26 SEP 2022

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CSI All Souls' Church

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Brief History of All Souls' Church, Coimbatore


The CSI All Souls' Church ( Church of South India) is in Coimbatore ,according to the Madras Oriental Manuscripts, was founded as a small Anglican Chapel for the faithful Christians of the Army Barracks of East Indian Company during the days of early colonial Viceroys Robert Clive and Warren Hastings sometime in the early 17th century. The Army Barracks were located where we now have the Coimbatore Central Jail.   Many a fierce battle in the 18th century between the armies of Hyder Ali / Tippu Sultan and the East India Company saw Coimbatore changing hands with the fluctuating fortunes of these armies. Strategically located, Coimbatore was important for the East India Company and later the British Government, By the mid 19th century the community of Europeans/Eurasians had grown. The first seeds of Christianity for Coimbatore city were sown from All Souls' Anglican Chapel located where we now have the Anna Flyover in Avinashi road. Those who peep into that area would be astonished to find a small labyrinth carrying the name All Souls' Street even today. 
The Chapel then was the hotbed of reformist protestant sentiments at a time when Christianity in England was on her revival path. The succession of ministers espousing reformist views with liberal preaching and social activism reached its zenith with more joining in. In the meanwhile, the nonconformist group of Christians worshiping initially at the Central Jail and later at Stones School had also joined their hands with All Souls7 Anglican Chapel owing to the yeomen service of the Reverend Henry Taylor, visiting chaplain from Coonor military base. Divine services on Sundays were conducted in the Judge's court, the largest public room at Coimbatore. Visiting Chaplin the Reverend Henry Taylor persuaded the congregation to build a Church, but could not fulfill the same, as the total budgeted amount for the Church could not be mobilized. All further efforts of building the new Church came to a halt and the money collected was kept in safe custody.
In 1867 the Reverend Dr. I. McKee was appointed as Chaplin in Coonor and visiting Chaplin for Coimbatore. He had some experience of Church building in Travancore and when he realized that the sum of money had already been collected for the purpose, he reopened the subject with the congregation and formed a building committee with the Judge P.M. Kindersley, Collector Andrew Wedderburn, Colonel Swaston and Colonel Davies of the police, H.R. Grimes, Superintendent of the Jail and Major W.H. Hessey of the Survey Department (who assumed full responsibility).   Consequently, it was desired to upgrade the All Souls' Anglican Chapel and a decision was made in 1867 to build a new Church in commemoration to the fortieth anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen Victoria II, who was also the Empress of India then to accommodate the plans and activities of a growing congregation. Suitable piece of land extending to 8.50 acres were acquired at Race Course during 1863 - 1869 from (Anga Naicken at Rs.10/- and Rs.58/- respectively in 1863 and 1868 from Rangaswamy Gounder for Rs.1420/-.   These lands cannot be used for any secular purpose vide G.O. 222 of October 14, 1873 and the letter No. 244 of November 1913 to the Superintending Engineer of Coimbatore, 2nd Para of the Collector's letter dated September 10, 1915. The plan of the Church lands and the deed of sale are therefore filed with the proceedings of the Madras Government Ecclesiastical Department dt. October 14, 1873 in the record file for the Year 1871 – 1890.
Construction of the Church’s present building began in 1866 under the supervision of Mr. James Grimes, Superintendent, Coimbatore Central Jail and Col. Hessey Superintendent, Coimbatore Survey Department with a budget of Rs. 13,767/- Out of this amount Rs.5000/- was obtained as subsidy from the government. The Society for promoting Christian knowledge made a grant of £ 20. The interior ornamentation cost much more the excess being borne by Major Hessey himself. This enthused other residents, who donated for handsome furniture in keeping with the character of the structure. The estimated cost of furniture was Rs. 2644/-. Mrs. Grimes donated the East window in 1872 in memory of her daughter.
Upon completion of construction, Bishop Cell consecrated All Souls' Church on January 27, 1872 and the Reverend Henry Pope was appointed as the first resident Chaplin. Podanur and Palghat outstations were also assigned to him. However, on August 20, 1874 it was handed over to the Government of Madras as per Madras Government Ecclesiastical Order dt. July 2, 1874 and the All Souls' Church was formally affiliated with Church of England in India. The Church and the adjoining buildings have a characteristic feature of an Anglican Parish, reminiscent of Oliver Goldsmith's Vicarage at Wakefield, Yorkshire, England. Coimbatore is no less picturesque with the Western Ghats on three sides. Cruciform shaped, its chancels accommodate the choir on one side and the members on the other. The chancels have low wooded roof, double side gabbled entrances supported by a single column and two pointed arches. The arched openings lead to a 12 feet wide hall culminating to the raised sanctuary. A king post truss spans the steep tiled timber rafted roof. The walls are ashlar stone masonry. Pointed arches reflect the gothic revival style; huge stain glass windows and a profusion of smaller arch windows create an effect of space and light. The steeple houses the belfry. All Souls' Church is unique because no other building in this area reflects this architecture and craftsmanship.
In the aftermath of construction (1872), though it was thought to be the Church of Eurasians in Coimbatore, the liberal preaching and social activism of successive Chaplains paved the way for de-segregation of the congregation. All Souls' Church started its evangelical work by supporting a missionary of Indian origin, the Reverend S. Packianathan in 1898 and had her first lay trustee of Indian origin Mr. Narassaiah. With the turn of 20th century All Souls' family became a cosmopolitan mixture of congregation of Indian and Eurasian origins. The Church building was added with a porch in its western end in memory of His Majesty the King Edward VII in 1902   On October 10, 1904, the Reverend S.O. Piers confirmed four persons for the first time in All Souls' Church. In 1923 a dynamic new leader, the Reverend H J Edmonds entered the pulpit of All Souls' Church. He was a forceful Bible educator who advocated evangelization. In 1924 a Parish Library was started and in 1925 Evangelical Council of All Souls' Church was formed to reach out people in the neighborhood resulted in the institution of All Souls' Endowment Scholarship to help educating the poor children by the Reverend Earnest Evit in 1940.
With the promulgation of Indian Church Statutory Rules, 1940, all the protestant Churches in   South   India   and   Sri   Lanka   were affiliated   to   Church   of South   India   on September 27, 1947. The last English Chaplain of All Souls' Church was Roy Martin who served from 1969 to 1980. This era witnessed tremendous growth of the church with a multilingual complex of Tamils, Malayalis and others, which include some Europeans and Africans came to read in leading Educational Institutions of Coimbatore city. The reverend Roy Martin also took the initiative to educate the children in Christian virtues and started All Souls' Junior Church.
Howbeit, the zeal of evangelization and scriptural education were and are high priority at All Souls' Church. An extension keeping with the architecture was added in front of the Church in 2000 to accommodate more congregation during divine service. We are privileged to be part of this History. What comes next? We hope you will consider help writing the next chapter of the congregation's long and distinguished history!

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