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St Stephens Church of Ooty, Tamil Nadu, South India
St Stephens Church sits quietly behind two arched iron gates above the town center of Ooty. It’s one of the few remaining buildings with ties to the British Raj of India, in this popular South India hill station. British troops defeated the region’s ruler Tipu Sultan, in 1799, allowing a vital strategic military positioning within the Nilgiri Mountains. As the influx of new British troops ascended on Ooty, the tiny village blossomed in rapid fashion. Factor in the rising attraction of troops to the small city in the clouds to escape the heat of summer and the need for a church was evident.
In April 1829, the first foundation stone was laid. Wood beams from Tipu Sultan’s former summer palace, roughly 120 km away, were hauled by an elephant to the construction site. The church was set apart for the service of the almighty God in December 1830, though the building was not officially completed. So why the early consecration? There was no bishopric of Madras (Chennai) at this time. With Lord Bishop of Calcutta was visiting Ooty during the final stages of construction, and no other options, it was decided to take advantage of the visitation. Lord Bishop consecrated the new church, the first of the Nilgiri mountains while recommending his own chaplain from Calcutta as the first Chaplain appointment. Public worship began on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1831.
The huge wood beams plus stained glass on the eastern wall as well as behind the Chancel (showing Mary holding baby Jesus and the crucifixion of Christ) are worthy of a look. Headstones of the original Ooty British can be seen in the slightly overgrown cemetery. Tourists with travel in the area are welcome to Sunday services held at 8 AM and 11 AM., or to tour the British Church of India Mon-Sat after 10 AM.