St. Paul’s Church, Landour, India
St Paul’s Cathedral, Calcutta
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects,
always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres – St. Paul.”
As I take a moment to survey my time on this good earth for over eight decades, I cannot escape the fact that certain abiding tenets have informed my life choices – good or not so good. In the end they bespeak to my mind mainly of goodwill toward my fellow men and women that sustain me every time I venture forth into the world to retrace my steps along the way. They inevitably take me to those edifices that have most moved me, emotionally and spiritually, and buttress my belief in undying love that protects and perseveres.
Without obfuscation, I speak of a Pauline thread through thick and thin that runs in my very core since my arrival on this earth in the Himalayan mountain resort of Mussoorie.
St. Paul’s Church is located in Landour: the name itself is drawn from Llanddowror, a village in Carmarthenshire in southwest Wales. A small cantonment town contiguous with Mussoorie, Landour is a short distance as the crow flies from where I first saw the light of day in the Evelyn Nursing Home & Hospital situated in the valley 500 feet below.
Over the years that fact has drawn me ever so often back to the Queen of the Hills—as Mussoorie is best known in India—on a personal pilgrimage. Indeed, early in 2011, I was there once again after an absence of 5 years, refreshing my spirit in the shadow of the towering 23,000-foot peaks that eons ago spawned the holy Ganges River. And I was happy to see that the church had completed an overall renovation just a year earlier.
As an aside, Englewood, New Jersey, has been the Mayadas home for over three decades and during that time my wife, Lolita, and I have discovered certain similarities between our fair City of Englewood and Mussoorie-Landour. Both have historic churches: St. Paul’s here was established in 1865, the other in 1840. In preparation for its 150th anniversary, the latter undertook extensive renovation, particularly in insulating the sanctuary—that accommodates 250 parishioners—from the effects of the annual monsoon and the bitterly cold winter.
To that end, it was helped immeasurably by a well-to-do alumnus of Woodstock School, which in Mussoorie is the educational equivalent of Dwight-Englewood School: Now based on the US model of secondary and higher education, Woodstock was initially opened in 1854 by a company of British officers and two American missionaries; later, in 1872, members of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., purchased the school, and it is now the second-best known residential institution of learning in South Asia with strong ties to its sister school in Northfield, Mass., The Mount Hermon School.
Other similarities are the hilly terrain, great for walking – along the Palisades, for instance – and exploring by inveterate hikers, as well as the sheer diversity of the population. Unlike Englewood, however, Mussoorie is a holiday destination during the summer months for hordes of tourists fleeing the hot Indian plains for a breath of cool fresh air and loads of outdoor activities such as horse-riding, sailing on local lakes and, of course, mountaineering.
The church in Landour was built in 1839 and first consecrated on 1 May 1840, by Bishop Daniel Wilson of Calcutta. From 1840 to 1947, the church was run by military chaplains and was the premier church for the cantonment being used primarily by the British residents of Landour associated with the area and the British Military Hospital during the British Raj.
The church was extended and renovated in 1855 with the walls raised to their present level and the east end enlarged to include a new choir, sanctuary and vestry. A second renovation was carried out in 1882, which saw the sheet metal roof replaced with thatch and a new deodar wood plank ceiling with sal wood support beams. This, however, appears to have had little affect on the cold and damp of the church: Chaplain J. W. Shaw commented in 1883 that the church walls had become “saturated and damp in the rain” – so much so that he felt it necessary to purchase three iron stoves to warm the church and vestry room!
1857 marked the year of the Indian Mutiny. The event was so named by the British; in the church record it was referred to as the Insurrection and by Indian historians as India’s First War of Independence – take your pick according to your ethnic background. Rev. W. J. Jay was the chaplain during that period (1856-1857) and regular services were held uninterruptedly until the present time.
Notably, complete Church marriage records are available from 1927 onwards. Featured among them are the names of many British citizens, including the parents of the storied British shikari (hunter) Jim Corbett, Christopher and Janet Corbett. In recent years, St. Paul’s has been administered by the established Church of North India or CNI.
During my years in London, pursuing engineering studies at City and Guilds College,
I went on occasion to Sunday services held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The majesty of the building outside and inside invariably left me in awe as to what the hand of man can create in the service of the Almighty. I would have preferred to attend more regularly, but it was quite a journey by public transport – bus-cum-Underground – to make it in time regularly from my digs on Tottenham Court Road in spite of my best efforts. Nevertheless, the solemnity of the sung communion service accompanied by the grandeur of the mighty organ lifted my spirits no end to face the coming week crammed with learning the subjects included in my college courses each semester.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, London
Not only that, I had to spend a considerable swatch of time in going to my piano lessons each week at the Royal Academy of Music in another part of the metropolis. However, that was my first love in coming to England from New Delhi as a teenager, and was a source of inspiration to me when I felt in a fit of angst that life was slipping me by. And so it has continued to be years later, even when I returned to India and joined Bird and Company, a leading commercial firm in Calcutta, the former capital of British India.
During my decade-long tenure as head of Bird’s Coal Companies in Calcutta, I was also the Trustee of the agency house’s Sir Edward Benthall Charitable Trust, which gave regular annual donations amounting to many lakhs of rupees to deserving charities, among which St. Paul’s Cathedral was the largest beneficiary.
One of my more pleasurable tasks each year was to make an appointment with the Bishop of Calcutta whose imposing diocesan building lay prominently on Chowringhee Road opposite the Cathedral complex and hand over to him the Trust’s handsome check personally. As a matter of course, it was expected of me as a prominent Anglican in the congregation to serve on the finance committee and the vestry of the Cathedral to ensure that its finances and administration were running soundly and smoothly respectively.
Another check went by mail to help a large home established amidst one of the tea-garden estates in the Northeast for orphans: most of them were children born out of wedlock; they had been sired and then abandoned by estate managers, who returned back to Blighty (Anglo-Indian for Hindustani ‘bilaiti’ for land of the British foreigner) at the end of their service contract with any one of many tea companies, which had extensive holdings in the states of West Bengal and Assam.
Now my Pauline journey hath ended in this sylvan neck of the woods. It has given me the gift of being within walking distance of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Englewood and a spring in my step to its portals – seen appropriately below in Springtime!
Photo: Azim Mayadas
Earlier stops Stateside in Rochester, New York and Miami, Florida, failed to offer what I needed spiritually although they satisfied my – and my family’s – creature needs: good schools, good friends and a welcome lifestyle. Now that we are comfortably settled in Englewood, St. Paul’s takes on added significance. I joined it directly from my move back to the Northeast from Florida and soon became involved in its spiritual life, first as a parishioner and then as senior warden. Later, when it needed more help at a difficult time, I took on the role of Parish Administrator, which post I held for over five years until my retirement on June 30, 2014.
Because of many contributions to church and community attributed to me, I was recognized by the Diocese of Newark, which presented me with The David Paul Hegg II 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas