The spiritual edifice of the Thomian community | Sunday Observer

The spiritual edifice of the Thomian community

 The chapel of the Transfiguration at S.Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia
The chapel of the Transfiguration at S.Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia

Like the serpent keen and wise,
Harmless as the dove,
By the cross we’re knit in one
Holy bond of love.
Loyal to our Church and state
Both in peace and war,
To the College we will sing
For all we have and are.
(Verse from the
S. Thomas’ College song)

The school by the sea has educated thousands of young men, imparting in them core values of Christianity. To all who have been associated with S.Thomas’ College (STC) the College chapel has been a part of their lives, touching them in numerous ways. It is the vibrant heart of STC. As the Royal-Thomian cricket encounter is days away, Thomians often go to the chapel and pray seeking divine blessings for their cricket team! In the Old Testament there is a story of young King Solomon, aspiring to build a sanctuary for the people of Israel, that they might ascribe glory to almighty God. Perhaps, it was this ardent zeal that strongly captivated Warden Stone and Warden Mc Pherson, as they envisaged to ‘build a house for God’s children’ at S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia. When the school was originally built in Mutwal in 1851, the Christ Church Cathedral was the seat of the presiding Bishop of Colombo. In 1921, when Warden Stone left for England on holiday, Rev. G.M. Withers went to work organizing a campaign to raise funds for the building of the College chapel at Mount Lavinia. He is said to have faithfully gone around many parts of Ceylon on his old motor cycle travelling through the cities and villages.

The architect was P. A. Adams, who designed the chapel, 130 feet long and 39 feet high at the top of the walls, large enough to accommodate 500 boys. In 1923, the foundation stone was laid by Rt. Rev. Earnest Arthur Copleston, Bishop of Colombo. It took great effort to build this simple yet imposing chapel.

A fund created by Warden Mc Pherson and Rev. R.S.de Saram saw the boys giving 25 cents each week. On February 12, 1927, the Bishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Mark Carpentier - Garnier blessed and consecrated the Chapel of the Transfiguration at STC amidst a large gathering of the Anglican community. The Warden had read the Petition of Consecration.

The College accentuates the influence of the church in her crest - the black cross unites all Thomians and the yellow Bishops Mitre endorses the administration of the Anglican Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This glorious edifice has become the most iconic landmark of the entire school and one of the classic buildings in Mount Lavinia. Her bold Byzantine style exterior of solid stone resonates as a symbol of faith, which is a step by step process of spiritual building leading to perfection that is often talked about in the Bible. The letters AMDG – Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (for the greater glory of God) are carved on the wall over the west door. The stone columns have intricate white designs at the top where they connect to the walls.

Mural of the Transfiguration

Behind the altar of Italian marble one can witness the inspiring painting of the Transfiguration, painted in 1968 by David Paynter (the mural celebrated 50 years in 2018). It is believed that the prudent Warden at that time Rev. John Selvaratnam had given this idea to the artist who painted with great enthusiasm.

The beautiful manifestation of Jesus Christ with Elijah and Moses is stunning. It reminds us that from the ‘mountain top’ experience, we have to go back to the valley to live with our fellow men, carrying within our soul the effective power of the transfiguration, which can impact other lives.

The mural shows the mighty desert wind Ruah (Hebrew) which also implies the invisible power of the Holy Spirit of God. Perhaps, the most unique feature of this mural is that wherever you stand in the chapel and gaze on the face of Christ, it seems that his caring eyes are looking at you with loving concern.

The baptismal font was secured from Pershore Abbey in England. The belfry is 60 feet high and the bell has the name J.S. Doyle engraved on it. It was obtained from St. Colombans College, Dublin.

The founder, Bishop James Chapman said in 1849 “May it be our care to provide, under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, that all that is taught here may rest upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone”.

A chapel is not complete without voices singing to venerate and glorify Almighty God: this is where the Thomian Choir had displayed its harmonious prowess for a century. The Thomian Choir sang for the first time on September 21, 1854 at the dedication of the Christ Church Cathedral.

Since 1927 from the time of Organist and Choirmaster Rev. Gilbert the choral tradition was firmly established. The boys were trained and mentored by Rev. Roy Yin, Lucien Nethasinghe, Rev. Lucien Fernando and Russell Bartholomeusz.

In 1938 the chapel was bestowed with a Hammond organ by the Sir Stewart Schneider Trust. One cannot forget the late Vinodh Senadheera, the Choir Master of STC. He dedicated his life to this chapel. His young life was taken away a few months ago leaving a great void at STC. The main event for the choir is the annual carol service styled after King’s College, London, that continues to draw thousands of people.

I spoke to Rev. Marc Billimoria, Warden STC who explained, “As the College celebrated 100 years at Mount Lavinia, we are mindful that for 90 of those splendid 100 years the Chapel of the Transfiguration has played a crucial role in the life of the College and in the lives of all Thomians.”

The pragmatic priest is an old boy of STC and served on the academic staff before taking over the mantle of Warden. He added, “The style of our worship which is liturgical and sacramental within the Anglo-Catholic tradition of Anglicanism places much emphasis on ritual and ceremony, which we believe enriches our worship. There are but a handful of Anglican places of worship in Sri Lanka today, that maintain this particular type of worship.

It is the offering of something beautiful and fragrant to God who alone must be the focus of our worship. Talking about his entry to the Christian ministry Rev. Billimoria said, “Many of us who have entered the ordained ministry in the Anglican Church were either led to faith or nurtured in our Christian journey and challenged by God to serve him. Of these dedicated clergy one of the eminent Chaplains who inspired us - Bishop Duleep de Chickera, had said: “The Chapel has always stood on the central high point of S. Thomas’ College. My hope is that it would continue to be the focus of the spiritual and moral life of the school and continue to inspire future generations.”

The glorious Chapel of the Transfiguration will impart faith, diligence and guidance as many young lives are transformed at STC. Esto Perpetua.

 

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