When the French, Portuguese, and Dutch sailed to Tamil Nadu in the 1500s, Chennai was blessed with some beautiful churches. The beautifully built churches of the city attract not only worshipers but engineers and architects to witness the splendid architectural designs of these holy buildings.

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Flanked by the 1908 vintage Egmore Railway Station, and the 9-storied Police Commissioner’s office, stands the imposing St Andrew’s, at 166.6 feet featuring a blend of Neo-classical, Iconic, and Corinthian architectural styles. The 200-year-old architectural marvel is one of Chennai’s most beloved landmarks and is said to have inspired several other iconic buildings in the city including the Ripon Building and Victoria Public Hall

Fondly called the Kirk (Scottish for church), this is the first British-built building to have been erected in perhaps the whole of India. The building was designed by two architects, namely: Maj Thomas de Havilland and Col Caldwell. 

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An Architectural Marvel

Amidst the hurly-burly of Chennai’s Poonamallee High Road, the church bell cocooned in its innards tolls the hour sending large flocks of birds into flight, and the church’s steeple, the highest in the city, lances the clear blue sky. The steeple, an architectural masterpiece, feels extremely delicate and light, in a way that seems real of heaven. Two hundred years after its consecration, the Presbyterian place of worship for the many Scotsmen who sailed to India, still stands in all its glory, soaring above the shivering green canopy within its nine-acre campus. 

Saint Andrew is particularly revered in European Orthodox traditions and is the patron saint of many countries, including Scotland. He was a Christian apostle and the brother of Saint Peter. The Scottish flag bears the saltire or Cross of Saint Andrew; the story goes that the saint was crucified on an x-style cross.

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The Entrance

Painted in pale white, the building and its interiors have been a subject of study for generations of architects and history buffs. The Kirk was inspired by architect James Gibb’s design of St Martin-in-the-fields, another neo-classical masterpiece. Past abundant bougainvillea and frangipani trees that shed beautiful flowers and past the moss-tinged squat pillars to which horses may have been tied to, is the church’s entrance; its fluted tall columns and breathtaking Corinthian-style volutes, pave the way to a big wooden door through a neo-classical corridor. 

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The Foundation

St Andrew’s stands on marshland and was raised on a bed of sunken brick and terracotta wells to arrest any possibility of sinking or flooding — a soil strengthening technique the British builders grasped from local Indian well-diggers. It is on top of this firm, rocky pottery bed that the church’s columns stand and rise to hold the deep-blue dome—another architectural marvel that has a frame of brickwork held by an annular arch and filled in by pottery cones. 

Crushed seashells mixed with Lapis Lazuli, give the dome its striking blue interiors. Peppered with golden stars, the dome gives you the feel of a starlit Scottish night sky. 

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The Interiors

Sixteen columns rise to hold the church’s high-roof portico and the Lapis dome; the congregation sits on a semi-circular rattan; the pews encompass the Corinthian pillars. The church’s twenty-seven feet stained glass windows above the main altar, in warm, rich colors, are among the glories of the church, through these windows, sunlight streams in throwing colored slats of light into its interiors. The stained glass is believed to have been installed back in 1884 and is said to have been brought straight from Scotland! 

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Dominating the altar is the Church’s pipe organ in soft green and burnished gold. The instrument, built-in New Yorkshire, England, was installed in the year 1883. A wooden stairway leads to the three-storied steeple constructed like a square with Venetian doors, an octagonal second level, and a third held by fluted Corinthian columns. On the structure’s off-white faces are large clocks made by London clockmaker, Peter Orr. The fluted spire towers up and tapers into a pyramid. Listed as a World Heritage Building by INTACH, St Andrew’s has always been known for its unparalleled beauty.  

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Things to Know Before You Visit

  • Kirk is a must-visit historic building for architecture students, architects, and history buffs
  • Out of respect for Church’s traditions, choose an outfit with shoulders and knees covered
  • Avoid clicking photos or wandering around the church building if you visit during a service

How to Get There

St Andrew’s (Kirk), is located on Poonamallee High Road in Egmore. The place is easily accessible using the city’s public transport and sits right behind the Egmore Railway Station. The Egmore metro station is less than 10 minutes away from Kirk by foot. 

When to Get There

The church is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, and if you’re visiting to see the interiors of the church without participating in a service, it’s best to head there during these hours. Worship services are held on Sunday at 7 am, 9 am, and 6 pm, as well as on Christian holidays.

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Author

Sowmya is an architectural journalist and writer. In this column, Sowmya takes you through stories on eco-architecture, biophilic design, and green buildings from across the globe.

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