History | History of the Church

The legend of the church of Our Lady of Snows

The catholics of Periyamulla village, within Negombo known as “Little Rome” all over Sri Lanka, are already Jubilant that the centenary of their church is scheduled for August 22nd 2010. Negombo is a historical city. Negombo is also spoken of in Rajavaliya as well. As per a map drawn by “Tolami”, the famous mathematician who lived in Alexandria between 127-161 AD, sailors of Greece and Rome have used the bay of Negombo, as a safe anchorage for their ships. The learned historians have reiterated that the oceanic bay referred to in that particular map was Negombo itself. Further, Negombo harbour has been used by King Sitawaka as his chief harbour. In 1505, Portuguese built their own fortress in Negombo, to be followed by the Dutch as well. Thereafter, with the arrival of the British in 1796, Negombo too was taken under their control. However in spite of great challenges, Negombo emerged as the Catholic city named as “Little Rome”.
It should be noted that even before the construction of this historical church, an ethnic community known as “Baratha” of Indian origin was living in Periyamulla fostering best of relationship with the Negombo Catholics. Those Merchants who have come from Thuththukudiya in India and settled down in Negombo, have been called the “Negombo Barathas”. Their exact date and period of their arrival is not known. However, since they had come to Negombo as Catholics, they are a part the growth of Catholic population in Negombo. There exists a Basilica dedicated to “Our Lady of Snows in Thuththukudiya, India, built in 1582 A.D., by the Portuguese. When the Baratha community arrived and settled down in Periyamulla, they brought with them a statue of our Lady of Snows and set it up in front of the Periyamulla church, under the cover of a tiny attic to be honoured by the public.

In unearthing the history of the construction of the church dedicated to Our Lady of Snows at Periyamulla, a renowned Catholic from Negombo, by the name of Mihidu Kulasooriya Patabedeege Juan Fernando is linked. The Catholics of Negombo referred to him as “Juan Appu Rendarala” as well. While his wife was known as Mehidu Kulasooriya Maria Fernando their only daughter was named as Maria Martha. This devoted family has taken the leadership to build St. Peter’s church in Negombo. They also lived in their abode called “Church villa” in the church premises.

Their only daughter, Mihidu kulasooriya Maria Martha born on July 17, 1880 had married M. James Fernando on 8th July, 1897. Unfortunately, their daughter had passed away and had been buried at St. Peter’s church. On the wall of the church the following inscription is seen. “Maria Martha beloved wife of M. James Fernando and daughter of M.P. Juwan and Maria Fernando born, on 17th July 1880 married on 8th July 1897, died on 19th August 1898 (Job. 19: 21)

With the passage of time, M. Jamis Fernando, the son – in – law of Juan Appu Rendaralage, grieved greatly at the death of his wife and consequently submitted to God’s calling, and consecrated himself as a priest to serve the people. He served in Naththandiya Parish. After his death, he was buried under the grotto of Lurdes at Naththandiya Parish. Also Juwan Appu Rendarala deeply saddened by the death of his only daughter donated ¾ of his wealth to the catholic Church and spent the rest of his life by helping to build churches in different places. Among his contributions were the construction of St. Peter’s church in the centre of Negombo, St. Paul’s church at Nelumpitiya and church of Our Lady of Snows, now on the verge and celebrating it’s centenary. During his entire life time, he has done his best in the celebration of the annual feast of our Lady of Snows in a grand manner. His great respect for religious rituals was once displayed when he refused the request of an eminent person to hire the “Duwa” religious dancing troope that parades the streets in the procession carrying the statue, emphasizing that is godly things are not meant for sale.”

Although particulars of his birth and death are not known, the details given about the birth and death of his only daughter as 1880 and 1998 A.D. respectively, as inscribed on a wall of St. Peter’s church, Negombo, tally with miraculous findings unearthed while our church reconstructions were being carried on. There is a traditional belief among our parishioners that the tomb of Juan Appu Rendarala and Maria Fernando, his wife, was with in our church which they helped to build. Actually when the parishioners started renovation work on 18th April 2010. while digging the old cemented floor, they came across the tomb of Juan Appu Randarala and Mehidu Kulasooriya Maria Fernando his beloved wife.        



75th Diamond Jubilee on August 1985


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