Tag Archives: Negombo

Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 14 – Smallpox Epidemic in Kandy


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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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.

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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)

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Next → Part 15 – Six more Missionaries Come from India

← Previous: Part 13 – Missionaries Arrive from Goa

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 13 – Missionaries Arrive from Goa


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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

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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.

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'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

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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!

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Next → Part 14 – Smallpox Epidemic in Kandy

Previous: Part 12 – The Apostle Visits Dutch Colombo

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 7 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Puttalam


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Leaving behind his home, his family, the comfort of his familiar surroundings, he responded to the call to go forth, to speak of Christ wherever he was led. Saint Joseph knew how to offer the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in a multi-religious context, with respect, dedication, perseverance and humility. This is also the way for the followers of Jesus today.
– Pope Francis in his homily at the canonization of Joseph Vaz, Sri Lanka’s first saint on Wednesday, January 14, 2015.

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

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The kingdom of Kandy comprised the interior of the island of Sri Lanka. The Dutch occupied the western coastal region with three administrative command posts in Jaffnapattinam, Colombo and Galle.

In the northeast, the island had two harbours, Trincomalee and Batticaloa, which the Dutch occupied on behalf of the king of Kandy. In fact, the king did not want the presence of the Dutch there. Nevertheless, the Dutch manned the two harbour towns to prevent any other foreign nation communicating with the king.

Puttalam was the only commercial harbour on the island that was free from Dutch control. It was under the direct control of the king of Kandy. Yet, Puttalam was constantly a bone of contention between the kingdom of Kandy and the Dutch colonialists.

In Puttalam too, Joseph Vaz had no problem of communication with the local people because most of them were conversant in Portuguese Creole.

Ceylon Portuguese Creole

When the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka in the early 16th century and conquered the coastal area they used a pidginized version of Portuguese – the Ceylon Portuguese Creole, for communication with the natives. By the early 17th Century, the Ceylon Portuguese Creole was in use in the Portuguese controlled littoral. It was also known in the kingdom of Kandy.

Due to the dearth of women, the Portuguese soldiers took Tamil and Sinhalese women as wives. From this union, sprang the “Portuguese Burgher” population of Sri Lanka, which soon adopted the Portuguese Pidgin as their language, which eventually Creolized. When the Dutch evicted the Portuguese in the 17th century, history repeated. The Dutch soldiers took local wives. In contrast to the time of the Portuguese, there was a semi-European nubile population available on the island, and the Dutch mainly married Portuguese Burgher women. This kind of union formed the base for the “Dutch Burgher” community.

The Dutch continued to use Creole Portuguese so that this language continued to thrive until well into the British period, which started in 1798. During the British period, Creole Portuguese was still used by the Wesleyan missionaries, who also produced some literature in the language, but it started to decline when the community switched to English or emigrated to Australia and South Africa.

Catholics in Puttalam

There were a little over one thousand Catholics in the town of Puttalam and in the villages surrounding the harbour. There was a Church constructed by the Portuguese Jesuits. The Catholics of the Puttalam region had been deprived of priests and the sacraments for almost fifty years  from the time the fort at Negombo fell into the hands of the Dutch in 1640.

In Puttalam, most of the Catholics had received baptism, but had not participated in the holy sacrifice of the Mass at any time in their life. So, they welcomed Joseph Vaz in their midst.

Unlike Jaffna, in Puttalam Joseph Vaz administered the sacraments openly without fear.  The Catholics of the surrounding villages too profited spiritually by his presence in Puttalam.

On August 15, 1690 Vaz wrote a letter to the Prefect of the Oratory in Goa about his ministry in Putalam.

Joseph Vaz often visited the villages of the Kalpitiya peninsula, which consists of 14 serenely beautiful islands. Most of the people of Kalpitiya are fishermen.

He also visited the interior villages in the district of Puttalam, inhabited by Mukkuvars and Paravars such as Manattivu, Tetapola, Manpuri.

A village called Maha Galgamuwa

On the banks of the Maha Galgamuwa tank, about 37 miles (60 km) from Puttalam via Miyellewa, was a Catholic settlement. In 1667, when the Dutch captured the coastal belt of Kalpitiya, the Catholics there feared persecution and decided to seek a place of safety to practice their faith. King Rajasinghe II of Kandy provided the freedom of worship to Catholics in his kingdom. Some Catholics from Kalpitiya, belonging to the ‘Mukkuwa‘ Community and spoke Tamil, left their villages and homes, and settled down in a small jungle area in Maha Galgamuwa close to the tank which came under the protection of the King of Kandy. The place they settled down in Maha Galgamu, is now known as Joseph-Vaz-Puram in Tamil and Juse Vaz Pura in Sinhalese. Their kinsmen still live in Puttalam and the Kalpitiya peninsula.

Route from Puttalam to Galgamuwa (Google maps)
Route from Puttalam to Galgamuwa (Google maps)

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The settlers constructed a church dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua.

Joseph Vaz often visited this vibrant Catholic community in Maha Galgamuwa. On one occasion, the villagers complained to him about their lives and crops threatened by wild animals, especially the wild elephants and lived in constant fear of snakes. So, Vaz blessed a wooden cross made of two unpolished pieces of ebony wedged together and planted it at the entrance to the village to safeguard the village from wild elephants and venomous snakes.

The Shrine of Saint Joseph Vaz at Maha Galgamuwa

The inhabitants Maha Galgamuwa today are mostly Catholic. There is a large,  400-years-old Palu tree at the Shrine of Saint Joseph Vaz at Juse Vaz Pura, Maha Galgamuwa. According to the locals, it is under the shade of this tree that Joseph Vaz ministered to the villagers. Now, this ancient Palu tree, supported by concrete columns, is under the protection of the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.

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The Palu tree at Maha Galgamuwa. It is under the shade of this tree that Joseph Vaz ministered to the villagers.  (Source: ceylontoday.lk)
The Palu tree at Maha Galgamuwa. It is under the shade of this tree that Joseph Vaz ministered to the villagers. (Source: ceylontoday.lk)

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The locals consider the ground under the shade of the Palu tree sacred. Also, they believe that those bitten by snakes survive after drinking water mixed with the sand. The villagers also use the sand in their homes as protection against wild animals. The elephants still come to the village at night, wading along the banks of the Maha Galgamuwa tank, but they do not harm the village.

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A video grab of the Cross planted by Joseph Vaz at Juse Vaz Pura, Maha Galgamuwa .
A video grab of the Cross planted by Joseph Vaz at Juse Vaz Pura, Maha Galgamuwa .

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The villagers have treasured the cross up to this day. Sadly, the candles lit to it by the faithful over the centuries have partly burnt the cross. Now the cross is enshrined in an altar beside the Palu tree.

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The Shrine of Saint Joseph Vaz at Galgamuwa (Source: archdioceseofcolombo.com)
The Shrine of Saint Joseph Vaz at Galgamuwa (Source: archdioceseofcolombo.com)

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The shrine also has a separate altar for the wooden Cross that Saint Joseph Vaz brought from India. It is enshrined between life-size statues Saint Joseph Vaz and Saint Francis Xavier.

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The wooden Cross that Saint Joseph Vaz brought from India, presently placed at Galgamuwa Church, in the Diocese of Kurunegala, Sri Lanka. (Source: archdioceseofcolombo.com)
The wooden Cross that Saint Joseph Vaz brought from India, presently placed at Galgamuwa Church, in the Diocese of Kurunegala, Sri Lanka. (Source: archdioceseofcolombo.com)

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The Catholics of the Kurunegala diocese celebrate the Annual Feast of Blessed Joseph Vaz at Galgamuwa Shrine on a grand scale.

Joseph Vaz visits the villages of Sath Korales

In 1597, after taking over the Kotte kingdom, the Portuguese divided the regions under their rule into four administrative divisions: Matara, Sabaragamuwa, sathara korale and sath korale.

Joseph Vaz had contact with the villages of Sath Korale, the seven districts lying between the coast of Puttalam and Kammala where the command of Colombo commenced. There were more Catholics in these villages than in Puttalam, but they were without a priest after the fall of Negombo into the hands of the Dutch in 1640.

Ten years later, around 1650, two Jesuits, tried to help the Catholics in secret from Jaffna. But the Dutch apprehended them. One of the priests fled and the other was imprisoned. The Dutch then passed strong legislation banishing all Catholic priests, especially the Jesuits from entering the island.

Joseph Vaz was the first priest to have contacted these Catholics after 40 years. He understood their sad plight and furtively administered the sacraments.

Joseph Vaz visits Madhu
The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is a Roman Catholic Marian shrine in Mannar district of Sri Lanka.  (Source: Lakpura Travels)
The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is a Roman Catholic Marian shrine in Mannar district of Sri Lanka. (Source: Lakpura Travels)

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During the first half of the 16th century, the Portuguese missionaries from India, especially under the authority of Saint Francis Xavier brought Roman Catholicism to the Kingdom of Jaffna. Catholicism soon spread southward in the coastal regions.

Manthai, historically known as Maanthottam in Tamil (“Garden of the Deer”) is a coastal town in the Mannar district of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. It is about 9 miles (14 km) from Mannar. In the ancient days, there was a harbour in Manthai, but it is now buried in the sand.

Madhu, then a small hamlet, in the Mannar district is 18 miles (29 km) from Manthai as the crow flies.

In 1670, to escape the persecution of the Catholics by the Dutch, 20 families from Manthai came over to Madhu. They brought along with them the statue of Mary installed in their church. About the same time, around 700 Catholics migrated from Jaffna peninsula into the Wanni forests. After these two communities met in the jungles, they built a shrine in the forest for Mary’s statue.

In the late 17th century, Joseph Vaz, and later the Oratorian priests who came from Goa expanded the small shrine in the forest into a Church.

In a corner, inside the present Madhu Church is a pit containing the blessed soil of Madhu, known in Tamil as “Madu mannmann” (Tamil: மடு மண்) which the faithful take home. It is believed that applying the soil on the affected areas of the body will cure the maladies of the afflicted. It is held that when Joseph Vaz arrived first came to that location he planted a cross about 100 metres away from the church and blessed the soil. The place is known in Tamil as metres away from the church and blessed the soil. The place is known in Tamil as Siluvai Sumantha Veli (Tamil: சிலுவை சுமந்த வெளி)  and it is from here that the soil is taken and placed in the pit.

Joseph Vaz leaves Puttalam for Kandy

In 1687, Pascoal da Costa Jeremias to whom Joseph Vaz relinquished his duties of Superior of the Goan Oratory died. Father Custodio Leitão took charge as the new Superior.

Many businessmen from the Kingdom of Kandy frequented the Puttalam port. A Catholic businessman of Portuguese descent named Antonio Sottomayor, met Joseph Vaz. He said that there were many Catholics in the Kingdom of Kandy and they wanted a priest to minister to them. Sottomayor further said that he had a relative in the court of Kandy and through his influence he could obtain the necessary permission for Vaz to enter the Kingdom.

At that time, Joseph Vaz met a Portuguese priest named João de Braganza. He had entered Puttalam directly from India and was ministering to the Mukkuva community in and around Puttalam. Vaz consulted Braganza about going to Kandy. He wanted Braganza to explore the possibilities of securing an entry into Kandy for him. When Braganza showed interest on going himself to the Kingdom of Kandy, Vaz gave in to his wishes. Unfortunately, Braganza fell ill and returned to Goa.

After Braganza’s departure, Vaz wrote a letter on August 15, 1690 to the Prefect of the Oratory in Goa asking him whether he should continue his apostolate in Ceylon or return to Goa. In that letter, he mentioned Father Braganza:

“… in case any letter or order is to be sent, it should be done in a way Fr. Joao de Braganza will tell and he will give other particulars of this mission”.

In 1691, after four years of missionary work Joseph Vaz was almost captured by the Dutch. He decided to go to Kandy to avoid the vigilant Dutch from Colombo and to take refuge there.

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

← Previous: Part 6:  The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Jaffnapattinam

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