Delhi 101: #25 Built in exchange for life – St. James Church

As he lay dying for two days in a battlefield, James Skinner vowed to build a church if he survived. The messiah came in the form of some poor peasants, who nursed him and other injured soldiers back to health. And so came into existence the St. James Church, one of the oldest in India, in the Kashmiri Gate area.

Delhi 101: Cover image of book by Ajay JainThis post has been taken from Delhi 101, a book written by Ajay Jain. It is about 101 surprising ways to discover Delhi, one of the most amazing cities in the world for travelers. To know more about the book and to order one, click here.

Born in 1778 to a Scottish father and a Rajput mother, Skinner was not given a commission in the British army because of his mixed lineage despite his father being a serving officer. The soldier in him then joined the forces of Maratha chief Daulat Rao Scindia. Just before the latter took on the British forces under General Gerard Lake, Commander-in-Chief of military in British India, Skinner was dismissed from service.

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He in turn went over to the East India Company but was still denied a commission. He proceeded to raise his own cavalry of irregulars known as Skinner’s Horse or Yellow Boys (they wore a yellow uniform). Even as the British sought the services of these ‘mercenaries’ they were not absorbed into their army officially. Sikander Sahib, as Skinner was known, was finally given a rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1828.

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Skinner is buried in front of the main altar in the church while many of his family members and close friends have their graves in the compound outside. It is one of the oldest surviving British churches in India, and one of the most impressive. It was conceived as an imitation of the St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, but ended up looking like a church in Venice. It was badly damaged during the Great Revolt of 1857, and underwent major refurbishings in 1865 and even later.

The more you probe Skinner’s life, the more colourful and rich it will turn out to be. His descendants will tell you many more stories. Of course, they make a sizeable number considering the harem of women he maintained. He sure led a charmed life.

Church is open from 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., closed during lunch from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Morning worship is at 8:00 a.m. (Apr – Sep) and 8:30 a.m. (Oct – March).

Metro: Kashmiri Gate, exit from Gate 1 or 2

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