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Heritage: Standing tall

December 25, 2011

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The last of the great churches that were constructed in Karachi, St Patrick’s Cathedral was built in 1881 and stands adjacent to, surprisingly enough, not St Patrick’s School but St Joseph’s Convent School. In fact, the compound in which it stands has a small, unobtrusive gate on one side that directly leads to the all girls’ Convent. Initially there was no wall separating the school from the cathedral, and they stood in the same compound—so that a newcomer visiting it could not be blamed if they still mistook it for being part of the school. One often gets to see students of the school in uniform, appearing for Mass (Christian religious ceremony of Communion) in the mornings.

As one enters the compound that houses the church one is first greeted by a grand monument of white marble behind which stands the enormous church. The monument was constructed in 1931 to perpetuate the memory of the Jesuit Mission in Sindh.

The Cathedral itself, dating from 1881, was built in response to the increasing needs of the growing number of Christians congregating in Karachi in the 1870s. Hence, it superseded the much smaller chapel, the first Roman Catholic Church established in Sindh by the British which had been built during the days of Charles Napier. St Patrick’s Cathedral was designed by three members of the Society of Jesus, the pastors Father Wagner, Brother Kluver and Brother Iau. Constructed from Gizri stone it is the largest church in Karachi. With a nave of 170 feet by 75 feet, it accommodates 1500 worshippers at one time.

The interior is beautifully dramatic, and with its impressive vaulting, internal volume embellished with wonderfully executed stained-glass windows and life-size statues, boasts a sumptuous architectural ensemble.

Even today with the Christian community considerably diminished in size—a large number of them have migrated to distant shores—there are close to 1000 people attending the special Mass on religious occasions like Christmas and Easter. Festively decorated at Christmas with lights, wreaths, bells, Christmas trees and stars, the church looks magnificent in its fine décor and is attended by Christians from far and wide. —Shanaz Ramzi

Information gathered from Yasmeen Lari’s book, A travel guide: Karachi