Having gotten bored of the rut I often find myself in, I decided to take a walk around Kashmere Gate in Delhi. Situated on Lothian Road (presumably named after the region around Edinburgh in the Scottish lowlands), lies Delhi’s oldest church that is still standing: St. James’ Church, consecrated in 1836.
The story begins much earlier with James Skinner, an officer in the army of the British East India Company. Born in Calcutta in 1778 to a Scottish father and an Indian mother, Skinner was a rather interesting figure. Because of his Indian ancestry, he was initially unable to serve as an officer in the army of the East India Company, and so at the age of sixteen, he entered the Maratha army of Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior state, also leasing himself to other local rulers for wars whenever circumstances allowed him to. He was fondly known as “Sikandar Sahib” to the Indian soldiers who fought under him. He remained in service of the Marathas until 1803, when, on the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Maratha War, all Anglo-Indians were dismissed from the Maratha forces. He then joined the Bengal Army of the East India Company which now accepted him. Here, he raised a cavalry regiment called Skinner’s Horse (also known as the ‘Yellow Boys’ because of the colour of their uniform), that still exists today as part of the Indian Army.
In 1800 AD, when he was fighting for a Rajput ruler near the town of Uniara in modern-day Rajasthan, he was badly wounded and lay unattended under the harsh sun for two days, let down by some ‘disloyal’ soldiers. He prayed for his safety and vowed to build a chapel to God if he survived. Soon thereafter, a Dalit woman arrived on the battlefield with some food and water, and saved his life. He decided to fulfil his vow and built a chapel just outside what was then the walled city of Delhi, on its northern end, near Kashmere Gate. Later, on his personal request, the building was consecrated as a church in 1836 by Bishop Daniel Wilson (then Bishop of Calcutta). He is also said to have built a temple and a mosque, but details of them are unknown. Skinner died in 1841, and lies buried in the compound of the church he built.
Today, St. James’ Church is a mission church of the Diocese of Delhi, Church of North India. It can be reached by metro from the Kashmere Gate metro station (on the red, yellow and violet lines of the Delhi Metro).