St John's Church located in Vellore Fort, TN - steeped in history

St John's Church 1846 inside the Vellore Fort

Named after evangelist  St. John, the church inside the Vellore fort  was built in 1845 by the then East india company government based in Madras  in order to meet the spiritual needs of their soldiers and officers stationed in the garrison at the historical fort, Vellore city, Tamil Nadu. Though officially not consecrated for various reasons, it goes by that name  and it was due to sensitive and unstable political situation, It is the oldest church in Vellore under the Vellore Diocese and its history is a chequered one. 

The church  is under the control of the ASI- Archaeological Survey of India. along with a Hindu temple and some halls built by Tipu Sultan of Mysore.  

St John's Church Vellore Fort

interior St John's Church Vellore Fort

Toward the end of 1700 (in 1798) East india Company had a  Chaplain  built for the European officers  and also appointed a teacher to help the native converts regarding religious matter.    .  Prior to that  in 1769, Gericke, a missionary of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and a pupil of Christian Friedrich Schwarz, an Anglo-saxon missionary  and a mentor of Raja Serfoji of the Tanjore Martha dynasty stationed in Thanjavur,  commenced Christian missionary work at Vellore. 

The  first church came up inside the fort in 1773 at the initiative of  Fabricius of Vepery and the contribution came from many sources. It was to be used as a chaplain for  Sunday services and school for children on weekdays.   The church fell out of use between 1780 and 1784 due to war and finally  British recaptured the fort from Hyder Ali.  As Tipu and Hyder Ali made serious threats to the English company's expansion  with help from the French army, the  English army was using the church building in the fort to station there and eventually the English company bought the building. 

Another church came up in 1792, initiated by a friend of Schwartz, William Harcourt Torriano, also civil representative of the Madras Government.  It was to be used by the Europeans and the natives;  but it lasted for only 30 years. 

The EIC, that was on a land expansion spree,  chose Vellore as one of the seven military stations where a permanent Chaplain was needed.  However,  in the wake of a bloody rebellion in Vellore fort in 1806, vulnerability of the place,  the military station was shifted to Arcot where a church was built in 1814 where military chaplains were based . The military station  stayed there till 1862).  Because of small presence of military in the Vellore fort. a small church was built.

When Torriano' Chapel  became dilapidated and unfit and the other building that housed , the school  became the new Government Board of Education in 1828,  till 1835 the services for the people were held in the public  rooms inside the fort and this arrangement lasted for 3 years.  Finally, the govt. bought the property (containing public rooms) and a new church came up temporarily.  

After the sanction of a new church in 1844 inside the Vellore fort by the Madras govt. the new church  came up. It was designed and built in 1946 by Major C G Ottley, the Fort Adjutant of the Vellore Fort for which he got some remuneration from the madras government,

The church's nave measuring 50 x 41 ft, was built using old technique. It is a masonry building with high ceiling. Quite ventilated it has a verandah on one side. It has a small altar with    its 2 vestries with a small seating capacity of 280 people. 

The reason for not consecrating the church was, it was built on a space once used as public rooms. To maintain the sanctity of the place of worship and to respect divinity, the consecration ceremony was avoided.   

The British soldiers who lost their life during the rebellion in 1896 inside the fort  are buried in the church premises. There are many inscriptions preserved in the church that provide history of the shrine. Regular prayers are still held in this church.,_Vellore