Wolvendaal Kerk (church) Pettah

Wolvendaal Kerk (church) Pettah

Over the last few decades, I’ve attempted access to this church about six times. On google maps, it says closing at 4 pm. This time I’ve cracked it. With my driver Lucky we visit the church and find all three gates are chained up. It’s 3.30 pm. I’m getting frustrated. After closer investigation, Lucky establishes that one entrance has a chain around its two gates. He pulls on the chain to find there is no padlock.

We are in!

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 266:

Never underestimate people around you, find out what they are good at.”

We are in the churchyard but there is nobody about, although there are lots of tombstones and bodies well decomposed no doubt.

I’m shouting “hello! hello!”

Ultimately a chap comes out of what I assume is the caretaker’s little house. Looks like he has just gotten out of the shower but has shorts on… Thank God.

This church in Pettah was built in 1757, the first Protestant church on the island. I’m told its name comes from wolfs in the dale. There were no wolfs, just wild dogs. The Dutch Reform Church was founded by the VOC, i.e the Dutch East India Company. The hill site was previously the site of a Portuguese Church but was destroyed by the Dutch.

“Thought we were all Christians”

We get into the church and the sight is quite amazing, with a dominating carved wooden pulpit, but there is no altar. Wall plaques are everywhere and 37 tombstones form part of the floor, some are ornately carved and are 4 feet by 6 feet. This is a big church shaped like a plus sign and a footprint and is 100 feet high at its highest. A thousand of people can gather in this church. The walls they say are 5 feet thick.

Plastered around the walls are numerous plaques. One section is dedicated to all the reverends who served in the church over the centuries. The elite of this city who belonged to the church back in the day are buried here as well, some being Dutch Governors of Ceylon.

It’s likely one of the oldest churches still having regular services on the island and with an active congregation. They have services in three languages.

As we finish our amazing tour we step out to check out the graves and tombstones outside, many along the church walls but no sign of a crypt.

The Whinging Pome Random Rule No. 277: 

Visit someplace you haven’t been to or do something different every day. At worst read an article on a new subject.

I’m planning to go back and participate in the 10.30 am Sunday service. Not sure I will get Jezzabel there, she says she is a free thinker, perhaps a non-believer.

This church is one of the many religious buildings in Pettah, and we managed to visit another 5 this week. More scriptures from the Pome to follow!

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3 thoughts on “Wolvendaal Kerk (church) Pettah”

  1. Some factual inaccuracies in this!
    1. The Dutch East India company certainly did not found the Dutch Reformed Chirch. The latter was founded in 1571 ( some 31 years before the VOC was formed). I believe you meant to say that the VOC built Wolvendahl church itself .The VOC was a highly profitable privately run enterprise with Governmental powers bestowed on it by the Monarchy of the Netherlands. It did not found churches but it might well have paid for a few churches to be built for its staff overseas ( including perhaps Wolvendahl ).The VOC , a public company was arguably the first multi national company and was paying an average dividend of 18 percent to its shareholders in its nearly 200 year history (1602-1796). Interestingly, a financial enthusiast in recent times took the 1752 balance sheet of the VOC and , based on the assumption that they would still have been trading today, came up with the valuation of the VOC in todays terms of Us $ 7.4 trillion !!! Nearly 10 times the value of Apple!!!!
    2. Also Wovendahl was not the oldest Protestant Church in Sri Lanka. That honour probably goes to the Dutch Church in Galle Fort which was built in 1755.

  2. An amazing bit of neglected history . Can you not send this little gem to the local press? Many Christian’s will respond to it.


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