Tag Archives: King Vimaladharmasurya II

Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 14 – Smallpox Epidemic in Kandy

Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj


A bit of history of the Kingdom of Kotte

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 Veera Parakramabahu VIII.

In 1961, Senerat Paranavitana using evidence from the Rajavaliya, the 17th-century Sinhala historical chronicle of Sri Lanka, and evidence from Portuguese sources made a strong argument that the ruler was not Veera Parakramabahu VIII but Dharma Parakramabahu IX and he 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.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.

King Veera Parakramaahbu VIII, also known as Ambulagala Kumara, became King of Kotte after killing King Parakramabahu VII. He had two queens. The chief queen bore him three sons: Bhuvanekabahu, Sri Rajasinghe, and Vijayabahu. The second queen bore him two sons: Sakakala Valla and Taniyavalla.

After the death of Veera Parakrama Bahu VIII, his eldest son Bhuvanekabahu became King of Kotte, under the name “Dharma Parakramabahu IX”. He ruled the Kingdom of Kotte from 1489/81 to 1513.

In 1513, when King Dharma Parakramabahu IX died, the people of Kotte wanted his half brother, Sakalakala Valla, then reigning as sub-king at Udagampola, to become their king. However, according to the Rajavaliya, Sakalakala Valla, the half-brother crowned Vijaya Bahu VII as King of Kotte since his older brother Sri Rajasinghe had died.

Vijayabahu had two wives. The first was Anula Kahatuda, also known as Keerawelle Mahabiso Bandara, who Vijayabahu had cohabited along with his older brother Sri Rajasinghe. Through this incestal intercourse, three sons were born: Pararajasinghe later known as Raigama Bandara, Bhuvanekabahu and Mayadunne. Sri Rajasinghe later died at Menikkadawara.incestal intercourse, three sons were born: Pararajasinghe later known as Raigama Bandara, Bhuvanekabahu and Mayadunne. Sri Rajasinghe later died at Menikkadawara.

After Anula Kahatuda died, King Vijayabahu married another princess from the Keerawelle royal family called “Biso Bandara” who had a son named Devarajasinghe from her previous marriage. When Sakakalavalla died, this queen wanted her son to be made the sub-king of Udugampola though he was still seven years old. The king was excessively fond of his new queen, so much so, when she persuaded the King to make her son the king after his demise, the King planned to murder his three sons to fulfil her wish.

Vijayabahu then plotted with Ekanayake Mudaliyar and Kandure Bandara to kill his three grown up  sons. When the sons came to know that their father planned to kill them, the fled the kingdom and sought safety in Kandy. King Jaya Vira II of Kandy, married to their cousin, provided them army to fight their father.

Vijayabahu then plotted with Ekanayake Mudaliyar and Kandure Bandara to kill his three grown up sons. When the sons came to know that their father planned to kill them, the fled the kingdom and sought safety in Kandy. King Jaya Vira II of Kandy, married to their cousin, provided them army to fight their father.

In 1521, the three brothers led their army to Kotte and ransacked the palace while their father, Vijayabahu, hid with his wives in the highest point of the palace. It was decided that the king should die, but no Sinhalese came forward to do the task of killing him. Eventually, a Muslim man named Salman killed King Vijayabahu VII.


Map showing geopolitical situation in Sri Lanka in the early part of 16th century after the 'Spoiling of Vijayabahu' in 1521. (Source: Nishadhi/Wikimedia Commons)
Map showing geopolitical situation in Sri Lanka in the early part of 16th century after the ‘Spoiling of Vijayabahu’ in 1521. (Source: Nishadhi/Wikimedia Commons)


As advised by the great minister Illangakon the kingdom was divided into three parts. Mayadunne, the youngest, received Sitawaka, Denawaka, and Four Korales as the Kingdom of Sitawaka. Pararajasinghe received Raigama, Walallawiti, and Pasyodun Korale excluding the sea ports as the Principality of Raigama. From then on he was known as Raigama Bandara. Mayadunne, the youngest, received Sitawaka, Denawaka, and Four Korales as the Kingdom of Sitawaka. Pararajasinghe received Raigama, Walallawiti, and Pasyodun Korale excluding the sea ports as the Principality of Raigama. From then on he was known as Raigama Bandara. Bhuvanekabahu ruled the rest of the territory as King Bhuvanekabahu VII.

When Raigama Bandara died in 1538, Mayadunne seized his kingdom. He became a sworn enemy of his eldest brother Bhuvanekabahu.

Saint Francis Xavier and the plague in Mannar
St. Francis Xavier
St. Francis Xavier

In mid 16th century, Saint Francis Xavier the Delegate of the Pope in the East. In a letter he wrote from Cochin addressed to King John III, King of Portugal, dated January 20, 1548, he mentions:

“As to the state of religion and the Christian people in India, the pious and religious men who are going from these parts to you, with the purpose of advancing the service of God, will most fully inform your Highness concerning them. Moreover, Father Joam de Villa Conde, a faithful minister of God, who has had much experience of what is going on in the island of Ceylon, is writing to your Highness concerning them certain things which it is of importance that he should tell you, and that you should know…”

Father Joam de Villa Conde had complained bitterly that the 80-year-old King Bhuvanekabahu VII was placing all possible obstacles to the progress of Catholicism in his Kingdom of Kotte. So, Francis Xavier decided to visit Ceylon and meet with the aged king.


St. Francis Xavier (Source - catholictradition.org)
St. Francis Xavier (Source – catholictradition.org)


In early February 1548, Francis Xavier chartered a small vessel from Manapad to Jaffnapattinam. He first landed at Mannar, where he prostrated himself on the ground and kissed the earth.

The plague was raging on the Island and people were dying at a rate of more than a hundred a day. Older writers often gave the generic name “plague” to all epidemics including smallpox.

As soon as the people knew that the ‘Great Father’ had come to Mannar, they came running to him, weeping and begging him to deliver them from the plague. Most of them were Hindus. The priest told them to wait three days. He retired to a quiet place and started praying. After three days, the plague disappeared miraculously and the sick recovered.plague disappeared miraculously and the sick recovered.

Considering the event as a miracle, many asked Francis Xavier to baptize them, and he acceded to their request. He then asked a priest of the Franciscan order from Jaffnapattinam to take charge of the neophytes.

From Mannar, the saint went to Jaffnapattinam to see King Sagara Raja of Jaffna. The King received the saint kindly.

In Jaffnapattinam, Francis Xavier boarded a ship sailing to Galle. The day after reaching Galle, he left for Colombo.

Saint Francis Xavier meets  King Bhuvanekabahu VII

From Colombo, Francis Xavier left for Kotte to pay his respects to the aged King Bhuvanekabahu VII.

King Bhuvanekabahu VII was a weak king. During his reign, his younger brother Mayadunne, along with his son Prince Tikiri Bandara (later King Rajasinghe I), fought the Portuguese incessantly hoping to drive them out of Ceylon. They also attempted to get rid of Bhuvanekabahu and annex the Kingdom of Kotte. This resulted in Bhuvanekabahu allying with the Portuguese since he required their power to defend himself against his younger brother and his son.

Though he was their ally, Bhuvanekabahu was vehemently against the Portuguese, when it came to the spread of the Christian religion in his kingdom..

When Francis Xavier appeared at his Court, the crafty old King understood from the very first that he had to deal with a man could not be easily deceived.

When Francis Xavier discussed the conversion of his religion the King spoke openly with the saint.

A Jesuit priest, Father Fernão de Queiroz, in his bulky manuscript “Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon” has described the conversation between them. The King said:

“I understand father that your religion is the only true one. All others have so much errors and is clear to anyone. I know fully well that continuing the path that I follow I can end only in hell. It is true that my father and my ancestors died pagans. But I see that the religion of Buddum contains errors as intolerable as they are incompatible with reason. I have come to understand that the penitence of the Christians is the true remedy for sins. Though I know the truth Christ, on account of the place which I hold, I am unable to receive Baptism at once, for the least suspicion that they should have of me in this regard would be enough to ruin the whole of my realm. I beg you to patronize cause in front of the Governor of India, that he may come to my assistance more readily and give me 100 soldiers to protect my person, lest my adversaries prevail against me as well as against the prospects of the total conversion of my lieges”.

King Bhuvanekabahu VII was reluctant to become a Catholic since he did not want to incur the wrath of his subjects who were mostly Buddhist. Also, he did not want to be portrayed as a puppet of the Portuguese. Finally, the Portuguese gave up their effort to baptize the King.

Epidemic of Small Pox in Mahanuwara

The mummy of the Egyptian Pharoah Ramses V indicates that more than 3000 years ago, around 1145 BC, the Pharoah, after contracting smallpox succumbed to the disease. It has been speculated that Egyptian traders brought smallpox to India during the 1st millennium BC, where it remained as an endemic human disease for at least 2000 years.


Picture of Shitala Devi, the goddess of sores, ghouls, pustules and diseases. From 3rd quarter of 19th century.
Picture of Shitala Devi, the goddess of sores, ghouls, pustules and diseases. From 3rd quarter of 19th century.


The Hindus worship the deity controlling evil spirits, sores, pustules, measles, chickenpox and the dreaded smallpox, as the goddess Sitala Mata in North India and as the goddess Mariamman (also known as Amman) in South India and Sri Lanka.


Statue of Sri Mariamman in Singapore (Source: Joda Entertainment / panoramio.com)
Statue of Sri Mariamman in Singapore (Source: Joda Entertainment / panoramio.com)


In South India and Sri Lanka, measles, chickenpox and the dreaded smallpox, are collectively known as “ammai” meaning “mother”. Smallpox is known as “peria ammai” (“big ammai“) and chickenpox is called “chinna ammai” (“small ammai“). Smallpox is more virulent than chicken pox. These diseases are traditionally believed to be ‘visitations’ caused by the wrath of the goddess, and people take measures to pacify the deity. People believed that one should not seek or take any medicine or treatment, and only poojas should be offered to the goddess.

A young girl infected with smallpox (Source: CDC/James Hicks)
A young girl infected with smallpox (Source: CDC/James Hicks)

Towards the middle of 1697 smallpox ravaged Mahanuwara, the Capital of the Kingdom of Kandy. As soon as a person showed signs of being infected, that person was abandoned by the whole family and left alone somewhere to die of starvation. Often the afflicted was left in the jungle, to be devoured by jackals and other wild animals. The dead were not buried, but flung away into some ravine.

The epidemic spread rapidly.

King Vimaladharmasurya II, the nobles, and all the wealthy people left the capital and sought refuge in the country. The poor fled to the surrounding hills and lived in huts made of branches and foliage.

The abandoned houses of the city sheltered only those stricken by the plague, left to their doom by their kith and kin. Heaps of corpses littered the streets, with dogs, jackals and crows feasting on them.

Joseph Vaz and his nephew Joseph Carvalho refused to leave the city. Day and night they attended to the needs of all, irrespective of whether they were Catholics or not. They went house to house and performed the most menial services. They sought out those abandoned in the jungle and built them shelters of foliage.

They administered the Sacraments to the Catholics and opened the doors of the Catholic Faith to the others. They converted many in their last stages of life to Christianity. They baptized many dying children. When the pestilence gained ground, the two priests selected four abandoned houses near the church and converted them into a hospital.

The Catholics of Colombo sent them alms that helped them provide the necessities for the afflicted.

After saying Mass before sunrise, they prepared food and carried it to their patients. They did the cooking because Joseph Vaz had sent John, his faithful companion, to Goa with letters to the Archbishop and to the Superior of the Oratory.

Whatever time they did not spend in their hospital, was used by the two priests to bury the dead. More often they carried the corpses on their shoulders to their last resting place. There was an average of ten to twelve funerals a day. When possible they buried the Christians with the religious pomp they could afford in such circumstances. After consigning the dead Catholics to their graves, they buried the others.

The non-Catholics admired the charity and self-denial of the two Catholic priests.

The pestilence lasted for almost a year. After the disease had ceased, those inhabitants who had left the capital, returned to their homes along with their King.

King Vimaladharmasurya II spoke highly of the two priests before his courtiers. He had decided to reward the two priests, but was much astonished when his officials told him, that the two priests would not accept any money or wanted any high post in his court.

The King more than once declared in public that if it were not for the charity of the two priests, not a living soul would have survived the epidemic in the Capital of the Kingdom of Kandy.

Saint Francis Xavier is said to have ended the plague in Mannar in three days resorting to the miracle of prayer. But, Father Joseph Vaz and Father Joseph Carvalho served humanity by toiling almost a year among the diseased and the dying.


Next → Part 15 – Six more Missionaries Come from India

← Previous: Part 13 – Missionaries Arrive from Goa







Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 13 – Missionaries Arrive from Goa

Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj


Frescoe of Joseph Vaz (Source: communio.stblogs.org) (Custom)
Frescoe of Joseph Vaz (Source: communio.stblogs.org)


The Dutch Governor came to know about the happenings in Colombo among the Catholics. He ordered a Dutch Dissawe to apprehend the priest. By the time the Dissawe got his orders, Joseph Vaz had left Colombo and was in Negombo, preaching there.

After a few months, Joseph Vaz returned to his church in Kandy. Then he received two letters from two Missionaries who had just arrived in Puttalam. Joseph Vaz was happy that his superiors in Goa had finally acknowledged his request for helpers.

In February 1696, after obtaining testimonial letters from the Archbishop of Goa and from Dom Pedro Pacheco, Bishop of Cochin under whose jurisdiction Ceylon was, two priests, Father Jose Menezes of Sancoale and Father Joseph Carvalho from the Oratory of Goa set out towards Ceylon. Both  were able men, full of zeal and tried in virtue. They were Konkani Brahmins. Joseph Carvalho was a nephew of Joseph Vaz, the son of one of his sisters and his first pupil at the Sancoale School.

On March 18, 1696, the two priests reached Quilon. They stayed for six months at the Jesuit Seminary in Ambazhakad (Sambalur) as guests of the Jesuits. They studied Tamil that would help them to enter the Northern part of Ceylon with ease. They also learned the art of disguise.

On August 18, 1696, they wrote a letter to their Superiors in Goa in which they said that they had sent a letter to Joseph Vaz through a Venetian merchant requesting him to send his servant John to help them in their journey.

On September 30, 1696, they left Ambazhakad Seminary. Travelling along the Coromondal Coast they arrived in Tuticorin on October 5, 1696.


'Negapatnam van Choromandel', 18th century Dutch engraving of Nagapattinam after original engraving by Johannes Kip c. 1680
‘Negapatnam van Choromandel’, 18th century Dutch engraving of Nagapattinam after original engraving by Johannes Kip c. 1680Negapatnam van Choromandel’, 18th century Dutch engraving of Nagapattinam after original engraving by Johannes Kip c. 1680


From Tuticorin, they set out on a canoe and after four days at sea reached Nagapattinam. Due to the severity of the travel from Goa to Nagapattinam, on land and on the rough sea, Joseph Carvalho fell ill.

Leaving Carvalho in Nagapattinam, Menezes decided to proceed alone. He boarded a ship bound for Jaffnapattinam in the guise of a merchant. A Dutch sergeant traveling in the same ship suspected Menezes to be a priest and not a merchant and enquired about his baggage. He also tried to glean about him by the manner of his speech. To avoid the risk of imprisonment by the Dutch authorities. Father Menezes threw his baggage into the sea along with the Breviary and some books he had brought for the mission in Ceylon.

Jose Menezes arrived in Jaffna on November 12, 1696. In the meantime, Joseph Carvalho having recovered, arrived in Jaffna a month later on December 15, 1696. After passing through Mannar and Mantota, Carvalho arrived at Puttalam on January 19, 1697.

Joseph Vaz went to Puttalam to meet the two priests who had arrived there. After giving thanks to God for their safe arrival, he approached a highly placed official in Kandy to get the permission of the king to enable one more priest to enter Kandy. The official informed him that permission was not necessary.

As Superior and Vicar General of the mission in Ceylon, Joseph Vaz had to decide who was more suitable for the missionary work in Kandy and who could be in charge of the Dutch territory. He appointed Jose Menezes as missionary of Puttalam, Negombo and its districts up to Sitawaka and Colombo, and he took his nephew Father Joseph Carvalho along with him to Kandy.

Since his intention was to visit all the Catholics on the Island of Ceylon Joseph Vaz did not want to have a fixed abode. So, he appointed Father Joseph Carvalho as the Parish Priest of Mahanuwara.

Joseph Vaz then sent John, back to Goa with a letter of recommendation to the priesthood. At that time, the Portuguese Church Councils reserved the priesthood only for the two higher castes in Goa. Since John was a member of the Indigenous Kumbi tribe, he was not accepted for the priesthood.

A third Missionary, Oratorian Father Pedro Ferrão arrives

Joseph Vaz went to the Jaffna region. This was his second visit after the persecution of and the ordeal he had undergone after the Christmas Day of 1689.

He entered Jaffna and laboured day and night administering the Blessed Sacraments. But everything did not go smoothly. A Catholic maidservant, to avenge the punishment meted out to her by her mistress in whose house the priest was about to celebrate the Mass that night, tipped off the Dutch captain of Jaffna.

However, the vigilant Catholics seeing the soldiers approaching, hid Joseph Vaz in a hut and had time to dismantle the altar and hide the statues. But the soldiers searched not only that house but also all the houses on the way, but it did not occur to them to search the hut, and so Joseph Vaz escaped, narrowly.

About this time, a third Oratorian, Father Pedro Ferrão of Margao, came to Jaffna from India and slipped into the Vanni region. Joseph Vaz met him. Father Pedro Ferrão brought with him letters from Dom Pedro Pacheco, Bishop of Cochin, to whose diocese Sri Lanka had been attached since 1558.

In a letter dated February 10, 1696, the Bishop appointed Joseph Vaz as his Vicar General with all the powers and full jurisdiction, spiritual as well as temporal, to administer the Church over the entire Island of Ceylon. Joseph Vaz accepted this appointment reluctantly saying “though I am not worthy of it“.

Joseph Vaz told Pedro Ferrão to remain in Mantota in charge of the mission of Jaffna, Mantota, Vanni and other places in the North of the Island.

Now there were four Catholic Missionaries in Ceylon!


Next → Part 14 – Smallpox Epidemic in Kandy

Previous: Part 12 – The Apostle Visits Dutch Colombo








Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 12 – The Apostle Visits Dutch Colombo

Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj


Bird's eye view of Colombo. Mid-17th Century water colour painting. The Vingboons-Atlas, ARA, The Hague.
Bird’s eye view of Colombo. Mid-17th Century water colour painting. The Vingboons-Atlas, ARA, The Hague.

Today, Colombo is the largest city and the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. It is located on the west coast of the island and next to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, the official capital of Sri Lanka. Colombo is often referred to as the capital since Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte is a satellite city of Colombo.

In the days of the Sinhalese kings, Colombo was one of the many seaboards frequented by Arab Moors and South Indian traders.

In 1505, when the Portuguese explorers led by Dom Lourenço de Almeida first arrived by chance on the island they called the town “Colombo”.

Some say the name “Colombo” is derived from the classical Sinhalese name Kolon thota (කොලොන් තොට), meaning “port on the river Kelani”.

Another group says the name is derived from the Sinhalese phrase “kola ambia thota” (කොල අඹ තොට) meaning “Leafy mango grove”.

The coat of arms of Colombo from the Dutch Ceylon era.
The coat of arms of Colombo from the Dutch Ceylon era.

A coat of arms of Colombo from the Dutch Ceylon era has a leafy tree with a dove perched on its branches. In addition, the Dutch have included a dove (Latin: Columba), thus creating a pun on the town’s name.

In the 13th century, the author of the oldest Sinhalese grammar, Sidatsangarava, wrote about a category of words that belonged to early Sinhalese. He lists words such as “naramba” (to see) and “kolamba” (ford, harbour) as belonging to an indigenous source. Hence, “kolamba” may also be the source of the name of the commercial capital Colombo.

On realizing how Colombo was strategically located, and control of Ceylon was necessary for protecting their coastal establishments in India, the Portuguese made a treaty with King Parakramabahu VIII (1484 -1508), the King of Kotte. The treaty enabled the Portuguese to trade in the island’s crop of cinnamon and gave them full authority over the coastline in exchange for the promise of guarding the island’s coast against invaders from other countries across the seas. After expelling the Arab Moors from Colombo and establishing their trading post, the Portuguese built a fort – a small stockade of wood, in 1517.


Town of Colombo on the large pleasant Island of Ceylon which is rich in Cinnamon. Mirror image engraving afterSchouten's view which looks on the harbour directly from the north.
Town of Colombo on the large pleasant Island of Ceylon which is rich in Cinnamon. Mirror image engraving after Schouten’s view which looks on the harbour directly from the north.


This part of Colombo is still known as Fort (Sinhalese: kotuwa ; Tamil: koattai). The area immediately outside Fort, a commercial hub even now, is known as Pettah (Sinhalese: pita kotuwa ; Tamil: purakoattai) meaning ‘outside the fort’. Colombo soon became a grand town fortified by twelve bastions.

The Kingdom of Sitawaka (Sinhala: සීතාවක) located in south-central region of the Island, emerged from the division of the kingdom of Kotte following the Vijayaba Kollaya (Spoiling of Vijayabahu) in 1521. King Mayadunne, the chief antagonist of the Portuguese, established the new Kingdom of Sitawaka, with Seethawakapura now known as Avissawella as its capital.

Sitawaka offered fierce resistance to the Portuguese. Before long, King Mayadunne annexed much of the Kotte kingdom and forced the Portuguese to retreat to Colombo. He repeatedly besieged Colombo forcing the Portuguese to seek reinforcement from Goa in India. Over the course of the next seventy years, the Kings of Sitawaka dominated much of the island. Despite its military successes, Sitawaka remained unstable. It had to contend with repeated uprisings in its restive Kandyan territories. With its often devastating conflict with the Portuguese, the Kingdom of Sitawaka collapsed soon after the death of its last ruler, King Rajasinghe I, in 1593.

Following the fall of the Kingdom of Sitawaka, the Portuguese, with Colombo as their capital, established complete control over the coastal area of Ceylon.

In 1638, the Dutch signed a treaty with King Rajasinghe II of Kandy. Through this treaty, the Dutch assured the King assistance in his war against the Portuguese in exchange for a monopoly of the island’s major trade goods. The Portuguese resisted the Dutch and the Kandyans, but from 1639, they were gradually defeated in their strongholds.

The Dutch captured Colombo in 1656 after an epic siege. The 93 Portuguese survivors were given safe conduct out of the fort. Although the Dutch initially restored the captured area back to the Sinhalese kings, they later refused to turn them over. Thus, they gained control over the island’s richest cinnamon lands. They took possession of Colombo and all the other maritime ports on the Island of Ceylon.

The Dutch altered the fortifications of Colombo. They laid out the streets in a more regular grid pattern and are still so today. They reduced and confined the fort to the western part of the town. Since they found the present Pettah area to be the active centre when they captured Colombo, they called it ‘Oude Stad‘ or ‘Old Town’. Thus, they divided Colombo town into two parts.

Johann Jacob Saar, a German sailor, soldier, and author, served 15 years as a mercenary in the service of the Dutch East India Company in Southeast Asia. He spent about eight years in Ceylon. In 1662, he published an acclaimed account of his journey. He wrote:

“In 1656 we cut off the beautiful town of Colombo, the finest houses of the town were entirely demolished, only one-third of the town near the sea was fortified, while on the landside the town was surrounded by water, and when these works are completed which were expected to take ten years, the place will be twice as strong as before.”

The Dutch allowed the walls and fortifications around the ‘Oude Stad’ to remain, but they were subsequently removed. The only remnant that now exists of Portuguese Colombo is a huge boulder of rock that bears a cross and the Coat of Arms of Portugal. This was discovered by workmen in 1875 when the south-west breakwater of the Colombo harbour was being built. It was then removed from its original site and set up in Gordon Gardens adjoining the house of the President.

Joseph Vaz visits Colombo

After the miracle of the rain, when restrictions on his movement was removed, Joseph Vaz sneaked into the territories possessed by the Dutch. He availed himself of the freedom to pay a visit to Colombo.

The Catholic community of Colombo, which flourished under the Portuguese, was now a complete wreck. The Dutch desecrated some of the elegant churches built by the Portuguese and the were now in ruins. They transformed many others into Reformed churches.

All Catholic priests were banished.

The Portuguese Catholic schools were replaced by Calvinist schools. Under heavy penalties, the Dutch forced the Catholic parents to send their children to those schools, where the children were made to lose their faith in the Catholic Church.

On Sundays, all Catholics were forced to attend the Calvinist services.

The Catholics had to practice their faith in the greatest secrecy. Prayer in common was considered a crime, and if found, the Calvinist meted out heavy penalties.

When Joseph Vaz came to the Colombo, the Catholics gathered around him. He beseeched them to persevere in their Faith. He met the Catholics at night, in houses situated in remote areas. Vaz heard their confessions, offered Mass and administered Holy Communion. His words inspired them to face the persecution by the Dutch. Many apostates asked to be reconciled with the Church.


 Next → Part 13 – Missionaries Arrive from Goa

← Previous: Part 11 – The Miracle of Rain in Kandy








Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 11 – The Miracle of Rain in Kandy

Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj


Image source: roystonellis.com
Image source: roystonellis.com

Joseph Vaz began his apostolate in Kandy amidst great difficulties. He devoted himself to the spiritual needs of the Catholics of Kandy. He assembled them for regular Mass and catechism classes, and visited those who were unable to come to the Church due to old age and infirmity. Due to the dearth of priests for many years the once faithful had reverted back to their old customs and superstitions. Now, many of these came to his Church from remote villages as soon as they came to know that a priest was in the city.

In 1695, Nauclairs de Lanerolle, the French Huguenot unable to bear the progress of Joseph Vaz’s ministry, used all his influence to poison the King’s mind against the priest.

King Vimaladharma Surya II was, as mentioned before, a sovereign with a superior mind. He had high regard for Joseph Vaz. The King admired his virtue and his spirit of renunciation of worldly pleasures.

Lanerolle sought an audience of the King. He brought with him a few Bhikkhus (Buddhist monks). During his meeting with the King, the Huguenot focussed on the dangers which were threatening the Kingdom unless the King used drastic steps to stop the advance of the Catholic Religion. He once again asserted that Joseph Vaz was a Portuguese agent beyond doubt, who organized the Catholics and converted Buddhists to the Catholic faith to create a powerful group; then when he had enough number of adherents to his faith, he would raise a rebellion and call the Portuguese from Goa to help him. Lanerolle therefore entreated the King to save his Crown, before it was too late. He asked the King to raze to the ground the church built by Vaz and the Catholics, and expel the priest from the Kingdom of Kandy.

The King replied sternly to the Huguenot, that he was fully convinced that the priest was not a Portuguese spy, but had undertaken a perilous journey and had undergone many hardships only for the sake of bringing spiritual help and solace to the abandoned Catholics of his Kingdom; and it would, therefore, be unworthy of him to persecute a poor man who had sought refuge in his capital.

The rebuked Frenchman was quiet for some time. A few weeks later he came before the King surrounded by more Bhikkhus. He again insisted on the expulsion of Joseph Vaz from the Kingdom of Kandy. He told the King that the strength of his political power was founded on the religious conformity of the people of his Kingdom. He pointed out that at the time of the Portuguese rule, three Kings of Kandy on becoming Catholics, lost their throne because their Buddhist subjects rebelled against them. So, he warned that the same would certainly happen to him if the priest was allowed to convert his subjects to the Catholic Faith. He then went on to advise the King to never tolerate a foreign religion being preached in his Kingdom, least of all the religion of the Portuguese, the greatest enemies of the Kings of Kandy.

The King after listening to the long tirade of the Huguenot, answered him curtly that though it was true that he hated the Portuguese who had fought his father, he anyhow, had high regard for the Catholic Religion, which was anyhow much better than the creed of the Calvinists.

The Bhikkhus then complained that the church built by Joseph Vaz was now much more frequented than the Buddhist temples and wanted the King to stop the priest from preaching his faith.

The King told the Bhikkhus, that they should emulate the Catholic priest: preach and instruct the people about Buddhism, attend to the sick, teach people to give alms to the poor, gain the love of the people, and so on. If they did so, he said, their temples would not be deserted, and the people would flock to the temples, instead of going to the Church built by Joseph Vaz.

The Bhikkus then complained that the servants of the palace whose duty was to bring flowers to the Buddhist temples now refused to do so saying that they had become Catholics.

The king replied that if Catholics in his service were not willing to carry flowers to the temples, he could dispense them from it as there were so many Buddhists who will be too glad to render that service.

Humiliated by the manner of the King, who openly favoured the priest, Lanerolle conspired with some Buddhist chiefs, powerful enough to give orders in spite of the King. They threatened Joseph Vaz and ordered him not to admit the Catholics and others who came to his Church. Joseph Vaz answered them, saying:

“We have an obligation to search and invite the Christians and to see that others become Christians, and it would be a grave sin not to receive those who come in search”.

Instigated by Lanerolle and the few Buddhist chiefs,  rowdies ridiculed, vilified, harassed, the Catholics on their way to the Church. They even went to the extent of plucking away the rosaries from the necks of women and children. But the Catholics did not stop coming to the Church.

This kind of persecution increased day by day and Joseph Vaz became anxious. The King, it is true, was favourable to the Catholics and resisted the solicitations of their enemies, but Joseph Vaz doubted whether the King would protect the Catholics when threatened with an uprising by the Buddhist mob as planned by Lanerolle and of his Buddhist confederates.

When the situation became critical, a remarkable miracle came to the rescue of Joseph Vaz.

The Miracle of the Rain

The rainy season in Ceylon begins usually between the middle of May and the beginning of June, but in the year 1696, there was a severe drought in the central region of Ceylon. As rain is necessary for the cultivation of rice the harvest failed. All other crops suffered as well. The drought caused much hardship to the people in the Kingdom of Kandy.

King Vimaladharma Suriya II requested Buddhist monks to perform Pirith (spiritual chant) to invoke the gods to provide rain and the Hindu Brahmins to conduct special Pooja to invoke Lord Varuna, the Hindu god of rain. Even after a week of ceremonies by the Bhikkus and the Brahmins, not a single drop of rain fell anywhere in the kingdom.

Then the king requested Joseph Vaz to pray to his God for rain. Vaz replied that he “would pray with greater fervor in obedience to the royal command.” He then told the king to “remain firm in faith, and if it would serve divine glory the land would abound with water since all the elements obey His divine commands as the Creator of heaven and earth”.

With firm faith in God, Joseph Vaz erected an altar in the open at a central place. A large crowd surrounded him. After placing a cross on the altar, he knelt down and prayed to God for rain.


Saint Joseph Vaz praying for rain during the drought of 1696 in Kandy (Source :en.radiovaticana.va)
Saint Joseph Vaz praying for rain during the drought of 1696 in Kandy (Source :en.radiovaticana.va)


.While he prayed, the sky filled with heavy dark clouds, and an abundant rain poured down. In a short time the deluge inundated the famished Kingdom. Water seeped into the cracks of the parched paddy fields. All the irrigation tanks filled to the brim.

Amid such a torrent the people saw with amazement the altar, the cross, and the spot where Joseph Vaz was kneeling while praying, remained dry. Not a drop of water had fallen on them. The King and the people marvelled, at this phenomenon and called it a miracle.

St.Anthony's Cathedral, Kandy (Source: kandydiocese.net)
St.Anthony’s Cathedral, Kandy (Source: kandydiocese.net)


Now, at the place where this miracle was wrought in Kandy stands St. Anthony’s Cathedral.

This miracle impressed the people, and many Buddhists and Hindus came to Joseph Vaz for baptism. Many apostates who had become Calvinists, after having performed penance reconciled with the Church.

King Vimaladharma Suriya II was so pleased he gave Joseph Vaz protection, and freedom to travel anywhere in the Kingdom of Kandy to preach the Catholic doctrines. Joseph Vaz also obtained the king’s permission to get more priests from Goa.

Joseph Vaz then built a proper church and dedicated it to Our Lady, the Mother of Christ. He used the missionary method of inculturation. He composed a para-liturgy in Sinhalese and Tamil.

Joseph Vaz used his newly acquired freedom to visit all the regions of the kingdom of Kandy. Now he was able to cross the Mahaweli Ganga without any hindrance. At times, he also sneaked into the territories possessed by the Dutch.


 Next → Part 12 – The Apostle Visits Dutch Colombo

← Previous: Part  10: Beginning of the Apostolate in Kandy








Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 10 – Beginning of the Apostolate in Kandy

Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj


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


The First Church in Kandy

To keep John occupied, Joseph Vaz taught him enough Latin to recite the divine office intelligently with devotion. He also taught John all that was required to become a priest. He called his servant “my brother” and gave him his own surname “Vaz”.

Joseph Vaz wondered why he was still in prison. Was it because he was a priest or was it because there lurked in the mind of the King some suspicion of his being a Portuguese spy.

As the rigours of imprisonment waned, Joseph Vaz and John constructed a hut of cadjan, in a corner of the prison yard. They built an altar and Vaz put his crucifix on it. He without fear showed himself as a Catholic prostrated and venerated the Cross in public. Every evening he would pray the Rosary and sing the litanies of the Blessed Virgin Mary. No one interfered with his devotions.

On Christmas of 1692, he offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at this Altar. The Dissawe, his guards and other prisoners kept at a respectful distance. When he found no objection from the Dissawe, he continued to offer Mass every morning from the following day onwards.

The small cadjan hut was the first Church in Kandy.

People started noticing what was going on in the small straw hut Church. Almost all the Catholics in Kandy had not seen a priest for over forty years after the death of Father Vergonse, the Jesuit priest. But none of them dared to approach the priest for the memory of the arrest of Antonio Sottomayor was alive in their minds.

Eventually, a Catholic, who embroidered rich clothing for the Kandyan nobles, worked out a plan. He made with great perfection embroidered a silk cloth with gold and presented it as a gift to King Vimaladharma Surya II. The king much pleased with the workmanship asked the artisan to name his price. The artisan threw himself at the feet of the king and said that he wanted no money, but begged the king to allow him to speak with the confined priest on matters related to his soul. Since the king now regarded Joseph Vaz as a devout priest and not a Portuguese spy, he readily gave permission to visit Joseph Vaz.

When other Catholics saw that the King was in a good frame of mind, they too approached him and obtained permission to visit the priest. The King moved by the piety of these Catholics gave permission to all the Catholics to visit the priest in his prison, whenever they liked.

Many Catholics visited Joseph Vaz in his prison and participated in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every morning. They also came for the Sacraments of Reconciliation and to baptize their children and grandchildren. Vaz also validated the marriages contracted without the presence of a priest. He instructed those who had no proper knowledge of the Christian faith.

Around September 1693, the king freed Joseph Vaz from the prison house. He was, however, prohibited from crossing the Mahaveli Ganga (river). The boatmen had orders not to carry him across the river.

Restricted freedom

Around September 1693, the king freed Joseph Vaz from the prison house. He was, however, prohibited from crossing the Mahaveli Ganga (river). The boatmen had orders not to carry him across the river.

Though forbidden, Joseph Vaz crossed the Mahaveli Ganga many times in secret to visit the scattered Catholics in remote regions.. On February 2, 1697 in a letter to the Prefect of his Oratory he wrote: “… Trusting in the help of the King of kings and His promises…”, he crossed the river eight times to administer the sacraments to the sick and dying Christians, living in remote places.


Boatmen do not see Saint Joseph Vaz getting on to their boats to cross the Mahaveli Ganga (Source: blejosephvaz.wix.com)
Boatmen do not see Saint Joseph Vaz getting on to their boats to cross the Mahaveli Ganga (Source: blejosephvaz.wix.com)


According to traditional legends the priest could do so because God made him invisible to the soldiers when he was passing through the gates, and also to the boatmen when he entered their boats.

In 1693, the Propaganda Fide asked Bishop Custodio Pinho, Vicar Apostolic of Bijapur to visit and report on the state of affairs of the Church in South India. Bishop Pinho described Joseph Vaz as a man “totally detached from the world”.

Using utmost prudence in his letter dated October 27, 1693, Joseph Vaz advised his Prefect of the Oratory in Goa, when writing letters, not to reveal to others his whereabouts. He also told the Prefect to send him the letters through the Jesuits of the Fishery Coast; to send them open to avoid suspicions and not to mention therein how he had received his letter, neither the place nor the date; not to write to him as to one whose permanent address was surely known, also not to give him any news of the Civil Government because “our work is only to be busy with the service of God and the salvation of souls”. So, to avoid all suspicions, he said, he was not writing to the Prelate nor to the Inquisitor in Goa.

After getting the restricted freedom to minister to the Catholics of the capital, people helped Joseph Vaz to build a simple thatch covered Church, which he dedicated to “Our Lady for the Conversion of the Faithful“. At the beginning, the Dissawe posted some of his men in the Church to keep an eye on the priest. Later, when the priest did not show the least disposition to escape from Kandy, he withdrew his men. However, the regular supply of King’s ration continued.

Joseph Vaz recommends John for Priesthood

On August 14, 1694, two years after leaving Puttalam, Joseph Vaz wrote to the Prefect of his Oratory. In a postscript to the letter, Vaz recommended John to the priesthood since he regarded all men as equal. He wrote:

“Although when he came here, Joao Vaz did not know to read and write, now that God has given him the ability, he reads and prays the divine office in my company”. Then he praises John for his knowledge of Latin, Portuguese (negredas), Tamil and Sinhalese languages. Naturally, John had picked them up in his seven years company of Blessed Joseph Vaz, especially in the prison. Then Blessed Vaz vouches for John thus: “Joao has the will to dedicate himself purely to the service of God as a priest to work for these Christians… he has no canonical impediment. Please ask one of the prelates vs.. the Archbishop of Goa (or any other) to ordain him. So that sent back to Sri Lanka he can work for the service of the missions… inform me if this is agreeable and I will send him to Goa. He has made the vow of poverty… his conduct is upright… and example for me… and as far as I know he will not commit a venial sin even though for this it be necessary
for him to die a thousand times.”

John Vaz thus became the first Gauda of Goa and the first Dalit tribal of India recommended to the priesthood.

Whenever Joseph Vaz faced any pastoral problem, he wrote them down and later sent letters to the Prefect of his Oratory and to Fr. Henry Dolu, a Jesuit in Pondicherry, asking them for guidelines.

When the Prefect of his Oratory asked him to come back to Goa, Vaz wrote that he would gladly obey his Superior as Christ, but with great prudence he made known to his Superior the risk involved if he should do so. He reminded his Superior that though he was free from prison, he was still prohibited from crossing the Mahaveli Ganga. So, he asked the Prefect for helpers from the Oratory.


 Next → Part  11: The Miracle of Rain in Kandy

← Previous: Part  9 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Prison in Kandy








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

Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj


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


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.


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


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.


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








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

Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj


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


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.


Puttalam to Kandy via Weuda
Puttalam to Kandy via Weuda


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”).


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

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