The church where allied soldiers prayed | Sunday Observer

The church where allied soldiers prayed

31 March, 2019
Christ Church Galle Face
Christ Church Galle Face

One of the oldest Anglican churches in Colombo is Christ Church, Galle Face, built in 1853. She has been part of the city’s history as she attracted all sorts of parishioners from Governors to British administrators. Today, her majestic structure is mildly subdued by five star hotels and high-rise apartments that seem to tower above her.

The church nestles on a lush green lawn. As you enter from the side door the first view that overpowers your senses is the massive stained glass window at the rear. The rose window with eight radiating bars is a wonderful work of art. The East window shows Jesus Christ, and below him are the Roman soldiers. The archangels Michael and Gabriel stand in reverence. John the Baptist, some monks and a Bishop are seen gazing up looking at the perceived New Jerusalem.

I was joined by the resident vicar Rev. Charles Gnaniah and his assistant Rev. Wilson Gnanadas. The latter was once a print media journalist who worked at three newspapers before answering the higher calling to serve God. Rev. Charles explained, “This church is one of the oldest Anglican churches in Ceylon. Initially, she received 700 Pounds from England to begin construction. The main objective of the church in that era was the union of races.

Bishop Chapman opened the church on October 13, 1853, at 4 pm. Thereafter, the church began to gradually flourish and attract many people. The vicarage was completed by 1860. Rev. G. Pettit was the first vicar. In 1899, some modifications were made to the church building. Since its inception services were held in English, Tamil and Sinhalese”.

Allied servicemen in Colombo

During the Second World War allied troops were stationed in Colombo and other strategic areas. Their tasks were harbour defence and air defence. Colombo was frequented by hundreds of men from the Royal Army, Air Force and Navy. In addition to these British troops, there were other allied soldiers serving from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Africa and America. Most of the key military installations were around Fort, Slave Island and Colpetty - and some of them still persist. This created a need for these men to attend church service on Sundays, and their choice was this church. Christ Church Galle Face

The Bishop of Colombo had instructed the vicar to accommodate the spiritual needs of these men. Soon the church services were filled and overflowing with allied airmen, sailors and soldiers who gladly mingled with the locals.

The vicar had begun a canteen to feed these men, and the church became a ‘home away from home’ where these men often met for fellowship and to seek divine blessings. The canteen did not make much profit but was an arm of divine service, an extension of brotherhood. The locals made new friends and it is said that some girls even found matrimonial prospects.

The interior of the church is simple. There are three stained glass windows behind the main altar. The windows are now in need of repair as they were initially fixed in 1893. Rays of sunlight drifting through the windows create a radiant aura around the altar.

The church has a very high roof, laid with local tiles.

Rev. Charles showed me an old British flag kept on the right side at the rear entrance. This flag attached to a wooden pole is said to be more than 100 years old, and was used for ceremonial military services held in the church by the Royal Army. Rev. Charles added, “Today around 650 families worship here. In addition, we have extended ministries outside the church. Every Thursday we visit the Welikada Prison to minister to the Christian inmates there. On some Sundays we are invited to conduct brief services in the Prison chapel. We provide communion for the prisoners.

The church also has another program for 60 senior citizens who meet once a month for fellowship and sometimes we take them on a picnic. For 165 years Christ Church Galle Face has witnessed the transformation of Colombo and will carry on the goodwill of the gospel.