Churchgate is a very well-known locality in Mumbai which is both a popular commercial centre and a tourist hub. But few know that the name of the area comes from the St Thomas Cathedral, located near Horniman Circle and a city gate, that was once in front of it. The ‘Church Gate’ that is no longer there!
St Thomas Cathedral is the first Anglican church built in Mumbai, originally began as a small church within the walls of the fortified British settlement of Bombay. The foundation stone was laid in 1676, the same year that Emperor Aurangzeb began building the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. However, it took almost four decades before this Church was completed and it opened for service on Christmas Day, in 1718.
The church was named after St. Thomas, the Apostle, one of the 12 Disciples of Christ who is believed to have come to India.
In July 1837, the church was consecrated as a Cathedral and Rev. Thomas Carr was appointed the first Bishop of Bombay. The church underwent several additions and renovations and took its present form in 1865.
The church houses some very interesting memorials. One of them is that of Rear Admiral Sir Frederick Lewis Maitland , to whom Napoleon Bonaparte surrendered on board HMS Bellerophon on 15th July 1815, thus marking a final end to the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. Maitland died in Bombay. Another memorial is to the 300 passengers of the steam ship ‘Cleopatra’, who perished when the ship sank off the coast of Malabar on 15 April 1847. It was en route from Bombay to Singapore.
Right up to 19th century, Bombay was a fortified town with city walls and a moat. The city had three gates and the one on the western side was called ‘Church Gate’ after the St. Thomas Church. All the three gates along with fort walls were demolished in 1860s.
Today’s Flora Fountain stands at the exact place where the Church Gate of Bombay Fort originally stood.
In 1870, a railway station named Churchgate was built in the area. Today , a massive glass and concrete station stands in it place. One of the busiest stations in Mumbai, it is one of the landmarks of the city.