Nestled amidst the bustling streets of Sahiwal, St. Patrick’s Church stands tall as a magnificent architectural marvel — showcasing a harmonious blend of European architectural influences and local craftsmanship.
Its neo-Gothic architectural style, adorned with delicate arches, towering spires and intricate details transports you to a bygone era of grandeur and elegance.
A testament to a colonial time and holding immense spiritual significance, this place of worship captivates the hearts and minds of locals and visitors alike at first glance.
St. Patrick’s Church is not only one of the largest churches in the city, but also has a unique architecture and a rich historical background.
The foundation of St. Patrick’s Church was laid in memory of Robert Dougal Thomson, an Indian Civil Service Officer who held office during the colonial era. The church was named after the renowned fifth century Irish missionary, Saint Patrick.The church’s construction was completed in 1883. Initially, it served as a chapel exclusively for British officers to offer their prayers.
Constructed in the 19th century, Saint Patrick’s Church, located in the heart of Sahiwal, is a historical landmark that has immense spiritual and cultural significance
“In 1986, St. Patrick’s Church underwent expansion, owing to the burgeoning size of the congregation,” says Brakeel Talib, who is the Precinct In-charge of St. Patrick’s Church. “At the time, approximately 50 families were members of the church and regularly attended Sunday prayers.”
Many feared that the project to expand might disturb the church’s architectural unity. However, these fears dissipated once the project was completed, now spanning across 21 acres of land.
An aerial view of the entire structure of St. Patrick’s Church shows that the landmark is constructed in the shape of a cross, signifying the values of the Church. Known for its exquisite red brick exterior and a triangular-shaped roof that showcases the elegance of the colonial construction style, St Patrick’s Church remains a popular site for visitors who frequent Sahiwal.
Stepping inside the church, one is greeted by a hushed ambience, with rays of sunlight filtering in through the stained glass windows, casting a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours inside the sanctuary. The gentle echoes of hymns and prayers offer a tranquil respite from the outside world, inviting visitors to embrace a moment of reflection and inner peace. The church has witnessed generations of devoted worshippers who have found solace and inspiration within its hallowed halls.
A COMPLEX HISTORY
It is worth emphasising that there was no established city in the area at the time the construction of the church began. The city literally grew up around the church. The decision to develop a new city between Lahore and Multan was made in 1864 due to the perceived importance of connecting these two major cities. St. Patrick’s Church was constructed as part of this new city.
The new city, then called Montgomery, was named after Sir Robert Montgomery, who served as the Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab in British India. The city’s establishment and naming took place in 1865 under Montgomery’s authority. Subsequently, in 1867, Montgomery was officially constituted as a municipality.
Within St. Patrick’s Church lie the graves of one Lord Berkeley and his two companions who were notable historical figures during the 1857 War of Independence or ‘Mutiny’ as the British dubbed it. Berkeley’s grave has been ornated with an engraving that harks back to the power tussle between the colonial administration and the indigenous population in 1857.
The engraving reads: “By the Government of Punjab. In Memory of Leopold Oliver Fitzhardinge Berkeley, Extra-Assistant Commissioner, who was killed on the 21st of September 1857, aged 27 years, near Noor Shah in Gogera district, fighting bravely against the enemies of the state.”
But, of course, that is only the history as written by the victors at that time. The local perspective is decidedly different.
“Lord Berkeley served as the Extra-Assistant Commissioner of Gogera,” reports Muhammad Imran, Assistant Professor of History at Government College, Sahiwal. “In the 19th century, Gogera had emerged as a significant town, serving as district headquarters.
“During the historic events of the 1857 War of Independence, Gogera became a focal point, primarily due to the concentration of the Kharal community in the region. Rai Ahmed Kharal, a prominent figure, managed to rally people from diverse ethnic backgrounds to unite against the British Raj. This movement witnessed local soldiers resigning from the British army to join Rai Ahmed’s cause.
“However, it is worth noting that not everyone aligned themselves with the uprising,” points out Imran. “Sarfraz Khan Kharal of Kamalia, for instance, decided to support the British Raj. In a tragic turn of events, it was Sarfraz’s betrayal that ultimately led to the martyrdom of Rai Ahmed at the hands of Lord Berkeley.”
Imran continues: “During the same movement, a group of freedom fighters carried out an act of retribution, resulting in the assassination of Lord Berkeley and several of his aides. Following his demise, the British Raj designated a two-acre plot of land for the burial of Lord Berkeley and his companions [in the land now falling in the area of St Patrick’s Church]. A caretaker was appointed to maintain the graves, but as time went on, circumstances changed.”
Lord Berkeley’s grave in St. Patrick’s Church serves as the sole marker of the colonial era administrator, but most locals do not know who he was or know the role he played in suppressing a freedom movement.
Beyond its religious significance, St. Patrick’s Church has become an integral part of Sahiwal’s cultural heritage. The church hosts various events and celebrations throughout the year, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and fostering a sense of community and belonging.
From hosting Christmas adorned with twinkling lights to Easter celebrations filled with joyous hymns, the church serves as a beacon of hope and a reminder of the rich cultural tapestry that exists within Sahiwal City.
Mrs. Nighat Naeem, the principal of St. Patrick’s High School, has a deep affiliation with St. Patrick’s Church and emphasises that it is not just a place of worship for the Christian community in the city, but also a symbol of religious harmony and diversity. She highlights the presence of Muslim staff and students in the school, which showcases a spirit of inclusivity and respect for different religious beliefs.
“The trust placed in the school by Muslim families is a testament to the positive atmosphere and inclusive environment fostered within the institution,” she says. “The co-existence of students and staff from different religious backgrounds in St. Patrick’s High School exemplifies the values of tolerance, understanding and mutual respect.”
St. Patrick’s Church in Sahiwal and its rich history serve as a magnificent testament to the beauty of architecture, spirituality and cultural heritage. It is indeed a cherished and living city landmark.