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 Post subject: Christ Church Galle Face
 Post Posted: Wed Nov 16, 2005 4:27 am 
Christ Church Galle Face

@ TML /16Nov2005

Rohan Canagasabey visits Christ Church Galle Face and discovers a spirit of togetherness

Christ Church Galle Face is hidden behind the Sri Lanka Army Headquarters opposite the Galle Face Green in Colombo. How-ever, history does not hide this church, as it celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2003.


It is a history of missionary work that began in 1853 with the construction of the original church. Though Christ Church is an Anglican church, its driving force has been the Church Missionary Society (CMS) of England and is therefore seen as an evangelical church.

At a CMS meeting in 1799, they decided to send missionaries to the then colony of Ceylon, to convert the ‘natives’ to Christianity. Many decades after the first missionaries, Rev. George Pettit arrived in 1850. From the outset, the CMS priests sought to minister to all races. Therefore, when the first Sunday services were held on October 16, 1853 in the new church, they were conducted not only in English but also in Sinhala and Tamil. Rev Pettit, who had worked as a missionary in Tamil Nadu in India for 14 years, and consequently spoke Tamil, conducted the English and Tamil services, while Rev. C. Jayasinghe conducted the Sinhala service.


In 1855, Rev. Henry Whitely took over from Rev. Pettit and proved to be influential. Christ Church was also involved in providing a Christian education to children in the local area and by 1858 had three Sinhala and three Tamil schools. Rev. Whitely also built the first Mission House of the church. But not long after, tragedy struck. An old school wall adjacent to the present vicarage in the grounds of the church fell on top of Rev. Whitely in 1860, taking him to his maker, the God Almighty. A plaque was erected at this spot in his memory.

Rev. C .C. Fenn, Rev. Rowlands, Rev. J. C. Mills and Rev. E. T. Higgins subsequently arrived after each other to minister at Christ Church. They were followed by Arthur Edwin Dibben who ministered at the church from 1893 to 1909 and later from 1921 to 1923, whilst Rev. D. Joseph Perera was appointed minister to the Sinhala congregation in 1896.

New building

It was during Rev. A. E. Dibben’s first tenure at Christ Church that the original church building was replaced with the present one. The impetus for the change had been the collapse of the west wall of the church one evening in 1897. A few weeks earlier, a long crack along the altar was noticed, while the heavy monsoon rains had also soaked into the kabook walls. The church was beyond repair and a new church needed to be constructed.

The new church with an overall length of 127 feet and a breadth of 88 feet was built with brick to Gothic style and was opened in March 1898. Since then the church had many changes but the basic architecture and internal layout remain as they were in 1898. The internal and external openings of Christ Church feature pointed arches, while the entrance porch has pointed arch openings to all three sides. Christ Church has two slender and pointed arched Lancet windows placed in between each buttress, with the head of the window filled with tracery, as seen in the sanctuary window.

There was a progressive enlargement of the windows in Gothic architecture, to provide a larger area for stained glass, rather than for more light. Today the most prominent stained glass at Christ Church are behind the altar and the large rose window opposite it, above the main entrance. The other notable feature of Christ Church, which retains its original Gothic character, is the mosaic of tiles set in geometric pattern on its floor.

In 1918, the bell tower was added to the church. It is 76 feet high and is named the Sir W. Mitchell Memorial Tower. The resonance of its colonial legacy is very evident in the marble plaques to departed souls on the walls between its windows, as these are all to the then Ceylon’s colonial rulers. A poignant one is that over the baptism altar, which is dedicated to 15-year-old soldier Cedric Lam Yun Hung Paktsun, who drowned in the Beira Lake while saving a fellow scout, after being baptised in the church three days earlier.

Today, Rev. Davapriya de Silva and Rev. J. S. Ponniah minister to the Sinhala and Tamil congregations respectively at Christ Church Galle Face, while also conducting services in English. Thus, services are still conducted in three languages at Christ Church, in seeking to bring people together while also bringing them closer to God.

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