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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 9 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Prison in Kandy


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com
Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com

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Imprisonment in the Kingdom of Kandy

Espionage was loathed in Kandy and foreigners  were not allowed to Espionage was loathed in Kandy and foreigners  were not allowed to enter the city without permission. If any foreigners did happen to enter in a dubious manner, they were not allowed to get out of the kingdom. They were imprisoned in the “Maha Hiragé” (“Great prison”) and were held there for four to six years.

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Robert Knox (1642-1720) of the East India Company, by P. Trampon
Robert Knox (1642-1720) of the East India Company, by P. TramponTramponTramponTrampon

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Robert Knox was an English sailor. His father, also named Robert Knox was a sea captain. In 1657, Oliver Cromwell issued a charter granting the East India Company a monopoly of the Eastern trade. Father and son joined the service of the Company. On January 21, 1658, when the younger Knox was almost 17 years old, both he and his father boarded the ship “Anne” that left London on trade missions to the East Indies.

After sailing for about a  year and nine months, the ship encountered stormy weather in the Bay of Bengal. The ship lost its mast. With torn sails, they put ashore near Kottiar Bay, the estuary of Mahaweli Ganga, in Trincomalee, on November 19, 1659. There, the officials of King Rajasinghe II impounded the ship. The two Knoxes and 16 crew members were taken to the capital as captives.

After sailing for about a year and nine months, the ship encountered stormy weather in the Bay of Bengal. The ship lost its mast. With torn sails, they put ashore near Kottiar Bay, the estuary of Mahaweli Ganga, in Trincomalee, on November 19, 1659. There, the officials of King Rajasinghe II impounded the ship. The two Knoxes and 16 crew members were taken to the capital as captives. Although the crew was forbidden from leaving the kingdom, they were treated fairly leniently.

At that time, tension prevailed between King Rajasinghe II and some of the European powers.

When the king heard of their arrival in the capital, he sent for them. Sadly, the elder Knox had inadvertently angered the king by not observing the expected formalities in the presence of the king. Later, while the elder Knox was resting under a tamarind tree the king’s men took him captive.

Most of  the sailors engaged themselves in knitting garments.  Others took on animal husbandry, breeding poultry, growing paddy, and even distilling arrack. Young Robert Knox became a lender like the Afghans of old in Ceylon. He did not lend money, instead he gave paddy with 50% interest charged on it.

Some sailors became the favourite boys of the king and were mobilized into his armed forces. Among them, a Richard Varhan was appointed commander of the king’s 970 soldiers’ regiment.

A few married local women and settled down in the country.

In due course, the two Knoxes were separated from the rest of the crew and were kept for some time in a village called Bandara Koswatte close to Wariyapola in the North Central Province. There, both were afflicted with malaria. Eventually, the father died in February 1661 after a long illness.

In 1679, Robert Knox and his only companion, Stephen Ruthland made their final escape through Anuradhapura. They trekked along the banks of Malwatu Oya, then Dutch territory.

On October 16,1679, after being captive for almost 20 years, Robert Knox and his companion reached the Dutch Fort at Arippu, situated about 10 miles (16 km) away from Mannar Island. From there they went to Mannar. From Mannar, they set sail for Batavia. Robert Knox reached London in September, 1680, when he was 40 years old.

In his book “An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, in the East-Indies: together with an account of the Detaining in Captivity the author and divers other Englishmen now Living there, and of the author’s miraculous escape,” Robert Knox wrote that from 1658 to 1681 not less than thirty-four Englishmen had been placed under custody like he was held, in the Kingdom of Kandy.

 Joseph Vaz under “House-arrest”.

Robert Knox was held captive by King Rajasinghe II. Now it was his son, King Vimaladharmasurya II, who held Joseph Vaz, John and Antonio Sottomayor as prisoners.

King Vimaladharmasurya II was an educated, and a superior man. He had broader views than the Indian princes of his time. He dreaded the return of the Portuguese to Ceylon. He was in no way hostile to Catholics. He allowed a certain amount of freedom to the Catholics in his dominions to follow their faith.

Joseph Vaz and Antonio Sottomayor found that there was no way to appeal because even a claim for justice against the king’s order was considered high treason.

The guards would not permit them to move even four steps. No food was provided and they spent five days in extreme hunger. Then, out of pity, the guards gave each of them a handful of Finger Millet (Sinhalese: Kurokkan; Tamil: Kel-varaku) once a day.

The three prisoners were kept under strict observation as ordered by the king. After observing them for five days, the guards reported to the king that they found the priest meek and modest, and they could not conclude whether he was a spy or not.

A few days later the King came to see the prisoners. He spoke a long time with Joseph Vaz and went away quite convinced that Nauclairs de Lanerolle’s denunciation was groundless.

So, the King let Antonio Sottomayor free. He then ordered to remove the priest and his servant from the “Maha Hirage” and transferred to the custody of an official called “Dissawe“. Joseph Vaz was provided a comfortable lodging and was well cared for with food provided at the King’s expense. However, he was forbidden to go out of his lodging. It was like the modern day “house-arrest”.

Gradually, the rigours of captivity relaxed. Since the Dissawe and his guards found the priest and his servant to be harmless, they left them alone, and allowed them to walk freely within the jail premises.

What he could not achieve by preaching, he compensated by resorting to the ministry of charity. From the daily ration allotted to him, Vaz reserved for John and himself the bare minimum required for one meal a day and distributed the rest among the poor.

Joseph Vaz Learns Sinhalese

During his travel on the Coromandel Coast and his stay in Tuticorin and Jaffna, he had studied Tamil. Now he took pains to study the Sinhalese language to help him in his apostolic work. Since he already knew Tamil, he translated the Catechism books into Tamil and Sinhalese. He wrote the Stations of the Cross in the two languages. He also prepared a vocabulary in Sinhalese for the use of future missionaries.

They remained under house arrest for more than two years. By his exemplary life, he won the heart of King Vimaladharna Surya II and the Buddhist monks. The rigors of the imprisonment went on diminishing as the months passed.

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Next → Part  10: Beginning of the Apostolate in Kandy

← Previous: Part  8: The Apostle of Sri Lanka Arrested at Weuda on the Way to Kandy

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 8 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka Arrested at Weuda on the Way to Kandy


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com
Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com

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The Kingdom of Kandy

Located in the central and eastern part of the island, the Kingdom of Kandy known in Sinhalese as Mahanuwara Rajadhaniya, was an independent monarchy founded in the late 15th century. It was initially a dependent kingdom of the Kingdom of Kotte. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Kingdom of Kandy established itself as an independent monarchy. To ensure its survival the Kingdom at various times allied itself with the Jaffna Kingdom, the Madurai Nayak Dynasty of South India, Kingdom of Sitawaka, the Portuguese and finally the Dutch.

The capital of the Kingdom of Kandy has been known by various names. Some scholars suggest that the original name was Katubulu Nuwara. However, the more popular historical name officially is Senkadagala Siriwardhana Mahanuwara (meaning ‘the great city of Senkadagala of growing resplendence’).  This long name is generally shortened to ‘Mahanuwara‘ (meaning ‘Great City’ or ‘Capital’) or simply as “‘Nuwara‘.

The Sinhalese called the region “Kanda Uda Rata” (“the land on the mountain”) and “Kanda Uda Pas Rata” (“the five counties/countries on the mountain”). The Portuguese shortened this to ‘Candea‘ and used it as the name for both the kingdom and its capital. The English transformed the Portuguese word to ‘Kandy’.

The rugged terrain of the  kingdom of Kandy.
The rugged terrain of the kingdom of Kandy.

Through the thick jungles and the many mountains only a few paths led to the capital of the Kingdom of Kandy. Due to the mountainous terrain was easy to defend the few roads. The subjects of the kingdom kept these routes secret, and they were aware that revealing any paths to a foreigner was an offense punishable by death.

The mountains and the thick forests hindered commerce with neighbouring kingdoms and movement of goods to and from ports and harbours. But this encumbrance proved to be an invaluable asset in guaranteeing the safety of the Kingdom of Kandy from attacks by its neighbours and by the marauding foreign colonialists.

The English East India Company
First flag of the Honourable East India Company (1600 - 1707).
First flag of the Honourable East India Company (1600 – 1707).

The English were first of the major European maritime powers of the 17th century to enter the East India trade. The English East India Company was founded in 1600 as The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies. It gained a foothold in India in 1612 after the fourth Mughal Emperor Nur-ud-din Mohammad Salim, known by his imperial name Jahangir, granted it the rights to establish a factory or trading post, in the port of Surat on the western coast.

The Dutch East India Company
Flag of the Dutch East India Company (1602 - 1800)
Flag of the Dutch East India Company (1602 – 1800)

In 1602, the Dutch  established the Dutch East India Company or the United East India Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC).   The States-General of the Netherlands granted the chartered company a 21-year monopoly to carry out trade activities in Asia.

Flag of the French East India Company's coat of arms. The motto reads FLOREBO QUOCUMQUE FERAR ('I will flourish wherever I will be brought')
Flag of the French East India Company’s coat of arms. The motto reads FLOREBO QUOCUMQUE FERAR (‘I will flourish wherever I will be brought’)

France was the last of the major European maritime powers of the 17th century to enter the East India trade. Six decades after founding the English and Dutch East India companies, and at a time when both companies were multiplying factories on the shores of India, the French still did not have a viable trading company or a single permanent establishment in the East.

In 1642, to revive commercial intercourse with the East, Cardinal Richelieu formed a new Company named “La Compagnie des Indes” for the sole purpose of trading in the Indies. Letters patent, dated June 24, 1642, accorded it privileges for 20 years. On December 4, 1642 Cardinal Richelieu died.

In 1664, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Minister of Finances, restructured the Company and designated it as La Compagnie française des Indes Orientales (The French East India Company) to compete with the English (later British) and Dutch East India companies in the East Indies. He sent an expedition to Madagascar, discovered by Marco Polo in 1298, and then forgotten.

In 1667, the French East India Company sent out another expedition, under the command of François Caron. The French reached Surat in 1668 and established the first French factory in India. In 1673, the French acquired the area of Pondicherry from the Kiladar of Valikondapuram under the Sultan of Bijapur and thus laid the foundation of Pondichéry.

The French in Ceylon

François Caron had spent 30 years working for the Dutch East India Company, including more than 20 years in Japan. He suggested to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Minister of Finances that set a firm foot in India, it was necessary to capture some land and hold it in absolute possession. The captured place he said should be unassailable by the natives. Then they could use it as a stronghold for commercial operations with the inhabitants of the mainland. For this purpose, like Albuquerque, he favoured the occupation of the island of Ceylon, then partly occupied by the Dutch. He also pointed out the commercial advantages which France would gain by participating in the spice trade.

The war between King Louis XIV and Holland served as a pretext for the French to attack the Dutch in India and to make an attempt to get for themselves a slice of the wrecked Portuguese Empire.

When Colbert approved Caron’s project, a fleet under the command of Admiral de la Haye, a man with a bad reputation who had quit high civil employment to gratify his passion for warlike operations, was placed at the disposal of Caron to carry out his design.

French Capture Trincomalee

On March 21, 1672, Admiral de la Haye appeared before Batticaloa with a squadron of 14 ships. Seeing Batticaloa Fort well defended, he did not stop there. After saluting the Dutch flag, which salute was returned from the fort, he set sail for Trincomalee.

Having cast anchor in the Bay of Kottyar, Admiral de la Haye landed his troops there because he knew that Trincomalee belonged to the King of Kandy and not to the Dutch.

Overjoyed at the news of the landing of the French, King Rajasinghe II, conceived the plan of an alliance with them to drive out the Dutch.

On March 25, 1672, three days after the French landed in the Bay of Kottyar, King sent a high dignitary of his Court to Trincomalee to welcome Admiral de la Haye and enter into friendly relations with him.

Admiral de La Haye returned the compliment by sending to Kandy three officers, Dorgeret, de La Garde and Fontaine. King Rajasinghe II received them cordially. During the audience, he placed on the neck of each a rich chain of gold and presented them with swords and muskets of the finest Kandyan workmanship. Two of the officers remained in Kandy, the third returned to Trincomalee, accompanied by an ambassador who had full power of concluding with de la Haye a treaty to expel the Dutch from Ceylon.

The King’s ambassador was closely followed by a messenger bearing a Charter by which King Rajasinghe II gifted the Bay of Kottyar and of the surrounding territories to the French.

On May 17, 1672 they planted the French flag both at Kottyar and in Trincomalee taking possession of those places in the name of Louis XIV King of France and of Navarre.

Just when the French finished landing the guns necessary to defend the fortress, a Dutch fleet of 14 vessels under Commodore Rylackoffe van Goens, came in sight. The Dutch officer asked the French to evacuate Ceylon. Admiral de La Haye refused and prepared to defend Trincomalee and Kottyar, and he waited for  King Rajasinghe’s army to arrive to help him fight the Dutch. Thus, three weeks passed.

Meanwhile, the position of the French admiral was becoming more and more difficult. He did not have enough troops. Four hundred soldiers and sailors had become invalids. From some skirmishes with the Dutch, the admiral had already seen how little he could rely on the badly armed Kandyan troops.

The Dutch received reinforcements from Colombo. , Under these circumstances the French admiral deemed it more prudent to give up the contest, at least for the time being.

When the King requested Admiral de la Haye to remain in Ceylon, he replied that he would return soon with a larger army and in the meantime he was sending to Kandy, Monsieur de Laisne Nauclairs de Lanerolle who would stay at the King’s Court as ambassador of King Louis XIV, the King of France.

Admiral de la Haye weighed anchor on July 9, 1672, and the Dutch fleet positioned in battle order, saluted the French flag. Admiral de la Haye set sail for Mylapore, then known as St Thomé or San Thome, on the Coromandel coast. He left behind a few soldiers to guard the garrison at Trincomalee. The French soldiers who had been left behind, had no other alternative than to cede Trincomalee and the garrison to the Dutch fleet.

Monsieur de Laisne Nauclairs de Lanerolle

Nauclairs de Lanerolle was a worthless person. He was a Huguenot, a rabid protestantprotestant

Lanerolle’s conduct from the very beginning clearly showed that he had been ill-chosen to represent the interests of France in the Kingdom of Kandy. He made himself obnoxious to all by his stupid vanity.

It was the custom in Kandy that no one could pass in front of the royal palace except on foot. There was certainly nothing disparaging in it, a simple show of respect to the King. Lanerolle and his suite had to pass through that street to reach the quarters, which the King had allotted for him and his men. When asked, Lanerolle refused to dismount. Uttering profanity (words of contempt), he rode under the balcony of the King’s apartment. The rascal had forgotten that the French fleet was no longer in Trincomalee and that he was  at the absolute mercy of the King of Kandy. The King was much embittered by the Frenchman’s attitude, but pretended to ignore his bravado.

A few days later, Lanerolle and his men arrived at the palace. The Court dignitaries received them. It was the custom that every foreign envoy should await the royal audience for two hours.

Even though Lanerolle knew of this strange etiquette, yet after a few minutes expressed his surprise that the King did not appear. After having waited for about fifteen minutes, he exclaimed that it was an insult to leave him waiting so long, and left the hall. All the entreaties from the gentlemen of his suite had no effect. Some officials of the Court, wishing to avoid a scandal, tried to stop him. But when the vain Frenchman drew his sword, they let him go, and he returned to his quarters without having seen the King.

The King felt much offended, ordered Lanerolle to be seized and flogged until he fainted. After the flogging was over, Lanerolle and his men were put in chains and cast into prison.

The gentlemen of Lanerolle’s suite managed to explain that they did not approve the conduct of their Ambassador. They said that they had done all they could to prevent this stupid conduct of their Chief. When the Court officials corroborated to this fact, they were set free of the chains, but Lanerolle had to spend six months in prison in chains. After that, there was no more chance of their return to France, and they were kept prisoners in Kandy.

They were supposed to be maintained at the King’s expense, but in reality they were so neglected that in order not to starve, they distilled arrack and sold it to the natives. They bitterly reproached to Lanerolle to have been the cause of their distress, and scandalous quarrels arose among them.distilled arrack and sold it to the natives. They bitterly reproached to Lanerolle to have been the cause of their distress, and scandalous quarrels arose among them.

Such was the state of things when Robert Knox came to Kandy.

Nauclairs de Lanerolle, remained in Kandy. He married and settled there and later gained some influence at the King’s Court. He tried to influence some Catholics to embrace Calvinism, among them being the family of the relative of Antonio Sottomayor who had befriended Joseph Vaz.

Joseph Vaz arrested at Weuda

Joseph Vaz hoped to make Maha Nuwara, the capital of the Kingdom of Kandy, the centre of his future missionary activities.

In August 1692 after his apostolate of one year and nine months in the Puttalam area, Joseph Vaz along with his servant John and his new acquaintance Antonio Sottomayor left for Maha Nuwara, the capital of the Kingdom of Kandy, ruled by King Vimaladharmasurya II, who had succeeded his father, King Rajasinghe II.

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Puttalam to Kandy via Weuda
Puttalam to Kandy via Weuda

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The distance between Puttalam and Kandy is about 82 miles (132 km). On their way, they had to pass through the village named Weuda situated 18 miles from Kandy. Weuda was an important check-post before entering the capital. In this village, Antonio Sottomayor had a house and was staying there with his family. It took them about eight days to walk from Puttalam to Weuda.

Leaving Joseph Vaz and John with his family, Sottomayor went to Kandy to get the visa for the priest to enter the city. Meanwhile, Vaz started preaching to Sottomayor’s family and their neighbors.

Antonio Sottomayor was not aware that  Nauclairs de Lanerolle had converted his relative to Calvinism. As soon as the French Huguenot, learned that Sottomayor wanted to bring a Catholic priest into Kandy he went to the King’s court. He told the king that Antonio Sottomayor was trying to help a Portuguese spy to enter Kandy in the garb of a Priest.

The king directed his soldiers to arrest Sottomayor first and then go to Weuda and bring the priest and his servant staying in his house.

Joseph Vaz and John bound in chains were taken to the Capital by the king’s soldiers. Charged as Portuguese spies, they were incarcerated along with Sottomayor in the “Maha Hiragé” (“Great prison”).

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Next → Part  9:   The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Prison in Kandy

← Previous: Part  7 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Puttalam

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 4 – Persecution of Catholics in Ceylon by the Dutch


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Early handcoloured woodcut 1513 map of Ceylon from M. Waldseemuller (Source: vintage-maps.com)
Early handcoloured woodcut 1513 map of Ceylon from M. Waldseemuller (Source: vintage-maps.com)
Portuguese Ceylon

Early in November 1505, Dom Francisco de Almeida, the first viceroy of Portuguese India sent his son Dom Lourenço de Almeida with a fleet of nine vessels to attack the Moorish spice ships making for the Red Sea by way of the Maldives. Adverse winds drove Dom Lourenço’s fleet to the coast of Ceylon in the neighbourhood of Galle. After replenishing their stock of water and fuel, they set sail for  Colombo.neighbourhood of Galle. After replenishing their stock of water and fuel, they set sail for  Colombo.

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Flag of the Kingdom of Kotte (Source: Pheonixter/wikipedia.org)
Flag of the Kingdom of Kotte (Source: Pheonixter/wikipedia.org)

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The identity of the ruler in power in Kotte at the time of the arrival of the Portuguese has been a matter of dispute for some time. The accepted theory propounded by historians S.G. Perera and H.W. Codrington was that the ruler of Kotte at the turn of the 16th century was Vira Parakramabahu VIII.

In 1961, Senerat Paranavitana using evidence from the Sinhala chronicle, the Rajavaliya, a reinterpretation of a Sinhala inscription (the Kelani Vihara Inscription, of 509), and evidence from Portuguese sources made a strong argument that the ruler was not Vira Parakramabahu VIII but Dharma Parakramabahu IX and fixed his reign from 1491 to 1513.

G.P.V. Somaratne in his 1975 monograph accepted this conclusion, though he concluded that Dharma Parakramabahu IX ruled from 1489 to 1513. Most scholars have accepted this theory.

So, in 1505, Dharma Parakramabahu IX was the King of Kotte. He succeeded his father Parakramabahu VIII as king of Kotte.

The arrival of the Portuguese flotilla was reported to the King’s Court in Kotte and it was decided to receive them amicably. A message was sent demanding of the strangers what they desired at the King’s port. Lourenço sent back a reply that he was a merchant, a servant of the King of Portugal, driven out of his course to Ceylon, and that he would be glad to open a friendly trade.

The King directed the Portuguese to send a representative to discuss matters with him. An officer named Fernão Cotrim appointed as a Factor set out with a native escort. The natives did not want the foreigners to know that their Capital was mere two hours’ journey from the sea. So, the escort took Fernão on a circuitous route. They travelled for three days crossing hills and fording many streams.  “As the ‘Parangi’ went to Kotte” is the Sinhalese proverb that is still used in Sri Lanka preserving the memory of this ruse.

Fernão explained to the King’s Ministers the errand on which the Portuguese had come. He asserted that their only wish was for peaceful trade. Moreover, he assured the King that the Portuguese would undertake to protect his coasts against all enemies.

The offer found acceptance with the King and his Council, and they consented to the proposed terms. Fernão returned to the fleet and reported the success of his mission. The offer found acceptance with the King and his Council, and they consented to the proposed terms.

Fernão returned to the fleet and reported the success of his mission. Lourenço was highly pleased. To celebrate, he ordered a salvo of artillery to be fired. The terrified peaceful inhabitants of the port regarded it as a hostile demonstration.

Thus began the realm of the Portuguese Ceylon.

Gradually, the Portuguese occupied Kotte and went on to conquer the surrounding Sinhalese kingdoms. In 1565, the capital of Portuguese Ceylon moved from Kotte to Colombo.

Attempts by the Portuguese to convert the locals to Christianity caused friction with the native Sinhalese Buddhist and Hindu people.

Dutch Ceylon

The natives in Ceylon found the Portuguese rule was rather burdensome. So, the king of Kandy invited the Dutch to help defeat and liberate the country from the Portuguese. The Dutch signed the Kandyan Treaty on March 28, 1638 with King Rajasinghe II. Article XVII of the treaty stipulated:

“will not allow in his kingdom any priest, fri ar or ecclesiastic (Roman Catholic) personality, because they foster rebellions and are cause of the ruin of the kingdom, and will expel all those living there at present.”will not allow in his kingdom any priest, friar or ecclesiastic (Roman Catholic) personality, because they foster rebellions and are cause of the ruin of the kingdom, and will expel all those living there at present.”

After signing the treaty, the Dutch became the protectors of the country. They embarked on a war against the Portuguese. They captured the Portuguese forts, one by one.

The Dutch captured the Portuguese forts at Batticaloa on May 18, 1638, at Negombo in 1640, at Colombo on May 12, 1656 and finally on June 21, 1658, the last Portuguese fort in Jaffna fell into the hands of the Dutch. The Portuguese, after being forced to sign a treaty with the Dutch, left Ceylon.

There were 415 Churches and Chapels and about 70 thousand Catholics in Ceylon when the Portuguese left the island.

The Dutch drove out around 50 missionaries from Colombo and closed all the Catholic churches and chapels. They persecuted the Catholics.

The Dutch Ordinance dated September 19, 1658 decreed the penalty of death against all Catholics who would give shelter to a priest.

The Dutch took elaborate precautions to prevent Catholic Missionaries from India who wanted to land secretly in Ceylon. All people, even the lowliest coolie, who wished to go to Ceylon had to appear before the Dutch commander of Tuticorin to get a pass from him.  Dutch cruisers guarded the South Indian Coast. Their captains had special instructions to make sure that no priest  lands in Ceylon.

With the Catholics deprived of churches, priests, and the holy sacraments, the Dutch completely wiped out the practice of Catholicism in Ceylon. Calvinism became the official religion of the Island of Ceylon.

Carmelites and other missionaries working in South India sent reports to the Propaganda Fide in Rome about persecution of the Catholics in Ceylon. The authorities in Rome tried to find a solution. Pope Innocent XI requested Leopold I, Archduke of Austria to impress upon the Stadtholder William III of Orange (Dutch: Willem III van Oranje) ruler of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic to allow the entry of non-Portuguese missionaries sent by Rome. But the Dutch authorities in Ceylon were adamant in their refusal.

Plight of the Catholics in the Kingdom of Kandy

In the Kingdom of Kandy, King Rajasinghe II allowed the Catholics full freedom to profess their faith. In fact, he favoured them, for he considered them as more honest and more faithful than his Buddhist and Hindu subjects. Even then, the lot of the Catholics was pitiable.

Now that the Portuguese had left the Island of Ceylon, and with the intrigues of the Dutch Calvinists, the Catholics found themselves deprived of the ministry of the priests and of their spiritual help. The old Catholics bore it better, but it was not the same with the new converts, who, to persevere needed to be under the guidance, otherwise they would relapse, by and by, into their own olden ways.

The arrival of twelve Missionaries, expelled by the Dutch from Colombo sought refuge in Kandy. They revived for a time the faith of the abandoned converts. But some of the priests were recalled to India as there were too many for the needs of the Christian community of Kandy. But later on, when those priests who were left in Kandy died, they could not be replaced, for the Dutch watched carefully the coasts of India and Ceylon to prevent the landing of any Catholic priest from India.

Ten years after the Portuguese lost Colombo to the Dutch, there remained only three priests in Kandy. Sadly, two of them, forgetting their sacred calling apostatized and had accepted high positions at the King’s Court.

As such, only one priest, Father Vergonse, a Jesuit, remained in Kandy in 1668. He was a venerable old man, but his age and infirmities rendered him almost useless. He took care as much as he could of the Christians of the capital, but those who lived dispersed in the Kingdom of Kandy were for many years deprived of all religious aid. Robert Knox, the English sailor, a contemporary, gives us a sad picture of the religious state of the Catholics:

“For they have no churches, no priests, and so no meetings together on the Lord’s days, or Divine Worship, but each one reads and prays at his own house as he is disposed. They sanctify the day chiefly by refraining from work, and meeting together at drinking houses. They continue the practice of Baptism; and there being no priests, they baptize their children themselves with water in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost and give them Christian Names.”

In 1678, Father John of Jesus of the Augustinian Order, on his way from Macao to Goa, landed secretly in Colombo. He remained there for a few days. During that time, he heard 800 confessions, and reconciled with the Holy Church five apostates, who for the sake of an employment under Government had become Protestants.

Again, two years later, in 1680 a Canon of the Cathedral of Goa, whom the Archbishop Dom Anthony Brandão had sent to visit the Portuguese Missions in China, on his way back from Macao to Goa, landed in Colomb on account of repairs to the ship on which he travelled. He had to put on a disguise and to hide his character as otherwise the Dutch Calvinists would have cast him into prison. Even so, he made himself known to some Catholics, and many came secretly at night to receive the Sacraments.

These were the only priests whom the unfortunate Catholics of Ceylon saw during the first 38 years of the Dutch domination.

The Canon of the Cathedral of Goa, on his return to Goa, related what he had seen. He spoke with emotion of the misery of the poor persecuted Christians of Ceylon. Among those who listened to him was 29-years-old Joseph Vaz.

When Joseph Vaz wanted to go to the island to help the Catholics there to keep alive their faith in Christ. But the Padroado in Goa denied him permission as they feared that the Dutch would kill him.

Determined to risk his life and undertake the perilous journey, Vaz made no plans nor cared about the provisions for his journey.

Joseph Vaz relinquished his post of Provost of the Goan Oratory and asked Father Pascoal da Costa Jeremias to act as the new Provost.

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Next → Part  5 – Travel to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

← Previous: Part 3:  The Apostle of Kanara

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