THE district of Tinnevelly has become in recent times full of interest to every Christian. There is no part of the vast heathen empire of India in which "the grace of God which bringeth salvation" has been manifested so abundantly as here. It would seem that the prayers and alms of Christian England have indeed "gone up for a memorial before God," when we consider the unexampled success with which He has blessed the labours of the Missionaries of the Church in Tinnevelly. In this district, the whole population of which amounts to about three-quarters of a million, the converts to our holy faith are now numbered by tens of thousands. In the six stations which are maintained by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, there are nearly 11,000 Hindoos either already baptized or under preparation for baptism. Our readers will be pleased to observe how gradually the word of God has "grown and prevailed" in one of those stations. The following interesting letter has been received from the Rev. J. K. BEST, one of the Society's Missionaries, who, after many years of active service in India, has returned for a season to England, to recruit his health:--
BEGINNING OF THE MISSION.
ON my arrival at Christianagaram, in Feb. 1844, I found a small temporary bungalow, or cottage, roofed with palmyra leaves, and a prayer-house, (or church, as it was then usually called,) of the same temporary kind. School-rooms there were none; the few children then taught were collected for that purpose in the temporary place of worship: for, until 1843, this was but an out-station of Moodaloor, and, of course, only visited occasionally by the Missionary of that district. In 1843, Christianagaram, with seven other villages, became a separate charge, with a view to its permanent occupation as a new district; but the removal of my predecessor to another station, after a few months' residence, left almost everything of a permanent character to be begun. The congregations were very inadequately supplied with Bibles and Prayer-books; also, all the provision made for the education of the children of the district was an allowance of five rupees, or 10s. per month, from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. One of my first objects, therefore, was to obtain a supply of the required books, and grants for the establishment of schools, which I had soon the gratification of receiving from the Madras Diocesan Committee of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Subsequently, when the settled congregations began to increase, and people of other villages renounced heathenism, abandoned their devil-worship, and placed themselves and their children under our teaching and guidance, I found it necessary to apply for grants to enable me to build a permanent mission-house and church. In this also I was most promptly assisted by the above-named venerable Church Societies, to whose kind care and liberality the district is very much indebted.
EXTENT AND POPULATION OF THE DISTRICT.
The Christianagaram District is situated between Moodaloor and the seacoast, where, about four and a half miles to the south-east, is the town of Manapaud, in which are the ruins of a Protestant church, which was built by the Dutch, when they had a small settlement there, with a factory, which has been long discontinued, and their dependants removed. The native inhabitants are almost all Romanists; and the place is celebrated as that in which the famous Tamil scholar, Beschi, died. Manapaud forms the boundary of my district in that direction.
The entire population within the boundaries of this district is estimated at 15,000, which number includes a great variety of castes of Hindoos, and a large proportion of Mahomedans. The total number of native converts in connexion with the Mission, and under Christian instruction and discipline, is 1,579; and considering the number of comparatively wealthy Heathens and Mahomedans that surround, and have great influence among the labouring classes, we have much reason to be thankful that so many have renounced the worship of idols and of devils, and are now regularly learning the doctrines of our most holy faith, and worshipping God in that "form of sound [2/3] words," our truly scriptural and devotional "Book of Common Prayer," which has been faithfully translated into Tamil, the language of the people.
There are sixteen villages in which we have congregations, but it would not be generally interesting to write a detailed account of each; I shall therefore give a few particulars of one, merely observing of the rest, that in each there is a small village church, or prayer-house, in which the people are daily assembled for prayers and catechising.
VILLAGE OF CHRISTIANAGARAM.
The village of Christianagaram is thirty-two miles S. E. of Palamcotta, and eight miles S.W. from Trichendoor; its situation is central to several other villages and hamlets, so that the people from six villages attend Divine Service on Sundays in fine new church which has been erected for that purpose. To show the comparatively recent formation of this village, I may here insert the following extract from the published Journal of the Bishop (Spencer) of Madras under date Sept. 17, 1845. His Lordship writes:--"Although I visited this spot (Christianagaram) in 1841, I could not recognise it; and it is very cheering to see what has been accomplished in the interval. Then I preached the Gospel to a few persons under a banyan-tree, and now a village has sprung up here; the church street has been formed, which here, as at almost all our stations, leads direct to the church. There is a church, although a small and unecclesiastical building, which is about to be superseded by are worthy of the name; a temporary Mission-bungalow, and a boys' and girls' school-room." [(1) Journal of a Visitation Tour in 1845, by the Right Rev. George Trevor Spencer, D. D. Bishop of Madras.] Since the date of the above extract, great additions have been made, both in land and buildings. The principal part of the land on which the village stood was then the property of the Mission, but too limited for the objects necessarily contemplated in its permanent occupation as the head of the district. At different times, plots of land adjoining have been purchased, and now there is sufficient room for all the buildings required for a complete Mission establishment.
CONSECRATION OF THE CHURCH.
Of the Christianagaram new church [(2) Vide accompanying Sketch.] and mission-house, I shall here transcribe part of my report, printed in the Madras Christian Intelligencer for April 1849:--"On Thursday, January 25, 1849, being the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the new church was opened for Divine Service; and that the event was regarded as one of much interest in the district, and even by those of other neighbouring districts, was evident by the great numbers who attended. At an early hour the native Christians began to assemble, and it was most cheering to see so many evidently glad to join in the first acts of public worship performed in this new church, and to rejoice with us over the setting apart of so large and substantial an ecclesiastical edifice in the midst of thousands of idolaters and Mahomedans. And, considering that this is comparatively a new district, we have much reason to rejoice on account of what has been accomplished; for, in addition to the church, a permanent mission-house, two boarding-schools, and two day-schools for native children of both sexes have been built; also a small chapel, where the people of this one village assemble for morning and evening prayers, when there is no public service in the large church, which has been erected for the accommodation not only of this, but of six or seven of the neighbouring congregations, and is what we should call in England a parish church. This, and the other buildings, give an appearance of stability to the Mission, and must satisfy the heathen and Mahomedans around that we are in earnest, and have no intention of giving up the ground we have secured for the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was formerly not uncommon to hear of their reproaching the native Christians for their want of becoming edifices in which to celebrate religious worship; and they also ventured to intimate that the Mission would not be permanent, looking, as they then did, only upon our small thatched bungalow, or cottage, and on the meagre-looking building used as a church. These have disappeared, not as our enemies hoped, but only to make way for the more [3/4] substantial and becoming buildings, of which the new church is a most prominent part. Though the tower is unfinished, the other parts of the building have all been completed, so as to admit of Divine Service being performed in it on the day above mentioned.
"The service was commenced by the Rev. E. Sargent, of the Church Missionary Society, reading prayers; the sermon, a most appropriate and excellent one, was preached by the Rev. R. Caldwell, A.B., Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. There were eleven Missionary Clergy present, several of whom assisted in the administration of the Holy Communion. The native congregation present at the public services was, I believe, upwards of a thousand; and, considering the crowded state of the church, the people were orderly, and very attentive.
"The foundation-stone of the church was laid September 17, 1845, by the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of the Diocese, during his Lordship's visitation of Tinnevelly. The style of architecture adopted is the early English Gothic. Of the dimensions and general plan of the church, it may be sufficient to state, that the entire length, from the eastern window in the chancel to the western door in the tower, is 109 1/2 feet; the body of the church (external measurement) is 70 x 44 1/2, feet; the interior is divided into a nave and aisles by five pointed arches, which spring from circular piers on each side; and a lofty equilateral arch unites the chancel, which is 18 feet square, and entered by three steps from the nave; on the north and south are side rooms, which will be useful as vestries. The tower is square, and intended to be 80 feet high; the basement floor of it forms a porch 14 x 14 feet; its walls are four feet thick, and supported by strong rectangular buttresses."
THE CHURCH INCOMPLETE.
Having received a few additional subscriptions and donations since the above was printed, I have been enabled to proceed with the work in the tower so far as the roofing of the belfry, and now only the parapet walls and pinnacles remain to be built, which, with the plastering in the tower, and the wood-work of its windows, &c. will probably cost 100l., a sum which I have no doubt the good feeling of Churchmen at home will provide in due time, as I cannot expect much more towards this from the poor natives, [(1) In justice to the native converts in Tinnevelly, I ought to observe, that they are not only learning, but beginning to practise, the Christian duty of contributing of their substance to religious and charitable purposes; and if the limits of this communication would allow, I could give many examples of their "well-doing," in weekly almsgiving in the churches; also annual subscriptions to Native Church Building Societies, and other local Associations for the promotion of the Christian religion.] as I shall have to call upon them for aid in procuring many articles still required for completing the internal arrangements and decorations of the church.
PRESENT STATE OF THE MISSION.
The schools in the district contained, at the close of December last year, 276 native children, viz.--boys 200, and girls 76. These schools are but elementary at present, as education is of comparatively recent date in those parts; yet their beneficial effects are already apparent, and as soon as we are able to procure the services of better qualified masters, they will be more efficient, and more extensively useful. For a supply of such masters we look to the Sawyerpooram Institution, which has been established to train native teachers of various grades for employment in our several Missionary districts in Tinnevelly.
Before concluding this brief and very imperfect account of the Christianagaram Mission, I will insert the following tabular statement, which will show the gradual increase both in congregations and schools since 1843:--
I will only add, that whatever has been accomplished in the above district, as well as in our other stations, we should regard as only the beginning of a great work which the Church is now loudly called upon to perform in Southern India. The fields are white already to harvest. The prospects of success in spreading the blessings of Christianity are most encouraging, if the efforts already made be properly and efficiently sustained and extended.
J. K. BEST,
Dec. 27, 1850