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Thursday January 27, 2022

The Christmas Trail On The West Bank Of Hugli: Part III

St. Olav's Church Serampore

Serampore

St. Olav’s Church at Serampore remains one of the most important relics from the times when Serampore was a Danish colony known as Frederiksnagore. The cornice is decorated with the royal monogram of Christian VII, who was King of Denmark when the church was consecrated. Ole Bie, Governor of the Danish trading post at Serampore, began the construction of a Lutheran Protestant Church. Work on the church continued after his death under the supervision of his successor Captain Krefting, until finally being completed in 1806, with the help of Englishmen John Chambers and Robert Armstrong, who were hired to look after the practicalities. The majestic twenty-five feet high spire just beside the busy court compound at Serampore never fails to attract attention to this day. The spire is even visible from Dhobi Ghat at Barrackpore, on the opposite bank of the river Hugli.  

Just like the Bandel Church, the architecture of the St. Olav’s church is not characteristically Danish, but bears stamps of other European influences. Particularly predominant is the British influence, especially of St. Martin–in-the-Fields in London, the standard references for churches in contemporary England. The roof of the church is flat and the front façade has an open portico with double columns. The square bell tower holds a clock though the church bells are no longer in use. One of the bells bears the inscription Frederiksvaerk 1804, which proves it was cast in a Danish iron factory. The church is a surviving legacy from the times of the Danes.  

Denmark Tavern Serampore
Denmark Tavern. Image courtesy: National Museum of Denmark.

Though the church has been actively used by the local congregation, it’s roof was so severely damaged by termites that it was closed down in 2013 for restoration work. With initiative from the National Museum of Denmark in association with the West Bengal Heritage Commission, it underwent a massive restoration and was finally reopened on April 16th 2016. The conservation project was rewarded by the 2016 UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Awards.

Locally known as the Danish Church, Christmas celebrations at the St. Olav’s in Serampore have also adapted to local ethnicity. The Mass in Bengali on Christmas morning is a great draw for the local congregation and also the general people who are allowed to enter freely. The church is decorated with lights, flowers, balloons and people just flow in to soak in the feel of Christmas inside this ancient edifice. Of course, it has been renovated and nowadays bears an attractive gleaming look. People are awed to see the high columned halls, the old high ceilings with joists, from which hang lighted chandeliers. The pews are full to the limit and the tune of booming Christmas Carols are heard from afar.  There is a continuous flow of tourists who want to have a look at St. Olav’s at Christmas. Standing at the centre of a busy town square, it is just impossible to miss it. A visit to the renovated Government House inside the court compound nearby and the reconstructed Denmark Tavern by the river makes the visit oh so memorable. Christmas is here for everyone to enjoy. The times past and present have mingled and it continues to flow along with the waves of the river beside it.      

*The Hooghly River was spelt Hugli in colonial times. We have retained the old spelling in this article.


Acknowledgement:

1. Hugli Heritage Management Strategy, University of Liverpool, 2019
2. Chandernagore mon amour: The Citadel of the Moon, edited by Antara Mukherjee, University of Liverpool, 2018
3. Mitra, Sudhir Kumar, Hugli  Jelar Itihas
4. Addhya, Akshay Kumar, Hooghly Chuchurar Nana Katha
5. Roy, Subhrangshu Kumar, Sekal o Ekal, Ganapragati, 2018
6. Chandernagorer Bibidho Prosongo, Collection of Articles, Chandernagore Government College, Ed. Antara Mukherjee, Rupali, Kolkata

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