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St. Peterís Church, Fort
by Naomi Lazarus

ĎOpen for me the gates of righteousness;

I will enter and give thanks to the Lordí. (Psalm 119:19)

Colombo, being a commercial hub, is a hive of activity. The usual working day downtown is characterized by endless streams of noisy traffic, the calls of street vendors and crowds of people rushing to and from their work. Amid the hustle and bustle of the busy city streets, it is a trying task to find a quiet niche, to collect oneís thoughts and bearings. Despite this difficulty, there is such a place in Colombo, that requires only a short detour. Making your way passed the Grand Oriental Hotel along the port, you will come upon the Church of St. Peterís, Fort. Entering through the columned porch and through the main doorway, the visitor is immediately enveloped in the silent, cool environs of this sanctuary. Whether it be for prayer and meditation or for a short respite from work or shopping, St. Peterís stands as a haven of peace and tranquility.

The origins of the Church of St. Peterís Fort, dates back to the Dutch period, when the premises served as the governorís residence, and was the venue for all Council meetings. It was not retained as the governorís seat during the British period, but provided a suitable place wherein social gatherings could be held. It was not until 1804 that the premises were used as a place of prayer and worship, when it was converted to a garrison church. In April 1821, a visitation and confirmation was held by Bishop Middleton of Calcutta, and on May 22nd of that same year, the Church was consecrated for divine service.

The historical value of the Church can be seen today in the tablets that line its walls, commemorating the lives of distinguished people of the colonial period in Ceylon. Among them are Sir John DíOyly, member of the Ceylon Civil Service; William Tolfrey, who undertook the first Sinhala translation of the Bible; Sir William Coke, Puisne Justice; and Reginald Heber D.D. Lord Bishop of Calcutta. These and many others have added to the architectural quality of the building, and more importantly serve as a testament to countless men and women, who were recognized for their faith and service to God. The chapter of our islandís colonial past has long been closed and the present significance of the Church does not bear any label of the past ó it is today, a church of the people.

As a church, St. Peterís combines the attributes befitting a sanctuary, that is dedicated to the service of God. While the large columns, carved altar and the spacious interior adds an element of grandeur, it also serves to create an air of austerity and reverence, that is conducive to the quiet meditation and reflection of all those who enter its halls. The altar area is of wood, intricately carved, and holds the symbol of the cross. The main wing houses the pulpit, pews and the marble, baptismal fountain, that faces the altar from the rear of the church. A secondary wing is found to the right of the main wing, and serves as a chapel for smaller services. This area also houses a small section for Sunday School classes, that is no longer in use.

Physical attributes aside, the character or St. Peterís is defined by the people, ó members, travelers, visitors, and city workers who have, at some point in time, found respite from their daily travails, within the quiet walls of the Church. The sound of hymns sung and prayers recited of a Sunday morning, could be heard from St. Peterís bringing together family, friends, relatives and strangers, under one roof, bound by a common faith and desire for fellowship. It is, therefore, fitting to acknowledge the service rendered by the vicar-in-charge, wardens and congregation of St. Peterís who have ministered faithfully over the years, through their life and work.

Constant, sure and dedicated to the service of God, the Church of St. Peterís, Fort has weathered many storms and braved many events over its long history, and continues its ministry through the unflinching zeal of those who have dedicated their time and talents for their faith. Echoing the words of Christ, St. Peterís welcomes all to experience the peace and hope it offers, united as one family, all equal, all friends, all free.

 

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