Christianity is a minority religion in Sri Lanka with just 7.5% of the population being Christian. Most residents are Sinhalese Buddhists (70%), with smaller numbers of Tamils (12.5%) and Muslims (10%). Historically all these people have gotten along quite well, although there have been periods of serious conflict (eg. a bloody 50 year civil war between the Sinhalese and Tamils). While there are many ancient Buddhist temples throughout Sri Lanka, it’s not common to find older Christian churches.
It’s worth looking for the entrance to St Peter’s in the Fort District of Colombo. St. Peter’s is located on Church Street beside the Grand Oriental Hotel, adjoining the city’s harbor. The area is quite secure, with barricades and fencing, because Police headquarters is located across the street. The sight of these barriers makes you want to stop and turn around, but continue to the left and soon you’ll come to the Church’s single entry point.
During the Portuguese occupation of Sri Lanka, a Dominican monastery and a charity hall were constructed on the site where the church is now located. The Dutch captured Colombo in 1656 and 10 years later converted the building into the official residence for their Governor.
The British first used the building as the residence of the General Officer Commanding, Ceylon. Between 1796 and 1803, it was converted to a Church open to Anglicans, but it was not until 1821 that the church was firmly established as a regular place of worship. Its mission goes well beyond working the local residents; it has long been serving sailors who visit the city.
I was alone in the church when I visited and was struck by its age and how the salt air is so harsh on all buildings sitting by the sea. The church’s wooden altar is attractive and old, and the place was well-lite and airy, although in need of some upkeep.
Like many English churchs, it also serves as a cemetery. There are large numbers of commemorative plaques and tombstones for English residents who died in Ceylon during the 19th and 20th century. Some of these follow:
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