This is my first blog in the series in which I will cover Serampore. So this is for the very first time I am touching the Danish part of Bengal very near to Calcutta (Kolkata). If you want to cover all the Danish places around Serampore along with some Indian heritage sites then one full day would be necessary.
Short History of Danish Rule IN Bengal
Serampore is a quiet town located around 35 kilometers from Kolkata. It is located on the other side of the River Hooghly right opposite Barrackpore.
Danish was one of the last to come to this part of India for trade. By then The Portuguese, French, British had already established their base in Bengal.
Their first attempt in 1698 resulted in a disaster since more than legitimate trade they were more into piracy, slave trade, etc. This did not go down well with the local population and with further tradeoffs with the might Mughal rulers things got worse and the Danes retreated to their stronghold of Tranquebar (Tharangambadi).
Their second attempt was in 1755 by The Danish Asiatic Company and this time they settled right what we now know as Serampore. This place was however renamed as Frederiksnagore honoring King Frederik V of Denmark.
In 1777 the administration of Serampore was transferred directly to the Danish Crown which was managed with great success by Governor Ole Bie. He died in the year 1805 leaving a great Danish legacy in Serampore.
In 1845 Denmark withdrew from Serampore and Tranquebar by selling off these places to the British thus ending their short presence in India.
History of St Olav’s Church
Most of this information has been acquired from the church itself. The rest are from the Danish Museum.
This church was built by Governor Ole Bie of Serampore as he wanted to have a grand church built for the local protestant population. This was built as a Lutheran church and its construction began in the year 1800 which was led by the governor himself. It is to be noted that Ole Bie was actually from Norway.
Governor Ole Bie died in the year 1805 and the church saw its completion in the year 1806 which was one year after his death. So, unfortunately, Governor Ole Bie never saw this in the complete state.
The population of Danish citizens in Serampore was very less and that was also the very reason why this church never had a Danish pastor instead the services were led by English Baptist missionaries and the most famous of them were William Carrey, Joshua Marshman & William Ward.
Design of St Olav’s Church
The design of the church is very similar to that of St. Johns Church in Kolkata which was in itself was inspired by St. Martin-in-the-Fields of London.
In 1806 the church was missing the portico and the bell tower which was later completed in the year 1821.Lt. Robert Armstrong who was a British church builder had helped in the project and it was he who had finished the project after the death of Governor Ole Bie.
On the front face, you can see the royal monogram of the Danish King Christian VII.
Interiors of the church
As you enter you will find the holy water container carved out from stone which is generally used during a baptism or for keeping holy water.
Near the altar, you have the pulpit which is used by the pastor in charge of the service, and the lectern used for Bible reading. The congregation sits in a single row facing the alter.
At the altar, there are no idols or images since this is a protestant church thus there is just a wooden cross.
There are 6 marble commemorative tablets inside the church (three on each side).
At the side of the alter, there is an old iron vault.
To reach the steeple you have to go to the vestry behind the altar and then take a spiral staircase to reach the roof of the church.
The steeple contains two bells, one big and still being used by the clock and the other a smaller one which simply hangs from the wooden roof.
The big bell has inscriptions in two lines, the top line reads:-
(Top line) GEGOSSEN VON CHRISTIAN VOGT IN STUTTGART
(Bottom line) BLESSED ARE THE PEOPLE THAT KNOW THE JOYFUL SOUND. SERAMFORE CHURCH
Note: Serampore has been spelt as Seramfore
The smaller bell which remains hanging from the wooden ceiling is very historic since this was the first bell of the church installed during the church construction.
The small bell has inscriptions that read:-
Frederiksværk is a very famous town in Denmark and is famous for its foundry’s.
The clock now functions and is regularly maintained. However, looking at the clock machinery it can be easily made out that it’s a new machine that keeps the clock ticking.
Apart from these, there is a small commemorative plaque at the entrance which has been recently installed. This is very significant since it celebrates UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation 2016
The church a few years back was almost crumbling to the ground and was extensively renovated with assistance from The National Museum of Denmark.
There old cannons that are placed in front of the heart-shaped garden are also from Frederiksværk foundry. The Danish did not have any military presence here and these cannons were kept for commemoration celebratory firing only.
How to Visit St Olav’s Church
Every Sunday church service takes place between 8 AM to 10 AM thus you can visit during the church service and participate. Keep in mind that you will not allow clicking photographs during the church service.
If you want to visit the church during other time then your need prior written permission from the Serampore College. The caretaker will be informed and will come to open the church gates. Prior permission is now required from the church authority for photography inside the church.
Please keep in mind that this is a church thus you are expected to dress appropriately.
How to Reach St Olav’s Church
St. Olav’s Church is located very near to The Danish Tavern, Serampore Court, and other heritage structures related to Danish settlement in Serampore. You can take a local train from Howrah station to Serampore or from Barrackpore side you can take a ferry.
If you want to visit multiple places in and around Serampore and then also cover Chandannagar then come in your vehicle, there are enough parking places around all the important tourist places.