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 Post subject: St. Thomas’ Church at Kotahena
 Post Posted: Fri Nov 04, 2005 2:29 pm 
St. Thomas’ Church at Kotahena

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By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema and Kumudu Amarasingham
@ The morning Leader / 02Oct2005


Tucked away in a very noisy corner of Colombo, Kotahena to be exact, is a church though small and cozy, of great importance. According to historical records St. Thomas himself, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus, visited the location many many years ago.

The place was deserted when we visited, but the church doors were invitingly open. Ancient wooden rafters, quaint old lamps, history and peace beckoned. The garden needs maintaining, but the old structure speaks of many loves, lives, joys, sorrows and above all union with the divine, experienced within its walls through the years.

During the past 190 years, St. Thomas’ Church has faced upheavals, like St. Thomas himself faced during his life on earth. Historical evidence proves that St. Thomas who preached the word of God visited Sri Lanka to carry out his ministry, choosing the present location for the church.

Apostle Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ, is the founder of the St. Thomas’ Church of India. There is plenty of historical evidence to strengthen this view. Christian writers and delegates of the church of the 4th century have referred to the missionary activities of St. Thomas in India. Christians in India have traced to St. Thomas the founding of their church in the 1st century A.D. St. Thomas came to India, preached the Gospel of Christ, and founded the church. He died a martyr in Mylapore in Chennai.

Spread far and wide

The boundaries of the church extended far and wide. On the northwestern part were Kashmir, Sindh, Baluchistan and Afghanistan. On the western coast, were Kalyan near Mumbai and on the southeastern coast the land from Madras to Sri Lanka’s coast. The ancient book Act Of Judas Thomas which relates the Apostle’s preaching of the Gospel to Gondopohrus, has clearly stated that Gondophorus was the king of the northwestern part of India.

By the sixth century, we have crosses and inscriptions from Sri Lanka and Turkistan (where some early manuscripts were also found), and by the eighth century, Sian-fu-stele, documents from Gobi sites, inscriptions from central Japan and Russian Turkistan (which has also frescoes and church remains), along with large bodies of the writing of the golden age of Syrian literature from West Asia. With local writings, these have been found across the region, especially in South India and West China.

In the next three centuries would be added the large collections of crosses and tombstones from Kirghizstan (ninth to 14th centuries), others from central and northern China; relics in Burma and Malaya; crosses, inscriptions and documents in Tibet and South China; along with contemporary manuscript evidence of Christian activity in Syria, Iran, Turkistan, Indo-China, Sumatra, and China (north and south).

It is also probable that there were indigenous Christians in Ceylon (other than the Persian Christians who settled there) from the beginning of Christianity in Ceylon. Just as it happened in South India the East Syrian influence might have been felt in Ceylon through Persian merchants and missionaries, or perhaps through the St. Thomas Christians in South India at least from the fifth century onwards. A series of stone inscriptions and coins record the ‘presence of foreign Christian high officers at the service of Sinhala kings’ from AD 473 to 508, and the conversion of one of these kings."

Ancient crosses

Nestorian crosses have been found in several places such as Anuradhapura, the capital of the north-central kingdom between the second and the 10th centuries, in Kotte (east Colombo) and Ginthupitya (St. Thomas’ town, Colombo). The crosses found at Anuradhapura are very similar in style to those in Persia (7th century), China at Sian-fu-stele (8th century) and to those in Tibet and Armenia.

With the advent of the British, the Malabar or Tamil Christians who had earlier followed the Presbyterian form changed over to the Anglican tradition and worshipped along with the Europeans at St. Peter’s Church, Fort, where Anglican services were held from 1804.

When the number increased to nearly 600 these Malabar (Tamil) protestant Christians collected 800 dollars and approached the government through Abraham Rodrigo Devanesan Mootookistna, who was the interpreter Mudliyar to the governor, for assistance to erect their own church.

The Governor, Sir Robert Brownrigg, readily granted their request and gave orders for the erection of this present church at Ginthupitiya where a Roman Catholic church had stood in Portuguese times.

This Church of St. Thomas was the first church built in Sri Lanka for worship according to the Anglican tradition. The first divine service was held at this church on July 16 (Sunday) 1815 at 7 pm. The Rev. George Bisset conducted the Service and Rev. M. Twisleton delivered the sermon. A discourse was delivered and prayers were said in Tamil by G. J. Ondaatjie, proponent.

Since 1915, locals had administered the church and local clergymen had ministered the church.

It is in no way imposing, but upon visiting, the little church leaves indelibly its imprint on some part of the soul.


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