Christ Church celebrates 156 years of worship
Christ Church, Galle Face celebrated 156 years of evangelical worship
in Sri Lanka, on October 13. A special Fellowship Thanksgiving Service
will be held today (November 8) to commemorate the occasion.Christ
Church was begun by the CMS or Church Missionary Society and was known
as the CMS Cathedral in those days, The foundation stone was laid on
January 21, 1853, by the Bishop of Colombo the Rt. Rev. Chapman. On
October 13, 1853, the church was opened.
Christ Church in the
Rev. G. Pettitt, Secretary of the CMS in Ceylon was its first Vicar,
but returned to the UK a short while later due to ill-health. He was
replaced by Rev. William Knight and subsequently by Rev. C.C. Fenn,
until Rev. Henry Whitley took permanent charge. Rev. Whitley worked
among about 6,000 people living in and around Slave Island, including
Malays, the soldiers of Ceylon Rifles brought in by the Dutch, and
ministered in all three languages.
His incumbency is best remembered today because of his tragic death
as a result of an old school wall falling on him in November 1860 while
he supervised construction. Rev. Whitley's death saw the succession of a
long line of CMS representatives who served as the Vicars of Christ
W. A. Tunstall, a British architect, did the original design of the
church, free of charge. The initial structure was small, and built with
local materials, mainly of kabook.
In 1897, the West wall fell, due to the deterioration of its kabook
from heavy monsoonal showers.
The church was rebuilt on its old design in brick and its foundation
stone was laid on 14th June 1898 by Bishop of Colombo, the Rt. Rev. R.
Its construction in early Gothic style features a pointed arch nave
arcade and king post roof bracing into a succession of flying
buttresses. The emphatic verticality of both elements and structure soar
upwards to heaven and towards God, as if defying the strength of
gravity. Stained glass had been used for the windows in the sidewalls of
the sanctuary, as well as the intricately set East window and the Rose
window with their myriad colours. The floor is mosaic, placed in a
repeating geometrical pattern.
Christ Church today
The interior is refined with timber carvings on pews and the stands
are engraved with intricate foliage traceries. The building of the
belfry began in 1918 and was dedicated in 1919.
The bell, weighing one ton, was donated in memory of Lt. C.M.G.
William Wilson Mitchell, by his widow. The cross on the top of the
church was placed in 1954.
Today, Christ Church consists of two parishes - the English under the
incumbent Ven. Joseph Sarvananthan and the Tamil under Rev. Norman
Jeyachandran. English services are held at 7 am and 6.00 pm.
The Tamil service is at 8 am. The Sinhala Eucharist is sung at 9.45
every Sunday. This truly fulfils the church's mission of uniting people
of many walks of life, irrespective of caste or creed.
Christ Church has been the chief evangelical centre of worship in
Colombo for over a century. Although the surroundings have changed
dramatically and the Church is now dwarfed by towering skyscrapers
comprising hotels, nightclubs, restaurants and commercial enterprises,
Christ Church continues in its perennial task of relating to the
contemporary lives of its people as it preaches the message of the
Gospel of Peace.