8th August, 2004  Volume 11, Issue 4

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Trinity College Chapel - a building for eternity

In Nineteen Hundred and Eighteen the then Principal, A. G. Fraser identified a new location to construct a chapel in place of the Old Church at Trinity College, Kandy. It turned out to be the most beautiful building site in the College.

Mr. Gaster, the vice principal who was a qualified architect and draughtsman produced a model for the chapel based on our own ancient architectural heritage. He did in fact prepare all the plans for "a building that had not been attempted for centuries." He had been inspired by the ruins of Polonnaruwa and the great kings of that past era who were men of vision and purpose. Mr. Gaster, in a speech made to old boys, expressed his desire to inculcate into the students of Trinity this vision, purpose and the power of accomplishment.

One of the staff members closely associated with the construction of the chapel from its inception was K. B. Tennekoon who's vivid account appears in the Centenary Number published in 1972.

Former Vice Principal, Paul Jeyaraj having written a "Brief History of the Chapel" states:

Construction work

"Actual constructions commenced in 1923 and according to the plans drawn up, the building had to be constructed in granite stone of grey colour from ground level to the top level of the pillars and walls. The stone of required colour and in sufficient quantity was located in Aruppola. This had to be split into blocks 18 feet long by three feet square and each block weighing about three tonnes had to be transported to college after which they were to be dressed and carved. Fifty four such blocks were required for the pillars on which the chapel was to stand.

Above the pillars that were carved by local and South Indian craftsmen are the pillar heads. Timber for this had to be obtained and it came from Mawanella and from Kekirawa. The sawn timber had to be turned into shape by skillful carpenters and wood carvers who did the exquisite carvings of the Pekadas, Pekada beams, doors and window frames in the chapel. The timber work in the college chapel ranks in the same class as the wood carvings that are to be found in the Embekke Devale in the Gampola District belonging to the Kandyan period.

The side chapel was the first to be completed and that was by the end of 1929 and David Paynter who was on the staff of Trinity at that time painted his first mural on its southern wall. The side chapel was dedicated in 1930 as the Chapel of the Light of the World.

Murals

It was after the completion of the side chapel that the chapel and the sanctuary were built and the floor paved with granite slabs and the main altar constructed. This was completed by 1933 and it was the same year that David Paynter painted the crucifixion above the main altar. The Good Samaritan story and the Washing of the Disciples Feet were also done in 1933 using the same colours and style as the crucifixion painting - but these two murals were subsequently damaged and had to be done all over again. Work on the rest of the building went on apace, and it was really on March 3, 1935 that this chapel was ceremonially dedicated to the Glory of God and used thereafter as a place of regular worship.

It was when C. E. Simithraaratchy was principal that the iron trusses for the permanent roof were made and the chapel still had a roof made of corrugated zinc sheets. In 1954 during Mr. N. S. Walter's time, the corrugated zinc sheets were replaced with calicut tiles. When the roof of the Chapel was being thus replaced, the two murals depicting The Good Samaritan story and the story of the Washing of the Feet of the Disciples by Jesus originally done in 1933 were very badly damaged. So David Paynter did these two murals all over again using different colours, models and background, but depicting the same themes. These two paintings reflect the work of a more mature and sensitive artist. The painting of the Parable of The Good Samaritan was completed in 1957 and the Washing of the Feet was completed in 1965.

Unique examples

The murals done by David Paynter on these walls are regarded as unique examples of Christian art in Asia, painted as they are on the bare surface of the granite walls. Local scenery and local models were used to depict biblical stories in order to give them an indigenous character and contemporary validity. Here was an effort to present Christ and Christian values in a local context when others would have been content to imitate styles and models from the West.

It was in C. J. Oorloff's time that the pulpit was constructed and it was dedicated to the memory of Mr. Walter Senior. The lectern was installed in its present position in 1967. The work on the bell tower was started in 1965 and completed in 1969 and it was dedicated to the memory of Rev. John McCleod Campbell D.D who was principal of Trinity from 1924 to 1935 and in whose time the chapel was constructed and dedicated.

The work on the Chapel is still not complete - if one was to think of the original design and plans for its construction. However, there is so much to be thankful to God for this Chapel and its builders and for the inspiration it provides to all those who worship here. Here lies the heart of the school, which continues to inspire those who go out from here to serve their fellowmen in the world at large.

The incumbent Principal Rod Gilbert is intent on seeing the balance work on the chapel completed. A start has been made with the services of renowned artist Stanley Kirinde, an old boy, who has touched-up the damaged murals of David Paynter.

Architectural drawings have been received for a wooden ceiling covering the entire area over the stone pillars and woden panelling running up to the roof (as seen in the altar section and side chapel). Both are massive undertakings and building contractors have been contacted to obtain firm estimates.

The building of the chapel was, from the beginning, a supreme act of faith and it is in this same spirit that the work is being continued.

"If the Lord does not build the house, we build in vain."

- Franklin Jacob

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