Mission Church, located on R N Mukherjee Road, was founded by a Swedish Lutheran missionary, Johann Zachariah Kiernander. With the approval and support of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), he arrived in India in 1740 as a missionary. After spending long 18 years of his life in South India, he came to Calcutta at the request of Lord Clive. Initially, he established the Mission Church in a rent free large room near the gateway of the old Fort, which was provided to him by the Governor himself. However, he was not satisfied with the arrangement and in 1767 he purchased a plot of land at his own expenses around the Tank Square area to construct a building for a new church in Calcutta. After many hiccups and setbacks, the construction of his dream project was completed in 1770 and he named it ‘Beth Tephillah’, in Hebrew, which means the House of Prayer. However, it was commonly known as the Mission Church.
The new church, founded by Johann Zachariah Kiernander is the second oldest Christian Church in Calcutta, only next to the Armenian Church and until the inception of St. John’s Church in 1787 it was the sole place of worship of the Protestants. However, for reasons unknown, after the construction of the St. John’s Church, the Mission Church came to be commonly known as the Old Mission Church, even a marble plaque and the metallic lettering at the entrance of the church indicates the same. During those early days, the Mission Church had a pet name too.
Probably for its brick red look, the local people fondly used to call it the ‘Lal Girja’ or the Red Church. It is also said that, due to the reflection of the Red Church on the Tank Square, it also got the name ‘Lal Dighi’ or the Red Square. But, though the Kiernander’s church continued to dominate central Calcutta after his death in 1799, gradually, with the rapid growth of Calcutta as the second city of the British Empire during the next century, the Church had to retreat behind a row of newly built commercial buildings.
From time to time, the Mission Church underwent several modifications, renovation and extensions. Originally, it was graced with a tall slender spire, which dominated the Calcutta skyline. Unfortunately, the spire was severely damaged in 1897, during a devastating earthquake originated in Assam. As it was considered to be irreparable, the spire had to be removed and since then the church has remained without a spire till date. The unfortunate removal of the spire undoubtedly robbed much of the majestic grace of the building. In addition to that, the roof of the building was also removed and replaced in 1948, due to infestation of white ants, allowing in the process for the church to be enlarged.
Today, the long corridor of the Mission Church, decorated with tall Doric columns, leads to the stained glass decorated altar. George Henry Kiernander, grandson of Johann Zachariah Kiernander, added the stained glass at the altar to add its grace and grandeur.
The prayer hall is neatly arranged. The church housed a beautiful marble bust of Bishop Thomas Dealtry, who became the Archdeacon of Calcutta in 1835 and remained in the post till his appointment as the Bishop of Madras in 1849. There are several plaques in the church, which include a plaque commemorating the 225 years of the Church. However, there is no plaque commemorating the historical event, when the famous Bengali poet Madhusudan Dutt was converted to Christianity in this Church on February 9, 1843.
With the advent of the 21st century, the Mission Church situated on R N Mukherjee Road, has lost much of its past glory and it is impossible for any person to get a good look or a clear view of the beautiful building, since the peripheral area of the Church, is heavily congested with illegal parkings and encroachments.