The garrison church of Galle :Anglican mission in the South | Sunday Observer

The garrison church of Galle :Anglican mission in the South

24 November, 2019

The fortified ramparts of the magnificent Galle Fort is testament to the glorious Dutch era in Ceylon. The Fort area still dazzles every visitor with its unique and formidable architecture. The Anglican Church built with solid granite rocks is a stunning structure in the Fort. Since 1871, the All Saints Church has stood here, and continues to minister to the Anglicans in and around the Galle town.

The Galle Fort is a World Heritage Site and has many historic buildings. It is recorded that once the Dutch secured the harbour and wielded their influence on trade they built the Dutch Reformed Church, which stands about fifteen feet away from the All Saints Church.

A house of prayer

As the decades rolled by the British attacked these areas and subdued the Dutch. In 1818, the first of four Anglican clergy reached Baddegama and established a Mission House (this mission celebrated 200 years recently). There was a large British military presence in the Galle Fort, consisting of both sailors and soldiers.

There is no verified account of the actual number of troops deployed. Soon the colonial chaplain Rev. Norman Garstin had to use the Dutch Reformed Church twice a month to conduct services in the Anglican tradition for the British garrison. In December 1862 a council meeting was held at Queen’s House, presided by the Bishop of Colombo where it was decided to build a church for the garrison in Galle. The site selected was an old courthouse.

The Governor of Ceylon, Sir Hercules Robinson had released a sum of 600 sterling pounds for the project.

In 1868 at precisely 4.30 am on a somewhat windy morning Rev. Piers Claughton, second Bishop of Colombo laid the foundation stone for the new church, amid a gathering of British citizens and troops. The church design with accents of Victorian Gothic architecture was drawn by R.C. Carpenter and Rev. Dr. George. J. Schrader, who served here as the first vicar.

The beautiful Maritime Museum located past the church was once a state warehouse where shipments from anchored ships could easily be taken by horse carts and loaded inside. Perhaps, the ornate stained glass windows of the church were thus brought from England and stored here.

On February 21, 1871, the All Saints Church was consecrated by the Bishop and declared open for divine worship. The church is at present under the care of the Archdeacon of Galle, Rev. Sunil Ferdinando.

Star of David

As we entered the church there was pin drop silence. A few tourists who were inside were awed by the sheer height of the roof. This church is certainly built to last forever, just like the Galle Fort.

The polished woodwork of the main altar firmly fixed into the wall is a masterpiece and a priceless antique. During the Dutch period of occupation when this land was the site of the old courthouse, the gallows had been in operation exactly where the present altar stands- a strange revelation indeed.

On either side the sanctum is embellished with opulent stained glass windows. One window shows the image of Jesus Christ beckoning the children to come unto him, with the corresponding Bible verse embedded in the artwork.

The other long window with three arches shows blessed Mother Mary. This window has been donated in 1908 in memory of John Black by his children. The wooden pews display a unique emblem- the Star of David. How the local carpenters had knowledge of this Israeli symbol remains an intriguing fact, and we can only assume that the prudent Rev. Dr. George Schrader incorporated this star into the furniture. Another distinct element in the church is the iron door handles and latches. The latches are about 9 inches long and have withstood sea erosion for so long.

The Archdeacon of Galle, Rev. Sunil Ferdinando said, “We are proud of this church which has stood for decades. Every Sunday there is a service at 9 a.m. in Sinhalese. On the second Sunday of every month we have a service in English at 11 a.m., with many expatriates joining us”.

A cool refreshing wind blew into the church as we were ready to make our exit. This beautiful church stands as a solitary witness to the Anglican mission in Galle Fort.