Saturday, April 9, 2011

All Saints' Church

Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka is one of the busiest cities in the country. It is a vibrant metropolis with a mixture of modern life and colonial buildings and ruins. Unlike other areas of the country, this buzzing city has ruins, which belongs to several eras, such as pre-historic, Dutch, Portuguese and British. "There are ruins which belongs to the pre-historic era at Vaarana and Pilikuththuwa temples, and many old buildings around the heart of Colombo belongs to the eras of Dutch, Portuguese and British," said an officer from the Provincial Department of Archaeology (Western), A. E. L. Thilakawardene.
A suburb of Colombo, which is known as Hulftsdorp is a part of the postal area of Colombo 12. During the early days, this part was known as Hulftsdorp. This suburb of the metropolis was named Hulftsdorf to commemorate General Gerard Pieterszoon Hulft, the Dutch East India Company's Director of India and commander in chief of the company's forces in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and on the Coast of India, who was killed during an invasion of Colombo. The hill on which he had his headquarters was named 'Hulft's Dorp' during the Dutch occupation. It is said that an ancient route connecting Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte and Colombo Fort, crossed Hulftsdorf. Today, what is known as 'Wella Veediya' had been a retaining wall of that road. King Rajasinghe the first (1554-1593) emptied tanks around the fort during the invasion of the Portuguese fort in Colombo. He removed the water through a canal, which was later named as St. Sebastian Canal.On the top of Hulftsdorp is the building decorated using Roman and Greek architectural style, which was used by the Dutch as the High courts in 17th century.
A stained glass window
The tall spire
The British later renovated this. Nowadays this area is popular as the hub of legal activities in the country as well as the place where Sri Lanka's only Law College is situated. In addition, to that, this area is popular for many buildings, which belongs to the era of the Dutch and British.
On top of 'Wella Veediya' is All Saints' Church, the religious landmark we are going to focus on today. It is one of the most unnoticed landmarks of the area. Though it is hidden among legal offices and the other ancient buildings, this church has a history of 145 years. In 1815, there was a seminary at the place where All Saints' Church is situated now. The Public Works Department (PWD) built this Church in 1865 according to a plan made by J. F. Churchill, who served the country as a 'civil engineer' at that time.
"The consecration of this church was held on November 01, 1865 on All Saints Day. This was more a family church during colonial reign," said Fr. Felician Ranjith Perera, Parish Priest of All Saints' Church, Borella. "Two famous families of the time Obeyesekeres and Bandaranaikes were the trustees of the church," he added. According to Fr. Ranjith Perera, All Saints' Church was built under the Episcopal Ordinance.
Later in 1998, it was brought under the ordinance of Churches Ceylon.
In keeping with the Gothic architectural style, All Saints' Church is absolutely a work of art.
This church features some of the main characteristics of the Gothic style such as pointed arches, and the ribbed vault. Prior to the 20th century, Gothic churches generally were the landmark of towns in Europe.
Rising high above all the other structures and often built with one or two towers and tall spires, those churches stole the hearts of city dwellers. The same goes with the Saints' Church in Hulftsdorf. Its tall spire is visible from quite a distance.
The large stained glass window behind the alter depicts the nativity story of the Lord. In addition to that, there is another stained glass window towards the left hand side of the church.
"Almost all the furniture here, is nearly 145 years old," said Fr. Ranjith Perera. Furniture includes things like the decorated pulpit, pews, altar and brassware.
All the furniture is decorated with magnificent woodcarvings. Hanging fans with attached lampshades reminded me of flowers hanging from a roof. The baptismal font and the Eagle Bible holder were two important monuments found inside the church.
The trustees of this church, Mr. And Mrs. S.C. Obeyesekere had donated this eagle bible holder on 24 June 1889. Some memorial wall tablets fixed on the church walls are noteworthy monuments found here.
Almost all the wall tablets belonged to the period before the twentieth century. Out of the entire, most touching memorial wall tablet was the one, which had constructed in memory of an infant boy.
With a picture of a plant with roots on a side, it read 'In Memory of James Massy infant son of Paul and Hilda Pieris Born June 11, 1901 Died April 28, 1902.'
The Eagle Shaped Bible holder
The baptismal font
There were other wall tablets constructed by children in memory of their parents; in memory of Don Andries de Alwis died on April 7, 1858, John Henricus Perera died on March 11, 1873, and Cornelia Dias died on December 30, 1866 were some of them.
The first vicar of All Saint Church was Cannon Rev. S. W. Dias Bandaranaike and the co-founder was Johannes Louis Perera. Rev. S. W. Dias Bandaranaike served the church during the period 1865-1883.
In addition to him, during the first century of the church the following reverends had also rendered service to the church, R. A. Duthy, A. Dias Abeysinghe, H. E. Gunathilake, G. B. Ekanayake, and W. H. W. Jayasekere.
The following were the trustees of the church during the first century, D. G. Obeysekere, R. D. Senevirathne, J. C. T. Perera Bishop's Trustee, and Evelyn De Silva.
"Though All Saints Church has a history of more than 140 years, it is still not a historical monument gazetted under the Archaeology Act," said an officer from the provincial department of Archaeology (Western), A. E. L. Thilakawardene. However, the church is well maintained and in very good condition.


  1. A bit confused. Is this the All Saints Church in Borella, or the Huftsdorf one?
    Can you possibly write something about All Saints Borella. I have phoned many times to that church from overseas, but did not get any information.

  2. This goes as All Saint's Borella, But situated at Hulftsdorf

  3. Is there one situated right in Borella? in Colombo 8?

  4. It looks like there is a separate All Saints Church in Borella (Colombo 8).
    Is it possible for you to write something about the church right in Borella? Cos us ones that are doing genealogy, or doing history research need to know about both churches. And if the information is in one place, on your blog site, it would help people greatly. So, info: things like what year that church originally was built. Who donated the land. Who were the original founders (who donated to building the original building), some details about the original church and new building etc. For months i have been looking for this info, and getting nowhere. I know of others that have been doing the same. One person dropped in to the church, but did not get info. I phoned several times from overseas, did not get any info. You seem to have the right contact for this info. Please, please, for us ones that live overseas, can you do us a favor and write a 2nd blog entry or article about the actual Borella (situated in Borella)? Thank you. (As i have been looking for this info, i have found many others looking for this info as well.....all doing genealogy and history research).
    Thank you for considering this request. Anyway...your article was very timely, and wonderful. AMS. Canada.

  5. hi

    Here is the puzzle i am trying to unravel (why i need info about All Saints Church situated in Borella, and the one in Galle (you have already given info about Hulftsdorp):

    In 'Some Sinhalese Families' book, it says that John Abraham Perera Wijesekera Gunawardhana Maha Mudaliyar supervised the building of the All Saints Church (does not say which one).
    And the book says that his father left money in his will to build that church. His name: . Johan Louis Perera Abeyesekere Gunerwardhana, Kuruwe Mudaliyar and Mudaliyar of the gate. Bp 1776 d.1850

    Then, there is supposed to be a Wijegunewardene Perera (Perera Wijegoonewardene?) family that is supposed to be one of the founders of i think the actual Borella All Saints Catholic church.

    Are these the same family? (that it is not Wijegunewardene, but Wijesekera Gunewardene?)

    Also, it says in Twentieth Cent. Impr. that the trustees of the Galle church were Gunewardene (Goonewardene?). Is this the same family and church that Some Sinhalese Families talks about?
    Confusing when i am trying to get these answers from overseas. The churches don't give info to people calling from overseas. I did send someone to the Borella church, but he was told to go to the Bishop's Archives or something. He gave up.

    Could you possibly be a history detective and help me with this question? You have given me 1/3rd of the answer. Just need the other 2/3rd. This would be a good follow up newspaper article to the one you have done anyway.
    For me, it would help to know what year the Borella church was built, who were the first trustees, who were the contributers to get that church built. (Basically the same things you have written about the Hulftsdorp church).

    Many people are looking for these answers (cos of the books, and genealogy or history research).
    AMS Canada

  6. I'm doing an article series called 'sacred places' for the Sunday Observer. As part of the series I'll do this two Churches. I need a little time though, and by that time if you have any info please mail me. Then I have some guide. Getting info about these churches is very difficult. I agree. Coz it took me a lot of effort to do the article on the Hulftsdorf church. Even the Department of Archaeology didn't have much info.
    I'll do an article about the church in Borella. Most probably in end of May or June.

  7. here is what i am looking for re. the Borella church. It is the Perera Wijegunewardene (or is it Wijegunewardene Perera) family that i am trying to trace. As far as i know, they were Factors for the East India Company (which i am trying to find info of)....and they lived in Cinnamon Gardens in the 1800's early 1900's as well as some in Borella. And, they are supposed to have contributed to the original building of Borella All Saints Catholic church, and/or maintenance of the building afterwards. Probably some of the family members might have been trustees. I heard that much of their info is in the Borella church record books. I am trying to see if this info is correct, cos i was told this info by a few people. Anyway...if there are Perera, Samarasinghe, or Gunatilake names attached to that church, if it is possible to write down the full names it would be awesome. Cos, Perera, Samarasinghe, Gunatilake names are generic/plentiful in Borella. Need which Perera family etc. I am looking for the parents, grandparents, etc. of 'Jerome Emelion Perera Wijegunawardene/Wijegoonewardene' who married a Gunatilake, and his brother 'John Alfred Perera'Proctor.

    [And.......You mention a John Henricus Perera, and Johannes Louis Perera, and a J.C.T. Perera in relation to Hultsdorf church. I am wondering what families they came from. It looks like Johannes Louis Perera might be from the Perera Abeyesekere/Wijesekera Gunerwardhan family. Not sure about John Henricus Perera and J.C.T.Perera. ]

    Lots of info to digest. This would make for a good angle for your story re. Borella (genealogy and church). just only a suggestion.
    Thank you. I am really excited to see what info you would be able to glean. By the way, once you come up with the 2 other articles, i will put links to your articles in some Genealogy websites.
    AMS Canada.

  8. I'm not quiet sure if I can find family histories, coz my article series is about Sacred places. Basically it will talk about the history of the place. The names of the trustees will be mentioned. the content will carry a similar format of this one.

  9. Yes, all i want is exactly what you have written so far. Exactly the kind of people like trustees, and founders/cofounders. I will take it from there.
    Thank you so much. I wrote the other info just in case you come across that info there. Just to make you aware of what i am doing research of.

    But, your article so has has given me 1/3 of the info i was looking for. When you do the next 2 articles, i will be able to find out if what i am researching is on the right tract or not. Looking forward to your next articles about the 2 churches.
    Who knows, maybe one of your readers might have more insight as well...and post it here.

  10. By the way...your post a comment section has problems. It was a bit hard at times posting. Sometimes i had to start all over again to write, cos it deleted what i wrote.

    I had to figure out that first i have to press 'Preview'. Then press Post Comment. Then it opened something else for me to fill out. (I wrote this so that other people could figure it out easier and leave you more comments).

  11. Hi

    I have been patiently coming to your blog, to see if you have done the story re. All Saints Catholic Church, Borella.
    I gather you decided not to do it?
    I do understand that your newspaper decides the stories that you write etc. If you could put a note here if you decided not to do the story. That way i wont be coming to look for it all the time. Thanks.

  12. Hi!

    If you have noticed, this series goes as a cycle. Two Buddhist temples, Hindu Kovil, Temple, Church, Temple. So, Last week the paper carried a Kovil, so this week it'll be a temple and next week It'll be that Borella Church. I'm hoping to visit there this weekend. This is the Church infront of Aquinas College right? Near Lady Ridgeway Hospital?

  13. I think there is only the one All Saints Catholic church in Borella. It sounds like the right one. Thank you for informing me re. the cycle. I had not noticed.
    This is great.
    (By the way...i have put a link from the Genealogy site to this article. Once you have the Borella Catholic church article, then i will put a link on the genealogy site to that article as well.

  14. More information of Hulftsdorp church can be obtained by Yasmin Gooneratne's book titled "Relative Merits; A personal memory of Bandaranaike family in SriLanka". She has mentioned the the All saints church in Borella.I cannot remember the extent of such info.However, the details of the families contribute for the construction Hulftsdorp is mentioned in the book in detail.