Dishan Joseph, in Daily News, 20 February 2021
The Anglican Church in Sri Lanka (Church of Ceylon) has made an immense contribution to education. The great school by the sea has educated thousands of young men, imparting in them core values of Christianity. When we read the Bible we find that Jesus was taken to the synagogue by his parents and continued to learn the scriptures, which shows the importance of a holistic education. To all who have been associated with S. Thomas’ College (STC), the magnificent College chapel has influenced their lives, touching them in significant ways. It is the vibrant heart of STC. This beautiful chapel and more importantly the good work done through it enriches the student mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
In the Old Testament, there is a story of young King Solomon, aspiring to build a sanctuary for the people of Israel, that they might ascribe glory to almighty God. Perhaps, it was this same divine passion that strongly inspired Warden Stone and Warden Mc Pherson, as they envisaged to build a house for God’s children at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. When the school was originally built in Mutwal in 1851, the Christ Church Cathedral was the seat of the presiding Bishop of Colombo. In 1921, when Warden Stone left for England on holiday, Rev. G.M. Withers went to work organising a campaign to raise funds for the building of the College chapel at Mount Lavinia. He is said to have faithfully gone around many parts of Ceylon on his old motorcycle travelling through the cities and villages promoting this idea.
S. Thomas’ College Warden
Rev. Marc Billimoria
The project architect was P.A. Adams, who designed the chapel, 130 feet long and 39 feet high at the top of the walls, large enough to accommodate 500 boys. In 1923, the foundation stone was laid by Rt. Rev. Earnest Arthur Copleston, Bishop of Colombo. It took great effort to build this simple yet imposing chapel.
A fund created by Warden Mc Pherson and Rev. R.S. de Saram saw the boys giving 25 cents each week. On February 12, 1927, Bishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Mark Carpentier – Garnier blessed and consecrated the Chapel of the Transfiguration at S. Thomas’ College amidst a large gathering of jubilant Anglicans. The Warden had read the Petition of Consecration.
The College accentuates the influence of the church in her crest – the black cross unites all Thomians and the yellow Bishops Mitre endorses the administration of the Anglican Church and the guidance of the blessed Holy Spirit. This glorious edifice has become the most iconic landmark of the entire school and one of the classic buildings in Mount Lavinia. Its bold Byzantine style exterior of solid stone resonates as a symbol of faith, which is a step-by-step process of the spiritual building leading to perfection that is often talked about in the Bible. The letters AMDG – Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (Latin meaning – For the greater glory of God) are carved on the wall over the west door. The stone columns have intricate white designs at the top where they connect to the walls.
Behind the altar of Italian marble, one can witness the inspiring painting of the Transfiguration, painted in 1968 by David Paynter (the mural celebrated 50 years in 2018). It is believed that the prudent Warden at that time Rev. John Selvaratnam had proposed this idea to the artist who brought it to life with great enthusiasm and patience. The beautiful manifestation of Jesus Christ with Elijah and Moses is stunning. It reminds us that from the ‘mountain top’ experience, we have to go back to the valley to live with our fellow men, carrying within our soul the effective power of the transfiguration, which can impact and change other lives. The mural shows the mighty desert wind Ruah (from the Hebrew language) which also implies the invisible power of the Holy Spirit of God. On a personal note I must mention that the most unique feature of this amazing mural is that wherever you stand inside the chapel and gaze on the face of Christ, it seems that his caring eyes are looking at you with loving concern.
The baptismal font was secured from Pershore Abbey in England. The belfry is 60 feet high and the bell has the name J.S. Doyle engraved on it. It was obtained from St. Colombans College, Dublin.
The founder, Bishop James Chapman said in 1849, “May it be our care to provide, under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, that all that is taught here may rest upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” A chapel is not complete without voices singing to venerate and glorify Almighty God: this is where the Thomian Choir had displayed its harmonious prowess for a century. The Thomian Choir sang for the first time on September 21, 1854 at the dedication of the Christ Church Cathedral in Mutwal.
Since 1927 from the time of Organist and Choirmaster Rev. Gilbert, the choral tradition was firmly established and sustained. The boys were trained and mentored by Rev. Roy Yin, Lucien Nethasinghe, Rev. Lucien Fernando and Russell Bartholomeusz. In 1938, the chapel was bestowed with a Hammond organ by the Sir Stewart Schneider Trust. We solemnly remember the late Vinodh Senadheera, the Choir Master of STC. He dedicated his life to this chapel and the choir.
The main event for the choir is the annual carol service styled after King’s College, London, which continues to draw thousands of people. The Chapel of the Transfiguration has played a crucial role in the life of the College and in the lives of all Thomians. The style of worship which is liturgical and sacramental within the Anglo-Catholic tradition of Anglicanism places much emphasis on ritual and ceremony, surely enriching our worship. The Thomians believe that their worship is an offering of something beautiful and fragrant to God, who alone must be the focus of worship. The STC chapel has produced many Anglican clergymen including the present Bishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Dushantha Rodrigo and incumbent Warden Rev. Marc Billimoria. The beautiful Chapel of the Transfiguration will continue to impart faith, diligence and spiritual guidance to thousands in the future.
|The mural by David Paynter|