This is one of Colombo’s most precious hidden hidden gems. The low, flat facade of the Garrison Church of St Peter crouches next to the Grand Oriental Hotel, opposite the Colombo port. From the outside it doesn’t look much like a church, probably because it was built, in the 1700’s, to serve as a Dutch Governor’s mansion however once the British took possession of Colombo they turned it into a temple of their Anglican faith.
Given its port-side location it has historically served as a chapel for sailors. It is still known as the seafarers church and the International Mission to Seafarers maintains a mission next door. For non sailors, however, the church has been effectively sealed-off for decades. Its sensitive location directly opposite the vital harbor meant that during the war access was only through a string of invasive and time consuming check points. That the passage that leads from the GOH to St Peters in now open and free of any checkpoints is a small but vital sign that the Fort is coming back to life.
You can now walk unhindered into the Sunday mass, however, three decades of virtual closure have taken their toll. On the Sunday we stepped in the young priest was delivering his sermon to a congregation of three. Given it has been unreachable for years that a service is being held at all is an achievement and despite being starved of parishioners the church’s interior remains absolutely beautiful
Light steel beams support a high ceiling which consists of nothing but a thin layer of red clay tiles. The high roof and abundance of rich marble nearer the base of the building means the space is always cool. Fingers of light slip through the opaque windows and cast soft shadows over the centuries old pews. Even if you’re utterly without religion you can make yourself comfortable on these pews and enjoy one of the most peaceful and sacred feeling spaces in the city (the foundations are thought to date from a Portuguese chapel so it really has been sacred for longer than anywhere else in the city).
Even as an Anglican church dating from 1804 it is among the oldest continuously functioning religious places in Colombo, but beyond its religious significance it has real historical value. This is one of the oldest buildings in the city and part of the heritage of all Colombars. It’s also beautiful and a rather unbeatable place to sit with your thoughts.
If you belong to the Anglican Church the service is like having you own quite fantastic private chapel but even if you have nothing to to do with Anglicanism it’s fully worth visiting as one the city’s oldest and most attractive buildings. An amazing and long-forgotten space that quite desperately needs to be visited and loved again.