St. Peter’s Church, Koralawella - 135 years of spiritual glory | Sunday Observer

St. Peter’s Church, Koralawella - 135 years of spiritual glory

26 May, 2019

Moratuwa is a town embellished with churches. One of the early churches to serve the Christian community is the church dedicated to Saint Peter. Driving along old Galle Road one could see the church painted in two shades of brown, nestling in a neatly maintained garden. Rev. Fr. Sunil Shantha Gunathileke is the resident vicar.

As we walked into the church the rays of sunlight penetrating the red and green stained glass windows enhanced the solemn aura inside. Rev. Fr. Gunathileke explained, “This is one of the oldest Anglican churches in Moratuwa. Back in the day some of our churches were built to facilitate the Anglo-Catholic form of worship.

“Many senior folk in Moratuwa affectionately refer to this church as lansi palliya- derived from ancient Dutch times. It is believed that way back in 1656 the Dutch soldiers who fought and subdued the Portuguese had built a small chapel in Koralawella.

“In those days the citizens of this area were mainly from the fishing community - and had the practice of bringing their fishing nets to the church to be blessed by the priest.”

It is recorded that by 1799 a proclamation was issued giving people the right to religious freedom. By 1815 on the request of the local Christian population a small chapel was built in Koralawella. As the number of Christian families steadily increased a proposal was made to establish a larger church. The family of Pedro de Mel is remembered to this day as builders of the church. His son Francisco de Mel is credited as the driving force in the construction of Saint Peter’s Church. The beautiful church was completed on June 29, 1882, but owing to some issues the consecration took place on November 1, 1883, with the attendance of 600 people.

Ancient records indicate that a crowd walked in procession to the church from the Moratuwa train station. The de Mel family had contributed much towards furnishing the sanctuary. The baptism font was donated by Francisco de Mel, the wooden pulpit by Abraham de Mel and the brass lectern by Johannes de Mel.

Anglican churches were always involved in enhancing education and this church gave birth to a mixed school of the same name. The land for the school was donated by philanthropist Henry de Soyza.

The jubilant congregation celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1933, with much spiritual glorification. It is said people from other churches joined in this celebration. During this year the Anglican Church is said to have organized it first Choir competition. Bishop Packenham Walsh had also conducted healing services at this church.

An ancient document records that with the advent of World War 1 the practice of parishioners going caroling at Christmas was prohibited, and this continued until the end of the Second World War.

The inside of the church is simple but reflects its own unique architecture. The main altar has windows of stained glass. In addition a small side chapel is open for prayer. The altar here has the figure of Blessed Mary with two angels on either side. The floors are tiled in green with lines of red tiles.

As in many churches the roof is high, to amplify sound and have a cool atmosphere inside. We walked outside, passed the garden to the church cemetery which has been there since 1828. Many of the deceased parishioners lie here in their eternal rest.

Rev. Fr. Gunathileke added, “The feast of St. Peter is celebrated on June 29. At present we have about 350 people who attend our worship services. Over the years this church has produced good sons who entered the priesthood.

“A unique practice here is that for the past 20 years on Easter Sunday, we join with our friends from the Methodist Church, Koralawella and have a combined procession and service. Our youth fellowship engages in various activities, and during Lent they were involved in visiting elders’ homes.”

“Another feature at this church is the use of their large parish hall by members of other religions for various meetings and simple events, drawing in the multi-religious community.

“This facilitates a better bond between the communities which is the need of the hour for Sri Lanka This church has upheld the teachings of the gospels for more than a century” Rev. Fr. Gunathileke added.