How did Christ Church (Schwartz Church) of Thanjavur evolve?

Happy new year 2022

Schwartz (Christ) Church, Thanjavur.

Fr. Schwartz.

The Schwartz  Church,

The Schwartz  Church (also known as Christ church), adjacent to the popular recreation Sivaganga park in the fort area of Thanjavur  city,  Tamil Nadu  is one of the earliest Protestant churches in this  state. Rev. Friedrich Christian Schwartz,  a  dedicated and committed Danish missionary and native of  Prussia  was instrumental in  building the church. 

Upon  the sponsorship of the Danish Missionary Society in Copenhagen,  Schwartz came to India and  landed in 1750 at the Danish settlement of Tranquebar  (locally called  Tarangambädi) on the  SE coast  of  Tamil Nadu,  India.  He worked there till 1762)  and later at the invitation of the English company operating in India (EIC) he  served as a chaplain-missionary to the British community in India.   The Anglican Society  For the Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, impressed with his dedicated work, sponsored him  in 1767.   In 1768,  Under the East India company his first calling was in  Trichinopoly as a chaplain and later in 1776, Schwartz shifted his missionary activities to  Tanjore (Thanjavur)  where he lived  till his demise in 1798.  

Interior Schwartz (Christ) Church, Thanjavur.

Being a polyglot and  proficient in many languages he was of great help to the English company who had a bad name in India because of their aggressive approach to the natives.  He acted as an intermediary between the British and other powers during that period. While at Tanjore,  he developed not only close contact with the natives but also with the Maratha ruler Tulajaji and later his son Raja Serfoji. He became  a mentor  and political advisor to  Raja Serfoji.  

Schwarz church,

Above image: A replica of the memorial to Fr. Schwartz in the Thanjavur palace museum........

When the corrupt  English company gave the  Maratha ruler lots of trouble  as there was  a dispute over the legal heir to the throne  Fr. Schwartz acted as a peace maker  and safeguarded the young prince and the kingdom from ''take over''  by the English using the Doctrine of Lapse  (authored by lord Dalhousie) as a ruse. 

In 1740s and 1950s  the political situation in this region was chaotic because of war between Chanda sahib (supported by the French)  and the Nawab of Arcot (supported by the English army).   In the later  period  when the relationship between the English and the Martha rulers improved over the succession issue,  the East India company had  stationed their soldiers near Vallam (close to Tanjore) to help the Maratha rulers. Owing to Fr. Schwartz's  sincere  efforts the  first church came up there but later  as Maratha rulers had  some kind of political set back,  the church was turned into  a hospital.   In the meantime in Tanjore Major Stevens  opened a Chapel that temporarily served as a house of worship for the Christians living in this town. 

Over  a period of time political scenario  had also changed  and peace prevailed with in the Maratha ruling family. Fr. Schwartz acted as an intermediary and strengthened the relations with the English; this time Marathas  had an alliance with the English company.

Realizing  the need  of a permanent church in the town  to serve the Europeans   and English soldiers,  Gen. Hector Manroe 1726 – 27 December 1805)  wanted a church built in the fort area of Tanjore that could be easily accessed by the Europeans.  Schwartz  approached the ruler Raja Serfoji  for a grant of land and the king  immediately obliged  without any reservation  and gave him additional  help to build the church. The king made the grant to the missionary as a token of his respect and for his timely help when British were keen to take over the kingdom. Raja Serfoji  granted the land belonging to  the Big temple adjacent to the church.

 Fr. Schwartz  immediately started the church construction  work in the fort area assisted by other preachers.  A he was of great help to the EIC  during their troubled relationship with Tipu Sultan of Mysore who had a military alliance with the French,  they chipped in and  supplied 600000 bricks and 3000 units of lime (chunum)  for the construction work; part of the money came from the soldiers and the ruler.  The foundation  stone was laid on 10 March 1779 and the consecration  of the church was done in the following year on 10 April 1780.  The work was successfully completed  with help from Schwartz's   colleague  in  the  Danish Lutheran  Mission,  Rev.  J.  C.. Kohlhoff, and   the  garrison  he served.  The church was named Christ Church.  under  the  name  of  Christ 

 Fr. Sch­wartz  who studied  Theology at  the University of Halle,  took  inspiration from his Blessed Masters like    Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1683-1719) and Heinrich Plütschau (1678-1747) in his religious work. With rich experience in theology he  had begun to conduct  regular masses in this church from April 1780. .Earlier The  S.P.C.K.  now  came  forward  and  established  the  Mission,  and  Schwartz had  divided  half  his  work as garrison  chaplain  between  the  native  congregations  and  himself.

Built with a simple design the dimension of the church is  90 feet (length) x 50 feet (width). The walls are thick  and  supported  by proportionately positioned retaining wall - something like buttress for extra strength. The church still maintains the old furniture and inside the church the wide arches support the roof. It is . is  a noble  building  with  a deep  chancel,  having the  Commandments  inscribed  over  the  holy  table  in  English,  Tamil, and  Hindustani. 

This  Protestant place of worship  shows how the benevolent Hindu king  held the missionary in great esteem  and gave full support to his missionary activities in this region. This type of catholicity  bears testimony to the  secular attitude of  not only  Hindu  Maratha rulers of Thanjavur kingdom  towards various religious beliefs, but also of  other rulers like the Maharajah of Travancore and Mysore Maharajah. The Marathas also donated lots of lands to the Nagore  Durgah near  Nagapattinam. The Christ church was mostly used by the European. pensioners, East  Indians  as  well  as  the  natives.

 Fr. Schwartz realized the need for a church outside the fort area  exclusively for the native Christians whose numbers gradually went up over a period of time. Again, he sought the help of king Serfoji who not only granted  a small swathe of land in Manumbuchavadi (M.Chavadi) close to the present railway station, but also helped the missionary buy a garden house from an European owner to build a  small house of worship. On 24 March 1744 the sudden demise of  Fr. Casper Kohlhoff who had assisted Fr. Schwartz in every phase of his work  was a big set back for him. 

 Fr. Schwartz  expanded the house and converted it into a place of worship. He died on 13 February 1798 This place of worship in the mission area later became St. Peter Church which was further developed by Fr. William Herbert Blake (1849 -1923), missionary with SPG of  Tanjore. When the learned evangelist died he was surrounded by the young Maratha prince, his assistants and other social workers. 

A multifaceted personality of compassion and integrity Fr. Schwartz  toiled long years here in Tamil Nadu - Tranquebar ( Tharangamoadi, now in Nagapatnam district), (1750-62), Trichy (1762-1776)  and Tanjore (1776-98), In the latter till his death,  starting schools at different places teaching languages, sciences, etc.,  for the various sections of  people in the society including the poor and downtrodden amidst his evangelical work.  


The church  (belonging to the CSI) is on the temple land belonging to  UNESCO recognized  heritage site - big temple  (built in 1010 CE). So   Schwartz church (Christ Church)  is   under the control of the Archeological Survey of India. As it is a national monument, church authorities can not carry out any repair work  without the consent of the ASI. The same is true of the near-by Hindu temple of great antiquity. 

Schwarz St. Mary’s church, chennai. Madras

Above image:  Memorial to Fr. Schwartz, St. Mary's church Chennai (Madras):   A marble tablet (commissioned by Serfoji) in the Schwartz Church, Thanjavur, showing the missionary on the death bed holding the hand of the ruler Serfoji and blessing him.  Sculpted by Italian John Flaxman, it was installed in 1811....................