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 Post subject: St. Peter’s Church, Fort
 Post Posted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 3:34 am 
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St. Peter’s Church, Fort
Spritual haven to seafarers

Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema and Kumudu Amarasingham visit St. Peter’s in Fort
@ TML / 23Jan2006

Think lonely soul – think sea farer. And that’s why the Sea-Farers Church in almost every port the world over means so much to so many sailors and the like.

Image

But that’s not what we’re all about. This one is about the sea-farers who land on our own little isle, right here in Colombo. And end up at the St. Peter’s Church, Fort.

It’s been around for ages, the somewhat imposing structure without a big façade, but it wasn’t always a church.

According to Historian R. L Brohier, at the time of the Portuguese a monastery of the Dominican Order and a charity hall called the Chapel of Misericordia occupied the site on which St.Peter’s stands today. Nearby was a church: St. Dominico, in the simple architecture of early Gothic. An inscribed stone set over its arches is the only fragment that remains today.

Dutch mansion

Later the Dutch turned the structure into a mansion of sorts, an elegant two storeyed structure facing Colombo’s waterfront. It had a flat roof, an especially large arched portico of cubicle form, and several windows that let in light and air. This was the venue for council meetings, where ambassadors from the Kandyan kings laid presents they brought, and were entertained.

Later, when the British came in, they too used the structure as a ‘government house’ though by this time it is said the roof leaked badly.

Meanwhile, Brohier says, between 1796 and 1803, the Dutch Church at Wolvendhal was opened to Anglicans for worship, by invitation of the Consistory of the Reformed Church. The first British Governor, Frederick North, decided to convert the old Dutch Government House to serve as a Garrison Church. In the Gazette of 1804, a notice was published announcing that ‘Divine Service will be held at the Government House on Sunday at 4.30 p.m.’

First episcopal visit

The first episcopal visit to the church was in 1816 when the first Bishop of the Anglo Indian church, Dr. Thomas Fanshawe Middleton, preached. It was on a second visit by the Bishop of Ceylon that on the formal request of Lieutenant Governor and Commander in Chief Sir Edward Barnes, he "consecrated and set apart forever for the service of God" the building known today as St. Peter’s Church, Fort. It was in the same year, 1821, that Governor Barnes handed over St.Peter’s Church to four trustees.

In his essay on the Church, R. L Brohier says, "Picked out from the bustle and stir of the busy Fort, or looked at externally, St. Peter’s can hardly be identified as a church. It is when you enter the massive old building with its thick old-world walls and door windows, and let your eyes rove over the lofty roof, its wide aisle, and many tablets on the walls, or its handsome altar, pulpit and lectern which combine to bear witness to the higher spiritual needs of man, that you realise its omnipotence."

Though the mural tablets on the wall of the church are not exactly the epitome of artistic talent and endeavour, they add considerably to interest as enduring records of the past. Many of the memorials commemorate people who have met their death rather tragically: a fall from a horse, struck by lightning, drowning while attempting to save someone, and such like.

St. Peter’s Church remains the only Dutch building of any pretensions in the Fort of Colombo. Today it still fulfils the task of spiritual haven to seafarers and all alike in the busiest part of the city. With the conversion of part of the church premises at the west end into the Flying Angel Club, the church is now closer than ever to the city and port of Colombo.

Who knows what will happen in the in years to come? For now it stands, and welcomes all weary sea travellers into its historically and spiritually rich interior.


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