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Neglected Kashmiri church renovated in time for Christmas

17 December 2021

After decades of violence, renovation work brings hope

Syed Zeeshan Jaipuri

St Luke’s, Srinagar

St Luke’s, Srinagar

IT IS a sunny December afternoon in Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir, India. As we walk through the busy Dalgate area, we get glimpses of an evocative building: St Luke’s. Its doors have been shut for the past three decades, after growing violence in Kashmir in the 1990s, and it is gradually returning to its former glory.

The stone and brick masonry structure, which has been deteriorating for three decades, is being restored by masons, artisans, and labourers. It is expected that the church bells will ring again this Christmas. As we approach the rusty red walls of the church, workers were taking a break for lunch.

“We have been working here for two months; it’s almost ready for Christmas,” one of the workers said. “The renovation work is in its final stage.” Another points us to the ceiling of the church, which has been renovated with Kashmiri Khatamband (wood-carving art). The floor is being repaired with Divar stones, which are mostly used in hammams (steam baths) in Kashmir. The work appears to be in its final phase.

St Luke’s is located behind the missionary hospital that served as an important religious place for Protestants before the 1990s. The Protestant community consists of a handful number of families, all based in Srinagar. Earlier, the community would have to travel to St Mary’s, in Gulmarg, to join the congregation. The reopening of St Luke’s will make it possible for the Christian community in Srinagar to attend more often.

It was constructed after the Neve brothers, Dr Arthur and Dr Ernest Neve, who introduced allopathic medicine to Kashmir, laid its foundation on 12 September 1896. The foundation stone above the door bears the inscription “Erected by Dr Arthur and Ernest Neve to the glory of God and as a witness to Kashmir, dedicated by the Bishop of Lahore.”

Syed Zeeshan JaipuriThe interior of St Luke’s, before renovation work started

I met Mr Michael, who is in his early thirties and does not remember anything about the church. “The thought that it’s reopening brings me joy,” he said.

Shopkeepers around the church usually visit the site to check on the work. “We are happy that the church lights will bring the lost light back in our locality,” said an elderly lady, Haneefa, who was buying groceries from a shop near the church. A shopkeeper, Gulam Qadir, said: “Everyone should practise what their religion has taught, and everyone has the right to do so.”

The church is being renovated under the government-sponsored architectural and heritage conservation and maintenance scheme.

A Department of Tourism official, Bashir Ahmad, while speaking to local media, said that approximately US$133,400 had been allotted for the renovation work. “We are hopeful that the work will finish before Christmas,” he said.

Syed Zeeshan Jaipuri is an author and journalist.

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