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Book Launch: Churches of Pakistan

Text by: Sara Faruqi and Photos by Nadir Siddiqui, Dawn.com

The book launch of “Churches of Pakistan” was held at the British Deputy High Commission in Karachi. Authored by Dr. Safdar Ali Shah and Syed Javaid Kazi, the book is a compilation of photographs and text depicting the many churches standing in Pakistan today.

Churches Of Pakistan

Churches from Karachi to Nathia Gali and in between are presented in the book. From steeples built in Victorian style to the Romanesque fashion of St. Lawrence’s church, the book showcases the evolution of architecture as well as documenting the spread and span of Christianity in Pakistan.

Abodes of Spirituality

‘DON’T judge a book by its cover’, is an age-old adage but when it comes to the jacket of the lovely book, Churches of Pakistan, one rejects the saying and never regrets having done so. The picture of a little wooden church, with its sloping roof and an attractive steeple, in picturesque Nathiagali, serves as a prelude to the rich fare inside.

In this day and age, when Pakistan has earned the notoriety of having an intolerant religious environment, Churches of Pakistan, written by Dr Safdar Ali Shah and carrying photographs by Syed Javaid A. Kazi, presents a refreshingly different image of the country.

But then that is not the only strong point of the volume. Its text, though brief as indeed it is in the case of coffee table books, is informative, and the images are truly out of the ordinary. The book opens with the commitment to safeguard the interests of religious minorities made by none other than the father of the nation and is followed by a quote on the same theme from the country’s constitution.

Not many people would know that “Christianity arrived in the subcontinent almost at the same time it reached Europe. It is traced back to the middle of 1st century CE, when, according to a tradition, Thomas the Apostle came to this part of the world.

Thus, he is credited with the founding of Christianity in the subcontinent”. The author goes on to narrate the ‘arrival’ of various sects in different periods and the setting up of Christian villages and farm colonies in what is now Pakistan. The post-Partition generation would not know that the All India Christian League and the All India Christian Association, Punjab, openly supported the Muslim League in 1945-46 elections. The Christian community in the Punjab, including the Anglo-Indians, supported the demand for partitioning the subcontinent.

Dr Shah lucidly and succinctly describes church architecture and the various styles that came in different periods of history.

The earlier churches were inspired by the European architectural traditions. A few of them built during the colonial period were inspired by local styles, but the ones which were built after independence “manifest local ethos and modern outlook,” particularly those which surfaced in the new city of Islamabad. The most notable of them all is the Our Lady of Fatima Church, designed by Anwar Said and consecrated in 1978. It is simply scintillating.

Without taking any credit away from the writer, one can say that the highlight of the volume are the superb photographs of the churches, both interior and exterior. If Kazi has captured the massiveness and grandeur of the edifices, he has, with no less success, captivated the delicate details and nuances skilfully. Full marks are also due to those who have preserved these assets of our heritage.

The book opens with the attractive Christ Church in Kotri, built of stones. Among the earliest churches of Pakistan it was built in 1846 in what was to be the railway colony, where it catered to the religious needs of the British in the region. Its arch is a fine specimen of Lancet Art. Its beauty is only matched by a striking contemporary church built of bricks in Islamabad, which is so simple and yet so attractive.

The stained glass windows, carrying images of the four authors of the gospels, in the interior of the St Paul’s Church, Rawalpindi, are breathtakingly beautiful. So is its elegant exterior. Christ Church in the same city has intricately placed trusses to support the roof and in the arch below are colourful stained glass windows. All sights to behold.

One can also not overlook the ecstatically painted stained windows of the St Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi, whose Romanesque architecture can best be described in one word — sublime. The figures of Christ, angels and cherubs carved in the same material as the entire structure — white marble — add a look of pristine purity to the edifice.

The most convenient example of Mughal architecture is the Mission Hospital Chapel, Peshawar, built in 1904, which is reminiscent of the architecture of Hiran Minar in Sheikhpura and reminds me of the tomb of Humayun in Delhi.

Also in Peshawar is the All Saints’ Church which, with its minarets, looks very much like a mosque. A cross on top is the only distinguishing feature as far as the external look is concerned. Not to be ignored is the close-up of a jharoka. The verses from the Bible inscribed inside the church and on its façade are in Persian and Pushto.

There are quite a few other enchanting and varying specimens of ecclesiastical architecture in the book, but due to paucity of space they cannot be mentioned. One such example is the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Lahore. It was designed by a Belgian artist, whose contribution bagged him the prestigious Prize of Rome.

The production values of the book, mainly the high class quality of printing, leave nothing to be desired. It fills one with pride that a volume of such exemplary standard has been published in Pakistan.

Churches of Pakistan
Text by Dr Safdar Ali Shah
Photos by Syed Javaid A. Kazi
Constellation Plus, Lahore
ISBN 978-969-9532-00-9
124pp. Price $55 USD
124pp. Price £49.95 GBP
(Prices are subject to change without prior notice)

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