Afghan War Memorial Church
Site History and Significance
A Commemorative Church in the Gothic Style
Built in the mid-1800s, Mumbai’s St. John the Evangelist Church is more commonly known as the Afghan Church due to its function as a memorial for those killed in the Anglo-Afghan Wars. The site is of great architectural and historic significance, being the first example of Gothic Revival architecture in all of India. The church and its embellishments were conceived and executed by renowned architects and designers: Henry Conybeare is responsible for the building, Sir William Wailes designed the stained-glass windows, and leading Gothic Revival architect William Butterfield contributed the Afghan War Memorial mosaics, polychrome floor tiles, choir stalls, a metal screen, and pews featuring designated slots for soldiers’ rifles. The building also showcases the quality of local building materials, sporting a high teak ceiling and stone from the nearby quarries of Kurla. The imposing tower and spire are 198 ft. (60 m) high. For these reasons, the Afghan Church has been designated a heritage structure by the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai.
Beyond its religious function, the Afghan Church continues to play an important role in the cultural life of Mumbai, hosting concerts by both local and international choirs and exhibitions by important artists like M.F. Hussain. In partnership with the Navy, the church also does significant community outreach, such as holding free clinics for students from local schools.
Stabilizing a Church in Dire Need
Now over a century and a half old, the Afghan Church has begun to show its age, and a shrinking congregation has left the building without the resources to conduct critical maintenance work. Today, the church is in an advanced state of disrepair, particularly its roof, where ad-hoc interventions conducted over the years have begun to fail. Heavy rains from the seasonal monsoons in coastal Mumbai have also proven challenging, highlighting needs for roof repair and improved drainage. The church’s stained-glass windows, of exceptionally high quality, are at serious risk and a priority for intervention.
To protect this historic monument and ensure it continues to function as a multicultural community hub, World Monuments Fund (WMF) has partnered with the Church of North India (CNI) and the Indian Navy to conserve the Afghan Church. An exhaustive conservation management plan was developed and extensive roof renewal and repair launched the project. The process has incorporated educational and training workshops on such topics as the conservation of stained glass in tropical environments tropical environments, complenting the team’s work addressing the serious needs of the rich stained glass windows. Immediate drainage around the building will be addressed and the church’s extensive grounds will also be restored, enhancing their ability to function not only as a social space but also as a “green lung” in a city that has historically suffered from severe air pollution.
World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations.
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WMF’s project at the Afghan War Memorial Church is made possible with support from Citibank.