St. Thomas' Church, Mirza Ghalib Street
It may seem strange, but it is a fact that Calcutta has two churches named after St Thomas in the city area.
The history of St Thomas’ Church, located on 13 D, Mirza Ghalib Street (Formerly Free School Street), is linked with that of the old Calcutta Free School, now known as St. Thomas’ School and situated in Kidderpore area.
In the year 1830, Bishop Turner first proposed to build a church in the school compound and according to his proposal, the foundation stone was ceremoniously laid on 13 April 1830 by Lady Bentinck, wife of the then Governor General of India, Lord William Bentinck, while Bishop Turner preached on the occasion to the distinguished gathering.
Unfortunately, as Bishop Turner died before the completion of the Church, it was opened for public worship on 26 November 1831 by the Archdeacon Daniel Corrie, who once laid the foundation stone of the Holy Trinity Church on Amherst Street. However, the ceremonial consecration was postponed till the arrival of the new Bishop and was subsequently performed on 2nd February 1833 by Bishop Daniel Wilson. It may be mentioned here that, Bishop Daniel Wilson was instrumental in the foundation of the graceful St. Paul’s Cathedral in Calcutta. Nevertheless, the new Church was dedicated to St Thomas, the Patron Saint of India and at the same time the Free School was founded on the festival of that apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Built in classical colonial style, the building of the Church is crowned with a Gothic tower. The prayer hall has a beautiful altar window and a marble base relief of our Lord and of St. Thomas. Initially, as there was no arrangement for lighting the Church, the evening services were used to be held at 4’o clock, before it grew dark. Large branched candle holders (Candelabra), look alike Chandeliers, were introduced subsequently and from about 1860 gaslights were used until the introduction of electric lights in 1900. However, despite all the disadvantages, the Church was always well attended and its funds flourished. Even, Sir John Lawrence, along with his staff members, attended service here, during his term as the Governor General of India (1864-1869).
The age old building of St Thomas’ Church faced trouble on 28 March 2006, when the lower portion of the main wooden beam got detached and came crashing down. Fortunately, no harm was done to life or the property. Necessary renovation was done satisfactorily with the funds provided by the Calcutta Diocesan Trust Association (Private), along with the funds raised by the Church authorities.
Apart from the St Thomas Church on Mirza Ghalib Street, there is another St Thomas Church in Calcutta, located on Middleton Row. The history of this church is intimately connected with the origin of one of the prime educational institutions in the city of Calcutta.
It all started in 1840, when Mother Teresa Ball of Ireland was requested, to send sisters to set up a school for the Catholic children in Calcutta. In response to the call, Mother Teresa Ball sent a band of eleven Loreto sisters from Ireland, under the leadership of Mother M. Delphine Hart, who landed at Babughat on 29 December 1841. On arrival, they were housed in a beautiful and spacious three storeyed building situated at 5 Middleton Row. Earlier to that, the building was occupied by different important persons of the city at different times, which included among others, Henry Vansittart, Governor of Bengal, Sir Elijah Impey, the infamous First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Calcutta and the Second Anglican Bishop of Calcutta, Bishop Heber. Loreto House School was opened in this building on 10 January 1842 with 60 students.
In the meantime, the construction of St. Thomas' Church had already begun within the compound of the same building. Before the arrival of the nuns from Ireland, the foundation stone was laid on the 11th day of November 1841 and on 5th May the building was consecrated. The church was opened to the public on 8 September 1842 and the Jesuits of St Xavier College were entrusted the pastoral charge in November 1843. St Thomas’ Church on Middleton Row is а Roman Catholic, Latin Rite church. Built in colonial style, it has a Doric-columned portico topped by a short octagonal spire.
The Catholic Archbishop of Calcutta, Mgr. Carew, also constructed a building for his personal residence next to the church and adjacent to Loreto House. During those days this building was known as St. Thomas' House.
With the passing of time, as the old Loreto House building became unsafe, it was demolished and the new Loreto House was constructed. Today, St. Thomas' Church and a part of the building where the college was first established are the only original buildings on the premises.
The body of Mother Teresa was laid in state at St. Thomas' Church in a glass casket for public viewing for six days, before her final funeral.