|The city of churches, as I would like to dub Kalpitiya, occupies a large number of fine little churches scattered around the neighbourhood. Under the dimly lit streetlights, these churches glow in the dark with the help of some colourful light bulbs. There is one place in this peninsula, of which the popularity has been rising everyday for almost 400 years. It is none other than Thalawila Church, which is known for its miracles and blessings for many years.|
This church is dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of St. Mary. Thalawila is considered as one of the most visited churches in the country and a unique shrine, which is worshipped by many thousands of people each year despite their religion. According to the records, this is one of the oldest churches in Sri Lanka. The cool breeze of the vast Puttalam Lake and the mighty Indian Ocean refreshes the apostles who are exhausted from eternal struggles in life.
The tired traveller happened to fall asleep under a large tree, which then grew at Thalawila. He dreamt that he saw a statue at the foot of the tree, with lighted tapers. Waking up from his deep sleep, he realised that the image was actually there. In his confusion, he prayed and was suddenly dazzled and awestruck by the 'great awakening light', which illuminated in the form of St. Anne and the Saint in the bodily presence stood before him. She told him that the image he had seen was intended as a representation of Her.
She ordered the traveller to build a church at the very spot in Thalawila and name it after Her.
It is believed that the image and the statue that is there today are the same. The story of the origin, which is accepted by many is related to a shipwreck. A European trader, travelling in a ship dedicated to St. Anne, was shipwrecked off the coast of Thalawila in the early half of the 18th century. As the place where they landed was not very hospitable, they sought a place to rest. They saw a large banyan tree at a distance and they loomed it with the statue of St. Anne, which they had in their possession. They placed the image in the tree, with the captain of the ship vowing to return and build a church if his business prospered.
The European trader obviously met with success as he desired, and kept his word by building a church at the place where the statue of St. Anne stood in its glory.
It is said that in 1943, by some bizarre coincidence, exactly a hundred years after the erection of the present church, there appeared the hull of a wrecked vessel for which the present generation has no recollection. The huge crowds which flocked to view it, believe that it was the vessel, which had once borne the image of St. Anne, which testifies the persistence of the tradition.
"This, however, is not the original church built by the trader," said the Administrator of St. Anne's Church, Fr. Luke Nelson Perera. "The first church of this premises was built in 1762 and this church in 1843," he added. The earliest church had been built using cadjan and wood. Therefore, over time it had been destroyed. The statute of St. Anne's placed at the church is made out of wood. "All the churches in Sri Lanka, which are believed to have miracles, have wooden statues," explained Fr. Perera.
According to the historians, the wood needed for the construction of the church, especially for the 18 pillars of the hall, were found from the surrounding forest.
There are many miracles recorded in the history of St. Anne's Church, Thalawila. For many who desperately wish for a baby, this is considered as the last resort. They pray for many days and nights and ultimately their wish will be granted. An engineer working for a leading Company in Sri Lanka, Arul, was married for 10 years without children when they first heard about the church. After praying to St. Anne, now they are a happy couple with a daughter. "I have experienced the miracle of St. Anne's.
"I have a lot of faith in Her," said Arul. One of the popular miracles is the shipwreck of the 'Kandula' ship, which belonged to the Navy.
This ship had collided with a sand bank near Thalawila and got shipwrecked. Removing the parts of the vessel was a tough job. Then the officers made a vow at the St. Anne shrine. It is said that then everything happened in order. As a way of paying gratitude, now the Navy attends the church festival every year.
The church is always full of devotees. However, the most crowded period is the festive season. There are two major festivals of the church; one is during March and the other is in August. "About 400,000 devotees attend the March festival and 500,000 the August festival. Organizing these events is a major task," he explained. These two are gazetted feasts of the country.
Therefore, the GA of the area does the planning, which involves the government.
At present, a development projects, initiated by Fr. Nelson Perera are in progress at the shrine. Drinking water project for pilgrims, renovation of the roof of the shrine, construction of a retreat house and Tree planting campaign are some of them.