Historic Buildings of the Dutch Reformed Church

The Groote Kerk at Galle.

The Groote Kerk, built in 1755, was the third church used by the Dutch following their conquest of the fort of Galle in 1640. There is a story that the present Church is built on the site of a Capuchin Convent demolished by the Dutch, however, a German work published in 1767 shows the area as an open area making it clear the site was an unused plot of land.

The Church was built, according to tradition, as a thank offering to God on the birth of a daughter to the Commandeur of GalleCasparus de Jong (Lord of Spanbroek) and his wife Geertruyda Adriana Le Grand. The child was not baptised until the church was completed. An entry in the Baptismal Register mentions the date of baptism as 24th of August, 1755. Three years later, the Commandeur died in his 50th year.

In keeping with the customs of the time, a ‘wapenbord’, bearing the miniature designs of his family armorial escutcheons, spurs, gauntlets and the date of his death, was hung up on the walls of the church. However, there was one important omission: the name of Commandeur De Jong was left out. The widow was said to have resolved that her husband’s name should not appear in the church they built for the glory of God.

Like the Wolvendaal Church, this church is also cruciform, only here the transepts are shorter. Two arches separate them from the nave. The high vaulted ceiling was originally painted blue and studded with golden stars. The main timber used for the roof was iron wood. High pews were erected along the walls for the Commandeur, the Deacons and the VOC officials. Those along the southern end were dismantled to accommodate the altar and communion rails of the Anglican community who were allowed to use the church from the time of the early British rule down to 1867. Presently, in place of the altar, an organ is located on this location.

As is the case in other historic Dutch churches, there are a large number of tombstones as well as tablets and hatchments on the walls. The earliest tablet on the floor of the church is in memory of B. Cocq (1662). To the south end, near the Pulpit, is the memorial to the De Ly family. Andreas Everhardus de Ly was one of the last Dutch Commandeurs of Galle. With his death in 1807, the family De Ly ceased to exist as he died childless. De Ly had stipulated in his will that ‘whereas I am the last surviving heir of the family of the House of De Ly, I hereby require, wish and desire that my Testamentary Executor will name and appoint a person to carry my family arms before my corps to the place where it is to be interred, and be beaten to pieces as then being extinct’. This injunction was carried out to the letter at his death.

The Galle Church has been recently fully renovated with a grant from the Dutch Embassy in Colombo. On Sunday, 28th of November 2004, the President of Sri Lanka, Mrs Chandrika Kamaratunga officially inaugurated the renovated building in the presence of the Dutch Ambassador, Mrs Susan Blankhart, the President of the Dutch Reformed Church, Rev. Charley Jansz and many distinguished guests. The building is an impressive proof of Dutch building ingenuity and harmonious dimensions. The church is a very popular tourist attraction and is still in use for regular church services. Fortunately, the Tsunami of December 26, 2004 did not affect the church as it was protected by the massive walls of the Galle Fort.