Badulla St. Mark’s Church (බදුල්ල ශාන්ත මාක් දේවස්ථානය)

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At the centre of Badulla town where the Bandarawela – Passara road crosses Meegahakivula – Spring Valley road lies a small but beautifully built English church. Called St . Marks Church, this church was built by the public in memory of Major Thomas William Rogers (the Government Agent for Badulla District) and was consecrated on 25 April 1857 by Bishop James Chapman. The Belltower at the entrance has been built in 1921.

Major Thomas William Rogers is a man who is credited for killing the highest number of elephants in Sri Lanka, over 1400 by some count (Storey, 1907) and over 2000 (Grylls, 1848) by some count. As if cursed for this mighty slaughter, he was killed by lightning and this tombstone has too had been struck by lightning several times (Cave, 1904).

During the last two years of his life, Major Roger’s exploits no longer deserved the name of sport, but rather that of indiscriminate slaughter as described by other Coffee Planters of that time who had known him intimately and hunted with him. The Sinhala Buddhists in the country would be so sickened by the slaughter of these majestic animals, that they would never enter his service. His groom, cook, and gun bearers were all Malays and Tamils (Hensoldt, 1895).

It was on a day in January, 1845 , that a curious and portentous incident occurred. Hensoldt in 1895 describes this event in detail; Rogers had invited a number of coffee planters from the Morawala Korale district, and was on the point of starting with these on an elephant-hunt, from the ancient village of Badulla where his quarters stood. On the Minneriya road, when they were passing a great ancient stupa in the middle of a groove of Bo trees, he met an old Buddhist monk.

He calmly stretched his right arm and pointed at Major Rogers and delivered the following sentence “White sahib, thine hour is drawing near ; thou hast persisted in slaying the bodies and disturbing the souls of our sacred brothers ; the measure of thine iniquities is full, and thou shalt be consumed by the lightning of heaven before thou canst raise thine accursed weapon for another act of sacrilege

These words, slowly and solemnly uttered by the venerable representative of one of the noblest and most philosophical creeds the world has ever known, profoundly impressed even the planters from Morowe Korale. As for Major Rogers, he sat on his horse like one in a trance; his eyes were still fixed on the spot where the priest had stood, even long after the latter had retreated into the temple, and it was only with difficulty that he could be prevailed upon to continue on his way.

It was not long before the story of Major Rogers’ strange adventure became known among the European residents of the island, and to his annoyance he was frequently questioned about it, in a jocular way, by thoughtless and inconsiderate friends. At the Army and Navy Club in Colombo, for instance, he would be greeted in something like the following style : “Hello, Rogers! See you’re still alive and sound; the lightning hasn’t got you yet. You’re all right, old boy, threatened people live long.” Rogers never relished such allusions to his weird experience; he was like a changed man, and an expression of pain would steal over his handsome features whenever the subject of elephant hunting was broached.

Almost 8 months after this incident, he got to know of a rogue elephant killing two bullock cart drivers near Badulla and planned a hunt to kill this elephant. Within a week a hunt was arranged and a party which included C R Buller, the Government Agent of Central province and his wife (Toussaint, 1933). They stopped at Haputale Rest House for lunch.

After lunch the party was getting ready for an afternoon siesta, and one of the typical tropical rain torrents with thunder and lightning started without warning. However after 15 minutes, the rain stopped and the Major stepped out of the Rest House stating “I think we can start pretty soon. I will go outside and see how things look …”. That was the last errand that Major Thomas William Rogers ever did. He never returned as he was turned into a mass of black charcoal by a lighting. He was just 41 years old at that time.

Whatever remained of his body was taken to Nuwara Eliya and buried in a small church graveyard in Nuwara Eliya. A marble slab marks this location. In addition, St. Mark’s church was built in Badulla in memory of him. The following simple inscription is upon a tablet on one of its walls.

This church and the bell tower were declared as archaeological protected monuments by the gazette published on 6th June 2008.

References

  1. Storey, H. (1907) Hunting & Shooting in Ceylon. London: Longmans, Green and Co.
  2. Pieris, R. (1965) “The effects of technological development on the population of Uul Oya Valley, Ceylon,” The Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies, 8(1&2), p. 172.
  3. Cave, H.W. (1904) Golden Tips, A Description of Ceylon and its Great Tea Industry. 3rd edn. London: S. Low, Marston & Co.
  4. Lewis, J.P. (1913) List of Inscriptions on Tombstones and Monuments in Ceylon : Of Historical or Local Interest, with an obituary of persons uncommemorated. Colombo: H C Cottle.
  5. Abeyawardhana, H. A. P. (2004) Heritage of Kandurata: Major Natural, Cultural, and Historic Sites. Kandy: Kandurata Development Bank, in association with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.
  6. Tennent, J.E. (1860) Ceylon; an Account of the Island Physical, Historical, and Topographical with Notices of Its Natural History, Antiquities and Productions. London.
  7. Toussaint, J.R. (1933) “Major T. W. Rogers,” Journal of the Dutch Burger Union of Ceylon, 23, pp. 57–66.
  8. Grylls, J.W. (1848) The Out-Station or Jaunts in the Jungle. 2nd edn. London: Chapman and Hall.
  9. Hensoldt, H. (1895) “The Fate of Major Rogers : A Buddhist Mystery of Ceylon,” The Arena, 11, pp. 71–78.
  10. (2008) The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Colombo 08: Department of Govt. Printing (No. 1,553 – FRIDAY, JUNE 06, 2008).

Also See

Map of Badulla St. Mark’s Church

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Traveling Directions to Badulla St. Mark’s Church

From Badulla Railway Station to St. Mark’s Church
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Total distance : 1.5 kilometers
Duration : 5 mins
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