is a combination of Kerala and the Greek styles and from a aerial view it looks like a cross. The Greek style pillars and the design have been adopted from the style which was popular in those times in England. The main portion of the church measures 70ft length, 47ft breadth and 41ft height. The church is constructed in laterite bricks with lime plastering having a tiled roof, wooden ceiling and granite slabs for flooring.. The altar is simple. The chairs, benches and the pulpit are in wood and still stand elegant. Many marble plaques are mounted on the walls in memory of Britishers. This includes the one in memory of the three Army officers who died in the Coorg war in 1834 and one in memory of Murdoch Brown, who cultivated the Cinnamon plantations in Anjarakkandy.  Apart from the main hall there are separate portions for military prisoners (who serve as assistants) during sermons and mass.  The small annexes in the church is said to have be used as Horse stables

So many documents related to the church like Baptism register, Cemetery register, reports and accounts of the church, Books on Prayers and songs, utensils all are still preserved.

The cemetery accommodates many tomb stones of various types and sizes. Some tomb stones are totally damaged and some partially and covered in thick undergrowth. Most of the tombstones are made of laterite bricks with a marble slab on top, inscribed with the personal details of the buried of which the majority are Europeans. Even though the graveyard is in a bad condition, the structures of the graveyard take us back to the glorious past of the British in India.

After the independence of India, in 1947 the churches under the Basel Mission and the Anglican churches merged and became the Church of South India (CSI) and the St. John's church at Kannur also came under this organization.  Now a Vicar and pastor serve the Church. According to the present Vicar Rev. Jeeson, even now foreigners come here in search of their ancestors graves. He also said that the church is somehow maintained, but the condition of the cemetery is pathetic and it requires immediate attention.  So he requested for help and patronage from various organizations and the Government agencies to help and preserve this colonial heritage for posterity.

Location/Access: The Church and Cemetery are located near Government HQ Hospital, in Cantonment Area, Kannur town

For info/visit: 

Ph: 0497- 2732108
Rev Jeeson, Vikar Mob:94478 68244

Information Courtesy: Article on St John's church by Rev. K C Thomas published in Malayalam during the 175th anniversary year, based on the book 'The Church of Madras, Vol II', by the Rev. Fr. Frank Penny.

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