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 Post subject: St. Paul’s Milagiriya
 Post Posted: Thu Dec 01, 2005 12:24 am 
St. Paul’s Milagiriya
A Christian guiding light

St. Paul’s Milagiriya has been a source of Christian guidance and inspiration for many in its past and present congregations. It is an Anglican Church with a long history, and it celebrated the 150th anniversary of its consecration in 2003.


A sketch in the Illustrated London News in 1853 depicted the consecration by the first Bishop of Colombo, James Chapman of St. Paul’s Church, Milagiriya, built in Gothic style. The construction of the church had begun in 1848, the year of the second Kandyan rebellion that sadly saw its Sinhala and Tamil aristocracy wiped out by the British.

Rev. Joseph Thurstan is credited with supervising the construction of the church dedicated to St. Paul, the Apostle. At that time, it also had an industrial school, which continued throughout, until it was taken over by the government in the 1960s.

However, the land on which the new Anglican church stood, originally had a Roman Catholic church, built during Portuguese colonial rule. It was dedicated to Nossa Senhora dos Milagres (Our Lady of Miracles). Milagiriya is the ‘Sinhalised’ name for the Portuguese word Milagres, meaning miracles, after which the area too was named. Bambalapitiya is the more recent name for the area, but St. Paul’s obviously chose to retain Milagiriya in its name, thus solving the mystery of Milagiriya in St. Paul’s name.

Miraculous properties

The name Milagres or Miracles refers to a well adjacent to the Portuguese Catholic church that was reputed to have miraculous properties, such that the sick were brought to receive healing from its waters. The present new Anglican church incorporates the area of the now filled-up well in the small chapel on the left of the main seating area. The present church building was constructed in the early 20th century in the style of a Greek Basilica and was consecrated by Bishop E. A. Copleston.

Further additions to the new church building came in the form of the church bell and subsequently the porch that extends out from over the three doors forming its main entrance. The bell is said to have been obtained through the Government Agent of Jaffna. It was appropriately from a Portuguese Roman Catholic church bearing the same name as the original Portuguese church that stood at Milagiriya, that of Nossa Senhora dos Milagres (Our Lady of Miracles).

One of the two notable features of St. Paul’s is that there is no stained glass behind the altar or elsewhere in the church. The other feature is that there are two pairs of rods with polished brass tips in an upright position fixed to seats beside the aisle. They represent the four wardens of the church, which includes the vicar. A feature that was evident in this writer’s parents’ wedding photographs at St. Paul’s Milagiriya.

The church’s original congregation consisted mainly of British colonial rulers, together with Burghers. After independence, the Burghers became a significant part of the St. Paul’s congregation, but only until the 1960s, when they emigrated to Australia. St. Paul’s congregation of Sinhalese and Tamils reside mostly in Bambalapitiya, Wellawatte and Dehiwala.

St. Paul’s Milagiriya was originally part of the parish of St. Michael’s and All Angels at Polwatte, Kollupitiya, which The Mornng Leader featured on October 12, 2005. During the church’s 152-year history, many of its priests have made their own contributions to its growth. In chronological order beginning in 1890, they are; Rev. John Ford, Rev. Harry Marsh, Rev. Paul Lucien Jansz, Canon H. V. Ivan S. Corea, Canon Christopher W. Mutukisna, Rev. Patrick Abeyawardene, Rev. Baldwin J. Daniel, Rev. Blessing Chelliah, Rev. Bala Arulpragasam, Rev. Padma Bharati, Rev. Dhiloraj Canagasabey and Rev. Chrishantha B. Mendis, who was followed by the present vicar, Rev. Melvin de Silva, three years ago.

A visit to England by Rev. Dhiloraj Canagasabey, when he was the vicar (1992 – 1997) at St. Paul’s resulted in the church becoming the first in Sri Lanka to conduct the now-renowned Alpha course. It was developed by Rev. Sandy Miller and Rev. Nicky Gumble of Holy Trinity Church in the London District of Brompton. The Alpha course enables new Christians or those not fully committed to Christianity, to listen, learn, discuss and discover the faith. It is still offered at St. Paul’s and has since spread to other churches in Sri Lanka.

Sizeable congregation

Today St. Paul’s Milagiriya has a sizeable congregation of 800 in total, but each Sunday it may be only 200, as many are abroad. Services are conducted mainly in English but also in Sinhala and Tamil at different times. The Tamil services are taken by Father James Ratnanayagam. In addition to Sunday School and Youth Fellowship, the Church also has a Stepping Stones group to fill the gap between these two.

St. Paul’s also reaches out beyond the confines of its congregation, through its missionary work. It is involved in a nursery project in Deniyaya and in self-help projects at their link parish of St. Paul’s Church in Kilinochchi, as well as Christian teaching in government schools. St. Paul’s also generates its own income through its Seminar Hall and a fully equipped conference facility, both within the church grounds. Thus ensuring that its Christian services as well its missionary and social work are effected on a sound financial basis.

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