St. Lucia’s Cathedral is one of only fifteen cathedrals in the country, and it’s one of the most beautiful. It is the center of the Colombo Archdiocese (Roman Catholic) and is more than 200 years old.
The cathedral is pretty easy to find – you’ll see its massive white dome from a distance when you head down Bonjean road in Kotahena. It shares its premises with Good Shepherd Convent and St Benedict’s College on the east side, so the huge parking lot out front is usually teeming with school kids in the mornings and at lunch hour. On the West side of the cathedral is the parish office which is open most weekday mornings, and a little shop that sells rosary beads.
The cathedral is massive and white, with gothic detail and columns that remind you of ancient Greece. It was built more than two centuries ago by early Oratorian missionaries, probably with Goan or Portugese links.
The interior has been meticulously maintained, and the ambience is pretty amazing during mass when the hymns reverberate throughout the large cathedral space above. It’s a lot of arches, clean white and teak.
The walls are lined with wood-carved open confessionals and each column is flanked by the image of a saint staring thoughtfully ahead. Some things to check out when you’re here are the massive cathedral bells from France and the cathedral’s colossal dome from outside.
Santa Lucia was an Italian martyr who had a popular following before the 5th century. She is associated with light and is considered the patron of sight in Syracuse, Sicily. Legend goes that during a period when Christians were persecuted, Lucia, who at the time was a young beautiful Sicilian from a wealthy family, would carry food to Christians hiding in dark underground tunnels. To light her way she wore a wreath of candles on her head.
Having renounced herself from marriage and the material world, she was said to have been punished by law, which first tried to force her into prostitution and then tried to have her killed by fire. Both attempts at her life are said to have been thwarted by divine intervention but she was finally killed with a sword to the neck. December 13th is St Lucia’s feast day and some communities celebrate it by lighting ‘St Lucy fires’ and bathing in the smoke for protection from evil.
The cathedral’s super informative website tells you what times they hold mass along the course of the week. On Sundays you get mass in all three languages, English, Sinhala and Tamil. The evening mass at 6PM is particularly cool as you watch the tinted glass mosaic at the altar fade out as light dies outside. The clear view from the cathedral steps of the sky against the palm trees during sunset is worth the visit.
St. Lucia’s Cathedral is a beautiful piece of architecture and simply a wonderful space to wander through by yourself. The huge arches, the solemn white walls and the rich gothic detailing are a solid reminder of the perseverance of tradition and an interesting remnant of an old world within a fast-changing urban one.