St John in the Wilderness Church

Located in the foothills of Dharamshala, St. John in the Wilderness Church is a historical landmark dating back to 1852. Because of its isolated location in India, this church maintains its beauty and historical stories over the decades. For interested travelers, take a day trip to St. John in the Wilderness Church for a taste of neo-Gothic design and old-fashioned worshiping services.

Examining the Structure's History

Constructed entirely of exposed stone, St. John in the Wilderness Church was eventually dedicated to a viceroy of India named Lord Elgin. His wife, Lady Elgin, donated Belgium stained-glass windows to the church that are still in place today. With depictions of Jesus and Mary, the stained glass stands out as a brilliant beacon to all who wish to worship here.

Additionally, the church has a wide, entry door to welcome parishioners. Once inside, polished wood railings and brass oil lamps accent the interior. Although the structure has electricity now, the old-fashioned fixtures reflect the church's historical background.

Recovering From the Earthquake

In 1905, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the region. As a result, nearly 20,000 people died and many buildings within Dharamshala, Kangra and McLeod Ganj crumbled. Somehow, St. John in the Wilderness Church stood tall through this calamity. The only major damage was the loss of the spiral bell tower.

Today, a new bell resides in a cage near the front door. It was constructed in England and brought to the church in 1915. In the end, this structure was one of the only ones to remain nearly untouched by this large earthquake.

Examining the Stained Glass

Because the church's main structural component is stone, the stained glass remains a focal point. Installed above the front entrance, the glass encourages visitors to enjoy the scenes from afar or from within the church. Indeed, Jesus and Mary welcome all followers at this church.

When the sunlight streams into the church, the glass glows with its defined colors. Bring a camera to snap a few photos, but don't use it during worship services. Being respectful of this sacred structure is still highly regarded.

Venturing Into the Cemetery

Carefully move through the cemetery, which surrounds the church on three sides. Many of the headstones and tablets still have legible names, dates and messages to the lost souls. Because of the church's age, most plots originate from the late 1800s to early 1900s. Certainly, you can see history emerge with a few famous names buried here, including Lord Elgin. With the forest and stone church as backdrops, this cemetery is perfect for personal reflection or photography.

Traveling to the Church

Preferably, stay in McLeod Ganj for the closest access to St. John in the Wilderness Church. From there, you can walk to the structure off of Nainital Road. Alternatively, stay in Dharamsala, and take a sightseeing tour to McLeod Ganj. Looking into other transportation options might be possible, but walking tends to be the best way to travel to the property.

Exploring the Surrounding Nature

Surrounding the church and cemetery are the deodar or cedar trees. Because they tower over the church, the forest offers cover and shade from the midday sun. Depending on the season, light dapples the ground where you can follow a trail around the property. Without a doubt, the forest has a scent that permeates the senses as you explore the church.

Visiting the Church's Interior

In general, walk inside the church between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day. To protect this monument, police officers are always present, so be aware of this fact. Upon arrival, it might be startling to see armed guards. As you walk in, move quietly through the pews and gaze up at the sanctuary. With the stained glass allowing light into the open space, the experience is a breathtaking moment. Additionally, attend services every Sunday at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. Typically, ministers perform the first service in English with a Hindi service afterward.

Ideally, a trip to the church on the weekdays gives you a quieter experience than on the weekends. Because fewer people visit during the week, you'll have a chance to take in the historic atmosphere without too much chatter. In the end, this landmark provides a breathtaking view of a historical church and its natural backdrop.

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