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The Cathedral of the Diocese of Colombo



The octagonal shape, a striking feature of the interior of the Cathedral

On Baudhaloka Mawatha in Colombo 7, a replica of the Aukana Buddha Statue and the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall are indeed known as 'traditional snap shots spots' for the foreign traveller. Next door to B.M.I.C.H. from the road-side, although almost hidden from view, in-between the tall trees on the well maintained beautiful sprawling lawn, you get a glimpse of a massive construction that also draws curious attention - that is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Colombo.

Once inside the 10 acres Cathedral grounds, the Cathedral structure, at first glance looks imposing than ever. It stops you on your tracks for a second glance, for here is a structure that has boldly departed from the traditional Cathedral Gothic architecture. This is precisely why the Cathedral is unique.

The facade with the huge doors, the canopy roofs and the octagonal shape point to only one area of design style - Kandyan architecture - a form that finally began to take shape on the site after 28 years of planning. The unusually long period was due to the plans being stalled by the second world - war and administrative and architectural deliberations. Having received the site from the Govt. in 1940, the foundation stone was laid in 1968 and the Cathedral saw its completion in 1973. It is regarded as the mother church of the Diocese and place of worship of the Anglican Christians.


Anthony Perera who has served the Cathedral as Sexton since its inception

Anthony Perera, as Sexton of the Cathedral is at the premises during the time it is open to the public from 9.00 a.m. to 12 noon and 3.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m. He has been there for the last 27 years from the day the church was declared open. He knows its history and relates it along with his own experience at the Cathedral. For him the work is more than just a job. He regards his occupation as a way of life and does so with much interest.

For more information he directed me to the office of the Cathedral situated separately, quite a distance away from the Cathedral, to meet the Dean Rev. Sydney Knight, who has held the position of Dean since 1993.

Congregation

The Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop and the Dean looks after the Cathedral for the Bishop. This Cathedral plays a dual role' he explained. 'It is the centre of the Diocese and we have a congregation here like in any other parish. There are different parishes to which the Anglican Christians could also go to- the Jawatte, Borella, Milagiriya and Polwatte. There are only two Cathedrals, one in Kurunegala, which is a parish and this Cathedral' explained Rev. Sydney Knight.

Though the construction is relatively new, the proposal for a new Cathedral and the granting of this site was made way back in 1910 and 1914 respectively. The selection of the site in itself has an interesting history and the story of the Cathedral will also take us to the beginning of the Diocese. The Diocese of Colombo was established in 1845 under the first Bishop of Colombo James Chapman, a fellow of King's College, Cambridge.

There was little to encourage Bishop Chapman when he entered this responsible office. It is reported that the number of Anglican Christians int he Diocese at the time of his appointment was a little over 7,000 and the comparison was inevitable between his small flock and the 300,000 Christians who were baptized members of the Dutch Church. Christ Church Cathedral in Mutwal built in 1854 and the founding of the St. Thomas' College in 1851 in Mutwal were some of Bishop Chapman's many achievements.

It was Bishop Ernest Copleston, the fifth Bishop of Colombo in line since Chapman, on 4th July 1910 called a meeting of all the representatives of the parishes of Colombo about the plans for a new Cathedral. A resolution was passed unanimously and committee was formed to follow up the plans of the project. However, there was to be quite a delay on the selection of the site.

In 1879 the government has granted the Rifle shooting Grounds at Slave island as a site for the new Cathedral. However until 1890 there was no action on the implementation of the project and the military informed the government that the Rifle shooting Grounds was required for military purposes. They suggested that the Church be asked to accept the military cemetery grounds at Galle Face in exchange. In 1910 when the new Cathedral was envisaged at the Galle Face military cemetery, it was estimated to cost not less than Rs. 750,000. Towards this J.N. Campbell, on retiring to England, had donated a princely sum of 10,000 pounds.

Radiance

However the building plans were shelved for a number of years due to the war and other reasons. But the donations swelled, with interest as recorded on 30th June 1918 accumulating to Rs. 150.107.46. With the arrival of the 6th Bishop of Colombo, Mark Carpenter Garnier the question of the site was once again taken up. The Bishop had expressed the opinion that the Galle Face cemetery grounds was not large enough, while the government anxious to recover the Galle Face site had offered an alternative land on a larger extent, in any part of Colombo. And thus the Bullers Road site was selected. The government consented and the exchange and transfer was legislatively given effect by an ordinance titled "The Cathedral Church amendment ordinance no; 19 of 1940.

The location of the land was thus put in order four decades after the resolution for the new Cathedral was passed. However the Diocese was to see a further delay in construction.

Architectural hiccups

In 1942 the Committee under the chairmanship of Bishop Cecil Douglas Horsley decided to hold a worldwide architectural competition for the design of the new Cathedral. The following year he had secured the assistance of Sir Giles Scott as the assessor of the competition. The price money for the competition was 800 pounds and another 700 pounds was voted for expenditure. The competition was held and the result of the competition was made known. But it was found that the building would cost 480,000 pounds where as the church had only 75,000 pounds in hand.

In the meantime to mark the occasion of the centenary of te Diocese, in 1945 a memorial tablet was unveiled at the site where the Cathedral was to be built.

The 8th Bishop of Colombo, Archibald Rollo Graham Campbell taking over the direction in 1945 decided to call for a revised plan and Mr. Gott of Messrs Pickney and Gott were commissioned in 1952. However their estimate too superseded the amount the church had. By 1958 the revised plan costs were around Rs. 2,500,000, whereas the funds available were only Rs. 1,200,000. The same year however, the Diocesan Hall, the secretariat for the Diocesan office, and the Divinity School were built-gifted tot he Cathedral by Mr. J. L. D. Peiris.

In 1962 the costs relating tot he design plans submitted by the British architects had shot up to Rs. 3,000,000 and due to the impracticability for such a project, the plans were abandoned.

A decision was subsequently made to hold a competition among the architects of Ceylon, but this idea too was shot down by the committee which later invited Mr. T. N. Wynne-Jones and Mr. P. H. W. Peiris to accept appointment as architects. They agreed. Ideas submitted by the clergy were also incorporated into their constructional plans and in 1957 the plans were finally accepted by all. The bills of quantity were acceptable to the Church and the building contract following a by all. The bills of quantity were acceptable to the Church and the building contract following a tender procedure was awarded to Mr. U. N. Gunasekera.

The foundation stone was laid on 28th October 1968 by the first Sri Lankan Bishop of Colombo, Harold de Soysa and the building was completed five years later. And on 7th November 1973, the Cathedral was consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Cyril Abeynaike, Bishop of Colombo.

The most prominent features of the Cathedral are the octagonal shape of the sanctuary, the Baptismal font at the entrance, the main Table, (which is of Ceylon wood and is twelve feet long and four feet wide embellished with local carvings and brass plates,) and the seating facility for 2,000.

The Cathedral has had a long journey from inception to completion. And today while the Anglican Christians have a Cathedral to be proud of, it also serves those who seek solace within its sanctuary. It is also a monument that takes pride of place in Colombo as a Cathedral, unusual for its architecture. The Archdeacon of Colombo had once stated thus', Increasingly the role of the Chathedral today is seen, not only as a museum conserving treasures, but as a laboratory of experiment, a platform for outreach and launching pad for Christian mission in all its implications'.

A Cathedral in a country such as ours must be simple, beautiful in its worship, humble in all its services. It can and must be open to all people who seek the Presence and love of God. A product of the art, architecture, labour and the loving devotion of our people, it must be liturgically contemporary, socially redemptive and evangelistically significant, as it seeks through baptism, Holy Communion, the grace of sacramental worship and the Proclaiming of the world of God to express the spirit of Christ in manifold ways.

1. As seen from Baudhaloka Mawetha, the imposing construction on the sprawling beautiful lawn

2. On closer view the Cathedral's Kandyan architecture is evident

3. The imposing facade with huge doors.

4. The octagonal shape, a striking feature of the interior of the Cathedral

5. A high canopy style ceiling.

6. The main Table, (which is of Ceylon wood and is twelve feet long and four feet wide embellished with local carvings and brass plates

8. Anthony Perera who has served the Cathedral as Sexton since its inception

9. A view of the lawn outside from the entrance of the Cathedral

Once inside the 10 acres Cathedral grounds, the Cathedral structure, at first glance looks imposing than ever. It stops you on your tracks for a second glance, for here is a structure that has boldly departed from the traditional Cathedral Gothic architecture. This is precisely why the Cathedral is unique.

The Cathedral has had a long journey from the resolution for a new Cathedral to the completion of construction spanning six decades. The magnificent structure stands today 29 years a monument that takes pride of place in Colombo as a Cathedral and serving those who seek solace within its sanctuary and also unique for its architecture.

HNB-Pathum Udanaya2002

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