The Humble Beginnings

On the 26th of May 1921, when Warden Stone left for England on holiday, the Rev’d G.M. Withers was given the task of acting for him. He set to work at once upon a campaign of raising money for the building fund of the College Chapel. The tales told of this World War I veteran’s persistence as a collector, of how he toured the length and breadth of the island on his battered motorcycle are legend today. The Michaelmas issue of the College magazine of 1921 records that the amount subscribed to the fund was Rs. 51,315.16 from June to October, 1921.

Rev’d G.M. Withers

It was proposed that the building should be 130 feet in length, rising 39 feet to the top of the walls, while the belfry was to rise to a height of 60 feet. It was to be large enough to accommodate 500 boys. The architect was Mr. P.A. Adams, A.R.I.B.A., and the building contractors Messrs. Jayasuriya & Co. The estimated cost was Rs. 110,000. The site was chosen with care and is the highest point on the campus, a hillock from which the Chapel towers over the rest of the school. This is symbolic of the centrality of the Christian faith in the life and work of the College.

On the 13th October 1923, the foundation stone of the chapel was laid by the Bishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev’d Ernest Arthur Copleston. Accompanied by Warden Stone and the Sub Warden, Rev’d Withers, the Bishop came up the hill with the choristers to where the boarders had already assembled. The site was a wise and inspired choicethe highest point in the compound: just like the cathedral at Mutwal, where the ‘Gal Palliya’ had dominated and still dominates the scene. Prayers were said and the stone was laid. It may be seen on the left of the main gates of the College on the face of the eastern wall of the Chapel. It bears the inscription:

To meet the expenses of completing the building, a fund was started by Warden McPherson and the Rev’d R.S. De Saram to which the schoolboys contributed 25 cents each, some weekly and others monthly. With more donations from Old Boys and well-wishers, Rs. 25,000 was raised. Before Bishop Copleston departed from the island, he presented a generous cheque to the Warden with his characteristic lack of ostentation. The school will never know the amount of his gift.

1926 saw Rev’d Withers resigning from his position in the school as acting Warden and the Rev’d R.S. De Saram, succeeding him as Sub Warden, filling the gap till the arrival of the new Warden the Rev’d Kenneth McPherson.

Work on the building slowed down when there was a change of contractors, but within a year of Rev’d Withers’ departure the work was accomplished; for this the College is indebted in no small measure to the e‑ects of Rev’d Withers and to the generosity of Old Boys.

Thus on the 12th February 1927 the Chapel was consecrated by the Rt. Rev’d Mark Carpentier Garnier, Bishop of Colombo, at a colourful and imposing ceremony. The Bishop, vested in full ecclesiastical canonicals with cope and mitre, arrived, accompanied by his several chaplains, and was received by the Warden at the West door. The Warden then read out the petition of Consecration. After the Bishop had passed round the Chapel three times and blessed the outer walls then the doors were opened from within by the Guardian Deacon for the Bishop, clergy and congregation to enter.

The people took their seats, while the master of ceremonies strewed the floor in front of the Bishop with sand in the form of a St. Andrew’s cross. Then after a hymn and the Benedictus were sung, while the canticle was being chanted, the Bishop with his staff inscribed the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet on one arm of the cross and the ­rst and the last letters of the Latin alphabet on the other. The Bishop then blest the altar, and making a circuit of the walls of the Chapel, blessed and signed each of the consecrated crosses cut in them. After the prayers and the responses the Bishop signed the front of the altar. Two short prayers followed and his Lordship, sitting on his chair, then blessed and dedicated such ornaments and vessels of the Chapel and of the ministers as were placed before him. The ceremony ended with prayers of thanksgiving, the reading of the Sentence of Consecration and a hymn.