July 5, 2004
A crucial makeover is in store for Afghan Church, built as a war memorial to the British and Indian soldiers who perished in the Afghan War (1835-43).
Located in a rare green patch of Colaba’s Navy Nagar, the church’s piece de resistance — its stunning stained glass panels — is being restored at an expense of about Rs 30 lakh. When the church (a Grade-I heritage structure) was built in phases through the mid-1800s, these intricate panels were designed by a reigning stained glass artist, James Wailles, and shipped in from London.
Today, while the main panels on the east and west, with their richly-detailed depictions of Biblical scenes, are in comparatively good condition, many of the individual window panels around the church aisle have suffered varying degrees of damage, including breakage and buckling. Also, the timber casing and lead ribs have corroded over time.
With INTACH’s assistance, the church has roped in conservationist Kirti Unwalla and stained glass expert Swati Chandgadkar. The latter worked on the stained glass panels of Mumbai Fort’s St Thomas Cathedral, which recently won an Urban Heritage Conservation award.
‘‘‘The (British) empire was at its height and they wanted to replicate their structures across colonies.’’ Two aisle window panels were successfully restored by Chandgadkar, then refitted last week on a trial basis. While every other of these windows can be opened, Church Secretary Asha Matthew says: ‘‘We currently avoid handling them out of fear of causing further damage.’’
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