The Anglican Church by the Harbour | Sunday Observer

The Anglican Church by the Harbour

 Christ Church, Mutwal
Christ Church, Mutwal

Since 1854 Christ Church, Mutwal, affectionately referred to as ‘Gal palliya’- derived from its solid granite rock structure, has stood like a spiritual sentinel on the hill. It is one of the oldest churches within the Anglican Diocese and the first Cathedral of the Anglican Church in Ceylon.

Perched on a hillock the Church offers a 180 degree view of the Colombo Harbour, and in the decades past was frequented by ship crews.

This Church and many others are closely associated with Bishop James Chapman- the zealous visionary who built the church, one granite brick at a time. James Chapman was born in Wandsworth in 1790.

Legacy of a British bishop

Having studied at Kings College, he was ordained as a deacon in 1823. In 1845 his name was proposed as the Bishop of Colombo and he was subsequently ordained at Lambeth Palace by Archbishop Howley.

He set sail to Ceylon on the SS Malabar and reached our shores in November, where a large crowd gathered at the Colombo jetty to greet him.

The amiable bishop who wished to integrate with the locals had mastered the Sinhalese language while sailing on the three month long voyage, with the help of Rev. Forrescue. During this period there were just five ordained clergymen in Colombo. Having dreamed of building a church the bishop garnered the support of an architect named R.C. Carpenter.

The cornerstone of the Church was laid in June 1852, and the granite slabs and rocks procured by ship. The bell tower was designed and imported from England.

The building of the Church was completed and consecrated on September 21, 1854. James Chapman was keen in establishing a school for boys, and began a small school in the garden adjacent to the Church, which later blossomed into S.Thomas’ College, with Rev. J. Baly as its first Warden.

The school was later shifted to Mount Lavinia.

The incumbent vicar of the Church is Rev. Jayanath Panditharatne. We walked inside this holy sanctum, where my father was baptized.

A cool atmosphere pervades the interior of this old church, as the granite rocks absorb the noon time heat.

The floor tiles have a unique design, imprinted with the Bishop’s mitre - the regal head gear worn for ceremonial church services. Rev. Panditharatne explained, “As you know, this is a church of great significance to the Anglican community in Sri Lanka.

First Cathedral

This was our first Cathedral before we shifted that title to the magnificent church presently located at Bauddhaloka Mawatha, the Cathedral of Christ, next to the BMICH. Christ Church Mutwal is the centre point of the Northern Deanery. We continue to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ, empowering people and transforming lives.”

Inside the Church is a shining brass plaque commemorating the King’s Colour by the Royal Navy during the reign of His Majesty King George V.

The Church has a high roof, reminding one of the spiritual realm of heaven. The friendly caretaker, John, a resident of Hatton makes a big effort to keep this house of prayer in good condition. He showed me the ancient ciborium and chalice used in communion. This set dates back to a century. Faithful John has polished it and maintained its sacred charm. We decided to climb the bell tower, which consists of three floors. The first level has cement steps and the next two levels have somewhat steep wooden steps.

The damp scent of salt water permeated the air. We climbed through a wooden trap door. The view of the harbour from the top was amazing, as ships and gantry cranes loomed into view. We stopped on level one, where the choir sat during service. The view of the Church from here was fascinating as one can see the stained glass windows behind the altar creating a myriad of light.

The woodwork behind the chancel in intricate design is testament to the good work of those who laboured to build this edifice. On the left side of the Church is a garden where the humble classrooms of S. Thomas’ College once stood. Behind the Church rises the beautiful colonial residence of the Harbour Master.

For 164 years Christ Church, Mutwal has served thousands of parishioners and sustains the legacy of the late Bishop Chapman.