It has been over 114 years since this majestic red brick colonial structure was built. While it is old in terms of time, the Oxford Mission Church in Barisal is still one of the most elegant and beautiful churches, a unique architectural heritage, in Bangladesh.
Also known as the Epiphany Church, the spectacular structure is situated beside Jibanananda Das Street, a branch of Bogra Road in the city, adjacent to the home of legendary poet Jibanananda Das.
Because of extraordinary preservation, the church, which is guarded by rows of palm trees, is still the same as it was in 1903, when it was built based on a sketch by one Sister Edith.
While it was opened on January 26 that year, Father Strong had overseen the completion of the church’s design, final shape and construction through a second phase in 1907. British national Frederick Douglas was the chief engineer.
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The prayer hall inside the church Dhaka Tribune
However, not everyone is allowed to enter the church premises surrounded by a high wall, says Supervisor Benedict Bimal Bepary, who also manages the church’s philanthropic activities in absence of the father of the church.
He told the Dhaka Tribune: “To maintain security and religious sanctity, only Christians are allowed to enter the church. The premises not open for all.”
Operating under the Church of Bangladesh, Oxford Mission Church is also arguably the second largest church in Asia.
While the building, designed following Greek architectural style, appears to be a five storey one from outside, it actually has a single floor with a vast Prayer Hall, the main attraction of the structure.
Apart from many doors on three sides, there are 40 archways and numerous corridors to strengthen the main structure of the church.
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The row of palm trees alongside the boundary wall of the church Dhaka Tribune
The large cross on the main altar was brought from Bethlehem, Palestine. The interior has been designed with wood carvings and the floor decorated with marble tiles.
Thirteen small and large ponds, primary and secondary schools, hospital, library, students’ hostel and living quarters of the father and sisters are inside the high walls of the church built over 35 acres of land.
Another great attraction of the Oxford Mission Church is the gorgeous red brick bell tower and the giant bell it houses. The bell is rung seven times every day five minutes before prayers.
The bell tower also houses the church’s office room.
The church has outlived many other old structures around the country, by surviving many natural disasters that wreaked havoc around the country over the past 100 years, including the ones of 1960 and 1970.
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Sister Lucy Helen Francis Holt sitting on the stairs of a pond inside the church premises Dhaka Tribune
Lucy Helen Francis Holt, of St Helens, England, is one of the nuns at the church. Living in Bangladesh for the past 67 years, Sister Holt had joined Oxford Mission Church at the age of 30.
Even though she was supposed to return home two years later, the sister was mesmerised by Bangladesh’s natural beauty and its people. Since then, she has worked around the country. But most of her times have been spent at Barisal’s Oxford Mission Church.
A silent witness of Bangladesh’s War of Independence in 1971, Sister Holt had treated wounded freedom fighters and people during that time, according to church officials and locals.
Known in the mission and locality for her compassion and love for people, Sister Holt said she wanted to die in Barisal, in this country with which she shares the date of birth, December 16.