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FEAST:The annual feast of historic Wahakotte Church will be held on June 17th with a festive high mass celebrated by Rt. Rev. Dr. Vianney Fernando, Bishop of Kandy.
The Routes to Wahakotte
St. Anthony’s church at Wahakotte is one of the most sacred shrines for catholics in Sri Lanka. This historic church is situated in Udugoda Palelsiya Pattuwa, to the North-West of Matale district, four miles from Galewela town on Matale-Galewela main road.
It is about 140 Km from Colombo, through Warakapola-Kurunegala, Galewela and Wahakotte. From Kandy it is about 55 km via Matale-Palapathwela and Wahakotte, and from Negambo it is about 130 km. through Kurunegala-Galewela and Wahakotte. From Chilaw it is about 120 km along Kurunegala-Galewela and Wahakotte.
Wahakotte was known as “Wasala-Kotte” – Castle in the Fort. It is believed that there was a palace and a fort, where the present church is situated, the village was so called, because it protected the palace, traces of which are still visible. There is another legend to say that “Waha”-poison; “Kotte” – pillow; means poisonous pollow because a queen had committed suicide after hearing of her husband’s death at war.
History records that when king Dutugemunu defeated king Elara, in 164 B.C. he had built a small fortress at Wahakotte. There are still some ruins of ancient buildings on a rocky-hill called “Maligatenna” – Palace-field.
These ruins show that Wahakotte was once a prosperous town with a fort, ramparts, a moat and thorough fares, where sub-kings lived. One can see Dambulla Rock Temple to the north from Maligatenna. The Ceylon Alamanac – (1834-Page 204) records that there were ruins of “Rangalle Nuwara” and a Hindu Kovil – “Pattini Devalaya” in the woods close by.
The history records that the first christian Monarch – Yamasinghe, adopted son of Karalliyadda Bandara, who later became Don Phillip after embracing christianity in Goa, India, was received by some rebels from Kandy (Queyroz-pages-443447708) and was crowned at Wahakotte by the Portuguese.
It is also recorded that Don Francisco Wijekoon, who organised the Kandyan rebels against king Rajasinghe, too, was present on this occasion (Pieris P.E. Colombo 1914-page 249).
King Rajasinghe of Kandy, who fought against the Portuguese captured some of them and made them settle down in Wahakotte. These captured people earned their living by engaging themselves in cultivation, business and trade, and women sewing dresses for women, men sewing dresses for men; some engage themselves in running taverns and making liquor. (Robert knox-page 248).
The people of Wahakotte are slightly fairer in complexion, compared to other rural people in the area, though there are also very dark people among them. Because of this complexion neighbouring villagers still refer to them as “Pruthugeesi” or the decendants of “Parangi”. Some had Kandyan names mixed with Portuguese hames, like Don Juan Wijeratne or Dona Issabella Ekanayake.
When the Dutch captured the areas that were under the Portuguese rule, they confiscated all catholic institutions, churches, schools and religious places, chased away the Catholic priests and banned all religious activities.
When Rev. Fr. Joseph Vaz, who arrived in Sri Lanka from South India, disguised as a labourer, had visited Wahakotte, the peasants there had built a little hut on a small hill for Fr. Joseph Vaz, which is still venerated by Catholics.
In 1705, Rev. Fr. Jacob Gonsalves arrived in Sri Lanka, he studied Sinhala Language and Literature under the tutelage of Buddhist monks in Kandy and composed hynms and wrote prayer books and other religious literature in Sinhala on “Puskola Path” – Ola leaves.
The Catholics have safeguarded all these ola leaves with utmost respect and devotion. Later Fr. Jacob Gonsalves was fondly called “Sinhala Swami” – Sinhala Father – as he was the first to translate all religious literature into Sinhala.
When Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe, younger brother of Sri Vijayarajasinghe’s Queen, became the king of Kandy, he allowed the catholics to perform their religious activities and gave freedom of worship, the king of Kandy as a token of goodwill gave back the statue of St. Anthony, which was plundered from a Church in Kandy, during the reign of his brother-in-law Sri Vijaya Rajasinghe, to the catholics of Wahakotte.
Wahakotte is a well-known pilgrim centre, enshrining a miraculous statue of St. Anthony of Padua (Italy). St. Anthony is a catholic saint born in 1195 in Lisbon – Portugal. He entered the Augustinian order at the age of 15 and lived as a a priest and a famous preacher and wonder – worker. There are thousands of recorded miracles attributed to St. Anthony during his lifetime and also after his death.
He died in Padua on June 13 1231 and Catholics celebrate his “feast” on this day.
In times of tribulation the people of Wahakotte sought St. Anthony’s help during persecution, they assembled in secret around the statue to pray, they made a Novena – nine days of prayer – and carried the statue in procession in times of drought and plagues. At the turn of the Century there was a severe drought in “Kandapaha Korale” – Wahakotte – with all water tanks dry.
Having had recourse to their religious practices the people requested the catholics of Wahakotte to invoke blessings from their god for three days the catholic community payed to St. Anthony and at the conclusion of their prayer the drought ended with a torrential rain. (heliamas. L. Ceylon 1932 – page 30). the Catholics and non-catholics had organised a “Perahera” procession, to mark this miracle. Even today some neighbouring buddhists speak of this miraculous power of St. Anthony.
This grateful neighbours, it is said, had brought gifts to St-Anthony in a solemn manner, accompanied by Kandyan “Hewisi” band, and accorded by popular acclamation the right to use “Hewisi” at Catholic feast at Wahakotte.
“Hewisi” is not used in many other churches as it was the privilege of Kings, Adigars and Disawas. Still Buddhists come to Wahakotte, church – festival from “Kandapahala Korale” with their “Hewisi” and make this feast, a symbol of unity among Buddhists and Catholics.
There is also an interesting legend about this sacred statue of St. Anthony. Once, some enemies destroyed this great church and plundered all the valuable things in the church but this statue.
The villagers had somehow hidden this statue made of wood, only six inches in height, in a rice-pot and was able to save it from enemies. As the Catholics of Wahakotte faced much harassment from the Dutch and the Kandyan rulers, during this time, they erected a place of worship in a secret place, during the time of Fr. Joseph Vaz, and during the day time if looked like a cattle-shed, but at night it was a prayer-room.
When Wahakotte celebrations are held now, the statue of St. Anthony is taken in a procession to this sacred place and in holy prayer the catholics pay homage to Rev. Fr. Joseph Vaz. The historic Wahakotte religious festival, portrays the story of Catholics, who, without any help from organised clergy maintained the catholic faith for over 200 years in a purely, non-catholic surroundings. today Wahakotte or Wasala-Kotte, Which once flourished as a-Royal City – holds a unique place in the history of Catholics in Sri Lanka.
The Parish Priest of Wahakotte church, Rev. Fr. Hilarion Fernando, O.S.B. said that, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims in this area help catholics, and specially the Buddhist monks from temples around Wahakotte always help to make this religious festival a success.
He further requests, all pilgrims, to refrain from wearing expensive jewellery and not to bring unnecessary expensive items with them, as the church authorities intend to celebrate this holy feast in a simple and devout manner, and to get blessings and pray for peace to our Sri Lanka!
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