Historical Churches of Sri Lanka

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All Angels’ Church in Colpetty (Gal Palliya)
All Angels’ Church in Colpetty (Gal Palliya) –
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Christianity in Sri Lanka has a fascinating history dating back centuries. Introduced by Portuguese colonizers (1505–1658) in the early 16th century, Christianity took root and evolved over time to become a significant religious minority in the country. Today, Christians, primarily Roman Catholics and Protestants, make up around 7-8% of Sri Lanka’s population.

The Portuguese established colonies along the coastal regions of the island, including areas such as Colombo, Galle, and Jaffna. During the Portuguese colonial period, Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, became the dominant form of Christianity in Sri Lanka.

Portuguese missionaries, particularly members of religious orders such as the Jesuits and Franciscans, were active in Sri Lanka during this period. They engaged in evangelization efforts aimed at both Buddhists and Hindus, preaching the Christian gospel and attempting to persuade individuals to convert to Catholicism.

The Portuguese offered various incentives to encourage conversion, including patronage, economic benefits, and positions of authority within the colonial administration. Those who converted to Christianity could receive favours from the Portuguese authorities, such as land grants, trade privileges, or exemptions from certain taxes.

The Portuguese established churches, schools, hospitals, and orphanages, which served as centres for religious instruction, social services, and community outreach. These institutions often had a dual purpose of providing assistance to the local population while also facilitating the spread of Christianity.

Portuguese missionaries sometimes adapted Christian practices and rituals to resonate with local cultural traditions, making Christianity more appealing to Buddhists and Hindus. This strategy aimed to minimize cultural barriers to conversion and foster a sense of cultural continuity for converts.

Despite the Portuguese conversion efforts, there was significant resistance from both Buddhist and Hindu communities. Many people remained steadfast in their traditional faiths and resisted attempts at conversion. This resistance sometimes led to conflicts between the Portuguese authorities and local populations, exacerbating tensions between the colonizers and the colonized.

During the Dutch colonial period in Sri Lanka (1658-1796), the Dutch East India Company, unlike the Portuguese, did not actively engage in widespread conversion efforts aimed at Buddhists and Hindus. While the Dutch were primarily interested in trade and maintaining control over strategic coastal areas, there were some limited attempts at conversion, albeit with less zeal than their Portuguese predecessors. While they did not actively promote conversion to Christianity, they also did not prohibit it, and individuals were free to convert if they chose to do so.

However, during the Dutch colonial period in Sri Lanka, Catholics, particularly those who adhered to Roman Catholicism, which had been promoted by the Portuguese colonizers, faced persecution and restrictions imposed by the Dutch authorities. This persecution was primarily due to religious differences and political tensions between the Dutch Protestant rulers and the Catholic population.

Despite the lack of active conversion efforts, the Dutch did establish Christian institutions such as churches and schools in Sri Lanka. These institutions served the small Christian population of Dutch settlers and employees, as well as the indigenous population who had converted to Christianity.

During the British colonial period in Sri Lanka which lasted from the early 19th century until the mid-20th century, British missionaries and colonial administrators again began to convert Buddhists and Hindus to Christianity. However, unlike the Portuguese, the British approach to conversion was often more subtle and indirect, with a greater emphasis on education, social services, and cultural influence.

British missionaries, representing various Christian denominations such as Anglicans, Methodists, and Baptists, were active in Sri Lanka during the colonial period. They established schools, churches, and missions across the island, where they preached the Christian gospel and provided education and healthcare services.

Christianity in Sri Lanka today reflects a diverse and vibrant community that has evolved over centuries of history and cultural exchange. Christians make up a minority of Sri Lanka’s population, comprising approximately 7-8% of the total population. Roman Catholics constitute the largest Christian denomination in Sri Lanka, followed by various Protestant denominations.

Some Churches with Rich Histories

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