Dr. H. S. S. Lawrence
Educationalist Sr. Member of Cathedral
Place of History
In the history of Christianity in the world, St. George’s Cathedral occupies a place of glory. It was here on September 27, 1947, that the Church of South India was inaugurated. The Cathedral was packed to capacity and the big pandal outside held over 2000 persons. I well remember the satisfaction, happiness and optimism writ in the faces of those who attended this inauguration. On that day St. George’s Cathedral became a place of history. It was also the greatest day in the history of this beautiful, magnificent Cathedral. It blazed a new trail marking the breaking down of ecclesiastical barriers. It was here that the divisions among Christians of various traditions were healed.
The beauty of St. George’s Cathedral is not alone in its tall spire and unparalleled pillars but also in its high class statues,
mural tablets and memorials inside. The Cathedral is certainly a massive and majestic piece of architectural grandeur
resting on an elegant tier of steps. The decorative memorials and articles inside are history in stone” that speak the stories
of great men and women who built and equipped this temple and worshipped and prayed in this House of God. The
Governors of Fort St. George and their families worshipped here as also the Viceroys when they visited Madras.
It is refreshing and revealing to look back upon its history. St. George’s Church was opened in 1815. It is stated that the
church was completed by the people themselves with the aid of a lottery fund. It cost 41,709 pagodas; furniture, the
organ and the architect’s commission increased the cost to 57,225 pagodas. The East India Company’s Senior Engineer
Col. J.L. Caldwell designed the church and his assistant Capt DeHaviland, finished the construction. The site with an
advantageous location was called the Choultry Plain. Though the Presidency Chaplain conducted the services from 1815, it
was on 6th January 1816, that the first Anglican Bishop in India, Rt. Rev.Thomas Fanshaw Middleton consecrated the
church to “the service of God according to the use of the Church of England”. He wrote
“I was assisted on this occasion by seven of my clergy, a great number to bring together in this country”.
The Loyal Congregation
Since 1815, the church grew by leaps and bounds in various ways. The south eastern corner was set aside for the
cemetery. DeHaviland’s wife was the first to be buried here. The belfry was completed in 1832. The altar table was donated
by Miss De La Fond. The bells and the chiming device were donated by Mr. Banbury and the Rev. Thomas Foulkes
respectively. The brass altar cross was donated by Surgeon General Cornish. The lectern was a memorial tribute by his
friends to Deacon Warlow. The Episcopal chair was gift from Mr. F.E. Kneale. The Bishop’s Throne, Litany stool and the
clergy seats were carved by W.S. Whiteside of the Madras Civil Service. The gold chalice and paten for Holy Communion
were donated by Lt. Col. Herbert St. Clare Carrunthers in 1908. They weigh 3 lbs 7 ounces in 18 carat gold.The chalice is set
with diamonds in the form of a cross. The altar rail was erected by P.Orr and Sons to the memory of Edward William Orr, a
faithful member of the choir, who died in 1913. The marble baptismal font was gifted by the congregation. I had the privilege of
donating a silver bowl for baptism which was held during the regular services till the font was brought to the front.
It was in 1835, that St. George’s Church became prominent as the Cathedral of Madras. The chancel was later lengthened
with a ten foot radius semicircular apse. The Vestry and the Lady Chapel were also added later. In 1884, the Trustees
replaced the plaster roof of the nave by one of teakwood and patterned it with papier-mâché. When in 1947, a large portion of
the Cathedral ceiling collapsed, the congregation raised over Rs. 50000 for extensive repairs to the roof under the able
leadership of Rev. R.L. Watson. The Cathedral itself was closed and services were conducted in a pandal, with the altar and
choir stalls on the south porch and the pews on the gravel between the porch and the graveyard. The Cathedral was
opened with a service of thanksgiving after over six months of closure.
Tribute To Bishops
A personal study of the statues, memorial tablets and brass plaques has given me an interesting peep into the history of
Christian life under British rule for over two centuries. At the left entrance to the Cathedral is the statue of the Rt. Rev. Daniel
Corrie, the first Bishop of Madras (1835-1837). Associated with many schools, he is shown with an open Bible blessing an
Indian boy in loin cloth, a sacred thread and a tuft. At the main entrance is the Rt. Rev. Thomas Dealtry, Bishop of Madras
(1849-1861) in bas-relief. One who himself ordained 151 clergymen is seen blessing two young priests attended by his son
Archdeacon Dealtry, the Rev.Lugard and Rev.Murphy. At the entrance of the Lady Chapel is the bust of the Rt.
Rev Frederick Gell, Bishop of Madras (1861-1899). Near by is the alto-relieve statue of Reginald Heber by Chantry. There is a
memorial tablet for the first Indian Bishop of Madras, the Rt. Rev. David Chellappa (1955-1964) erected by the congregation of
St.George’s Cathedral. The consecration and installation of Bishop David Chellappa as the first Indian Bishop in Madras in
1955 was a great occasion in the Cathedral. We are always proud of the services rendered by the other Bishops of
Madras the Rt.Rev. Spencer White-Head, Waller, Hollis, Newbigin, Sundar Clarke and Azariah to whom we are greatly
indebted. Two other memorials for Indians are the tablets from Dewan Bahadur N. Subramanyam (1841-1911) Administrator
General of Madras who founded and endowed the Kalyani Hospital and Dr. R.D.Paul who died in 1975 “after a long and
devoted service to the Church, the State and the Community”.
Our Bishop Rt. Rev. V. Devasahayam
The present Bishop in Madras is The Rt. Rev. Dr. V. Devasahayam, who is an able theologian and administrator. Ever since
he took charge he worked hard to improve and develop the infrastructure in churches, schools and hospitals. The Cathedral
as the Mother Church of the Diocese helped in the construction of the building of a church at Sriperumbudur. In his message
to INGAT 2006 (A Festival of Thanksgiving), the Bishop said, As a family of faith it is also an occasion to thank God for the
very many blessings we have received through this church, particularly to the gift of growing in fellowship and witnessing to
Christ’s love through acts of sharing. The Mother Church certainly stands as an example to all the churches in the Dioceses
Other Religious Leaders
Many memorials were erected to the memory of British soldiers, religious leaders, educationists, police officers, engineers,
businessmen, judges, medical officers and their families. There is a tablet for the Rt. Rev. Robert Caldwell, who for 53
years devoted himself to the furtherance of the Gospel among the Tamil people of Tirunelveli. Well known as a scholar and
philologist, he served also as assistant to the Bishop of Madras and died at Kodaikanal in 1891. From another tablet, we see
that Frederick Rowlandson was Registrar of the Diocese of Madras for 53 years and died in 1929. Similarly we see from a
plaque that Edward Sell, Canon of St.George’s Cathedral had worked for 67 years in Madras and died in 1932 at the age
of 93. John Mousley, the first Archdeacon in Madras (1815-1819) has a commemoration tablet by Flaxman.