The Mural

In 1968, David Paynter, one of the most renowned artists of Sri Lanka, completed his massive masterpiece upon the interior of the East wall behind the altar. It was blessed on the 5th of October that year by Bishop Harold de Soysa at the service of Con­rmation. This famous mural completely transformed the inner face of the Chapel. It gave a new dimension to the name of the Chapel – The Transfiguration. The old familiar striped dull blue and gold drape that served as the backdrop to the altar and the upper dome in the midnight blue picked out with clusters of silver stars (Thomians of those days will remember how they seemed to see one particular star shine from whatever point in the Chapel they looked) gave place to the mural which with its riot of colour now adorns it.

The painting with its unusual beardless Christ has caught the imagination of numerous admirers. Comments, criticisms, and opinions in the central aspect of the painting, the face of Christ, will remain as long as the mural exists. The singular appropriateness of the youthfulness of the ­gures in contrast with the old has not failed to attract the attention of those who have seen it. But this has made it unique.

David Paynter used as his models the workmen and choristers, who used to be practising while he painted. It is said that the features of Rev’d Roy Henry Bower Yin are reflected in the face of Christ. Another outstanding feature of the mural is that from wherever you look at it, the eyes of Christ seem to follow you. The flowers and plants of the painting are tropical and the hillock upon which the Transfigured Christ stands is of an unusual shape. A similar hill could be seen from the Trinity College Chapel in Kandy where David Paynter had earlier spent months painting the famous mural that now adorns its walls. Many still maintain that there is a strong possibility that it was this hillock that was reproduced in the Mural of the Transfiguration.

When the painting began, there was a proposal to extend the central motif suitably to the narrow panels on the walls that flank the sides. Accordingly the two niches in them, which held flower arrangements, were sealed and prepared. The huge brass perpetual lamp that used to hang in the middle of the sanctuary was transferred to the Chapel of the Sacrament. However, David Paynter died before the sides could be completed and his sister has expressed a wish that the original plan should be abandoned and that the side panels should be left bare, as any attempt to complete them would, by a contrast in style, mar the main mural. Since then, two smaller brass lamps were hung opposite the sidewalls. They are a symbolic reminder of an unfinished masterpiece that none other should attempt to complete.

It is a fact that through the years many a traveller from all over the globe who has visited the resort town that Mount Lavinia is today has said on their visits to the College Chapel that its mural is one of unusual beauty seen nowhere in the world.