St. John’s Church

St. John Church, Kolkata

Last Supper at St. John Church, Kolkata. Courtesy: Wikipedia

The St. John’s Church is the third oldest church of Kolkata. It lists among the important heritage sites of Kolkata. An original Parish Church of Bengal, it became the principal Cathedral of Calcutta in 1815, and remained so until the consecration of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1847. The church is a rich repository of old memories and some historic monuments related to the history of Kolkata. Warren Hastings and Reverend William Johnson, Chaplain from 1770, were the prime movers for the construction of the church.

The land on which St, John’s Church was built was the old burial ground, closed since 1767, where Job Charnock – the founder of Kolkata was buried with his family. This was originally the property of Maharaja Nabakrisna Deb, who was persuaded in 1782 by Warren Hastings to sell it to him in his private capacity. The church was built entirely on the site of the old burial ground. Of the old mausoleums, only those of Charnock and Admiral Waton were left undisturbed. The other graves were dug up and the remains taken away. The foundation stone of the church was laid on 6 April 1784 and the church was opened on 24 June 1787. The ceremony of consecration was witnessed by Lord Cornwallis. It is an important tourist destination and excursion spot for many educational institutions of Kolkata.

Location of St. John’s Church in Kolkata

The church is located at the North-west corner of Raj Bhavan, Kolkata, West Bengal.

History of St. John’s Church in Kolkata

The St. John’s Church was built in 1787 by architect James Agg. The land for the church was donated by Raja Nabo Kishen Bahadur of the famed Shovabazar Raj Family of North Kolkata. The foundation stone of the church was laid by Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India on 6 April 1784. The church is also famously known as ‘Pathure Girja’ or Stone Church because of its brick and stone architecture. The architectural design of the church was made in accordance with the design of St. Martin’s Church, London. The interior of the church is decorated with beautiful wood carvings and marble bass relief work. The windows of the church are built with color stained glasses. On its walls hangs the large painting of ‘The Last Supper’ which John Zoffany presented to church.

Memorials inside St. John’s Church:

Job Charnock’s Tomb: He was the founder of Kolkata. He came as a British trader in 1690 to the Sutanuti village and combined the three villages of Govindopur, Kalikata and Sutanuti to form the present day metropolis of Kolkata. He died after two years following which a memorial was built by his Son-in-law Charles Ayer in his honor inside the St. John’s church. The octagonal tomb houses the graves of Charnock along with some of his relatives.

The Black Hole Monument: The Black Hole is a memorial built by the British in memory of the British prisoners of war who died in the Black Hole tragedy. According to history, during the seize of Calcutta, Nawab Siraj Ud-Daulah took 146 British prisoner and confined them in a room measuring 14 feet by 8 feet and locked them up overnight. Only 23 survived, the rest 123 perished of suffocation and heat stroke. John Holwell one of the survivors, who later became the Governor of Bengal, left this account. It was he who built this memorial in honor of the deceased soldiers. However, during the last years of independence movement in 1940’s, the monument was moved to the compound of St. John’s Church. The octagonal obelisk styled memorial contains the names of 123 people who were “killed” in the Calcutta Black Hole incident.

Lady Canning Memorial: This tomb was built in memory of Lady Charlotte Canning (1817 – 1861) wife of Charles Canning, the Governor General and Viceroy of India. Lady Canning’s name was been made immortal by the famous sweet maker Bhim Nag, who specially made the sweet Pantua in her honor and named it Ladykeni.


Trivia of St. John Church, Kolkata

  • The Last Supper by Zoffany – The famous painting of Christ’s Last Supper done by painter Johan Zoffany has an interesting story behind it. Inspired by the Last Supper painting of Leonardo Da Vinci, Zoffany painted the historic Biblical event with an Indian touch. The scene from bible was recreated with live models that were portrayed by some interesting people of that time. Jesus was Greek priest Father Parthenio, John was William Coates Blaquire, the police magistrate of Calcutta during 1780s. The effeminate police officer was a master in adopting female disguises, and Judas was William Tulloh, an auctioneer who took recourse to law to avenge the insult of finding himself depicted as Judas. The top left hand corner of the painting shows a sword, which represents a common peon’s tulwar. Water ewer standing near the table is a copy of Hidustani spittoon and next to it lays a water filled bag (a goat skin bag used for storing water). Zoffany’s Last Supper has recently been restored by Renate Kant, a German painting conservator based in Singapore.
  • The mausoleum of Job Charnock – the founder of Kolkata is to be found at St. Johns’ Church.
  • Lady Charlotte Canning wife of Charles Canning, the Governor General and Viceroy of India was immortalized by the famous sweet maker Bhim Nag, who specially made a sweet in her honor and named it Ladykeni. Lady Canning’s tomb lies at St. Johns’ Church.