THE CHURCH OF ST MARY in Fort St George in Chennai (Madras) was constructed by 1680, when it was consecrated. It is the oldest Anglican church east of Suez.
The church contains a memorial to the founder of the famous American Yale College – Eliahu Yale. He had been Governor of Chennai’s Fort St George, where the church is located, between 1687 and 1692. He had also been the vestryman and treasurer of St Mary’s church.
The font within the church is made of a form of black granite known as Charnockite. This stone is named after Job Charnock (c 1630-1693). A member of the British East India Company, he is credited with founding a British settlement at a pre-existing village on the bank of the Hooghly River. Although the place had already been settled long before his arrival, Charnock’s establishment grew into what is now Kolkata (Calcutta).
In about 1678, Job entered a romantic relationship with a Hindu woman, whom he called Maria. They produced a son and three daughters. The daughters were baptised in the font in St Mary’s in Chennai in August 1689. A few years later, Job died. His funerary monument is in Kolkata, where he passed away. Like the font in Chennai, Job’s tomb, which is housed in a mausoleum in Kolkata, is made of Charnockite. This form of granite can be found in the south of India. It was local to Chennai but far from Kolkata. This type of rock was first described in Tamil Nadu and was named in honour of Job Charnock.
Apart from the font and the memorial to Yale, the church of St Mary’s has many fascinating sculpted monuments to Britishers who died in India or on their way to or from it.
I HAVE PASSED IT often, and have long been curious about it, but until today I have not bothered to find out about it. I am referring to a small chapel on the corner of Kensington Place and Newcombe Street, which leads to the south side of a space where a weekly farmers’ market is held (on Saturday mornings). Called the Bethesda Baptist Church, its congregation was established in 1866. The building resembles a style commonly used in the late 18th century. According to a history of Kensington Place (www.hillgatevillage.com/the-facts), the chapel was constructed in about 1824. Over the years, it has been used by various Baptist sects. Currently, it is the home to a congregation, who believe in Restricted Communion and Particular Redemption. This sect was founded in 1866.
Currently, I am reading about a clergyman, Conrad Noel (1869-1942), who believed fervently that the church should be both democratic and all-embracing. So, it was with some interest that I stumbled across a chapel in which people believing in ‘Restricted Communion’ gather to worship. The sect is a branch of the Strict and Particular Baptists, who follow the decrees of High-Calvinism. If you are finding this a bit difficult to follow, then you are not alone. Let me take a stab at giving a simple explanation of what the congregation in the Bethesda Chapel believe: a set of beliefs that are new to me. One website that seemed to clarify them well is www.sbhs.org.uk/membership/strictbapt/, from which I have attempted to extract the following information.
‘Strict’ refers to ‘restricted communion’. Unlike many branches of the Christian Church, which permit anyone who believes and loves Jesus Christ to partake in Holy Communion, the Strict and Particular Baptists believe that Communion should only be offered to those “who have been baptised by immersion as believers”. The above-mentioned website explained:
“Strict Baptists see baptism as a rite by which believers testify to their faith in Christ, and associate it with church membership. The Lord’s Supper is for those who have joined the church in this way.”
As for ‘particular’, this lives up to the common meaning of the word. The Strict and Particular Baptists believe that:
“…Christ died to make certain the salvation of a definite number of people whom he has purposed to save, rather than to make possible the salvation of an indefinite number of people who might choose to believe.”
That is, only the ‘select’ few, known as the ‘Elect’, will be saved. The sect does not accept infant baptism, even by immersion, as being sufficient to become part of the Elect. Another website (www.baptists.net/history/2022/07/the-articles-of-faith-of-the-gospel-standard-churches/) explained what is required to become a member of a Strict and Particular Baptist sect such as that which uses the Bethesda Chapel:
“At a regularly constituted church meeting … the candidate (whether already a member of another church or not) shall make a verbal confession of faith, and declare what he or she believes God has done for his or her soul. If accepted by a vote of the majority of members present and voting, signature in the church book to the Articles of Faith and Rules will be required. Thereafter, at the earliest convenient opportunity, the person shall, unless previously baptised by immersion, be so baptised in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and be formally received into church fellowship at the next observance of the Lord’s Supper.”
The Articles of Faith, and there are many of them, are strict. Thus, despite my oversimplification, it would seem that the Strict and Particular sects are, unlike the open-door church espoused by Conrad Noel, extremely exclusive and restrictive.
PS: A little way west of the Bethesda Chapel, there is an institution that is, unlike the chapel, far from exclusive: it is open to all children regardless of faith, providing they live in its catchment area: Fox Primary School. This state school, which was founded in 1842, is housed in modern buildings. I mention it as a postscript because its walls are decorated with several attractive, colourful mosaics.
COGGESHALL IN ESSEX is an attractive place to visit. The small town contains over 300 buildings of historical interest, all of which have given protected status. Amongst these is Paycockes House, which I will describe another day. One of the many other old buildings in the centre of the town is a large house, once the home of Thomas Hawkes.
Hawkes was a retainer of John de Vere (1516-1562), the 16th Earl of Oxford, who became a supporter of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary, who became the monarch in 1553 (following the deaths of the Protestant King Edward VI and the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey). Mary decreed that England should return to Roman Catholicism and the Earl of Oxford concurred with this.
Thomas Hawkes, a fervent Protestant, decided to leave his ‘employer’, who had become sympathetic to Mary’s religious cause. He returned to his home (known as ‘Constantynes’) in the centre of Coggeshall. Unwilling to partake in any Roman Catholic practices and a vocal opposer of that branch of Christianity, Hawkes soon became regarded as heretic by the Catholic authorities.
Under great suspicion by those then in power, Hawkes did something that got him into really bad trouble: he refused to have his newly born son baptised into the Catholic faith. He was arrested and taken to Newgate Prison in London. From there, he was taken to the palace of Bishop Edmund Bonner (c1500-1569) several times, and asked to recant. Having refused each time, on the 9th of February 1555, Bonner condemned him to be burnt at the stake. After Bonner had given him one last chance to recant, he is believed to have said: