Farewell to a Friend
Wolvendaal Church Windows Restoration
In the autumn of 2011 generous donations were received from the Dutch Embassy in Colombo, the Prince Bernhard Culture Fund and the Insinger Foundation of The Netherlands as well as a number of private donors for the restoration of the historic church windows of the Wolvendaal Church. These donations enabled the Wolvendaal Foundation to commence with the full restoration of the century-old leaded-glass church windows which were in a dilapidated state.
The deep recesses in the church walls were originally filled with heavily mullioned wooden frames and very simply glazed. The present leaded-glass windows of chaste and ornate design were erected in 1870. The costs were partly borne by the Colonial Government and partly donated by a generous public. The dedicatory tablets attached to the walls commemorate the names of individual donors, the British Governor Sir William H. Gregory among them.
Many churches in Europe and Sri Lanka dating from the 19th century have leaded-glass windows which typically have a life between 100 and 150 years. After that period problems with the lead strips and the hanging mechanism occur, particularly in Sri Lanka with its hot climate and severe monsoon rains.
Most of the 20 leaded glass windows in the Wolvendaal Church are in a bad condition. About 25% of the glass must be replaced while the panels must be renovated and the corroded rods galvanized. The most common technique for the restoration of this type of windows is re-leading the glass panels and restoring the hanging system. This entails taking the panels out of the frames, after which a real scale drawing is made of such panels. After this the lead strips are removed and the glass is placed onto the drawings. The glass is then cleaned piece by piece and put back onto the drawing. Renovation of the panels is achieved by attaching new lead strips and waterproofing the panels. The completed panels are finally re-assembled into the wooden frames.
In March 2012 the restoration works started in earnest. The Wolvendaal Foundation and the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka jointly with the Cultural Fund came to an understanding on how to execute this complicated project. Overall project supervision became the responsibility of the church architect Ashley De Vos assisted by Rudie Boekel of the Wolvendaal Foundation. The team of conservators from the Archaeological Department is headed by Anusha Kashturi, Chief Conservator of the Archaeological Department. The work is carried out by four conservators and a number of assistants on the organ loft of the church where a professionally equipped workshop has been erected.
Since its start the project progressed slowly but surely. As to be expected in this kind of restoration projects, some unpleasant surprises did occur. Initially, the glass restoration works progressed rapidly, but the century old timber frames were in a worse condition than expected. Especially the bottoms of the window frames were often seriously damaged. The required birma teak for the repair was difficult to find and for several windows jak timber had to be applied. This caused delays and extra costs.
At the end of September 2012, twelve of the twenty windows - the most damaged ones - were restored. However, after removing some old panels and close inspection, more glass appeared to be damaged than originally estimated. This additional glass had to be specifically produced in Germany and was delivered in the spring of 2013.
Restoration of the Matara Church
The Matara Church is probably the oldest Dutch Reformed church of Sri Lanka still in use. Over the doorway of the Church the year 1769 is shown, but it is much older and the most likely construction date of the present building is 6th of October 1706. In the drawings of Heydt (1736) a church building is shown on the current site. Also the tombstones which pave the floor are of a considerably earlier date than 1769, the oldest dating back to 1686. Therefore, the church is more than 300 years old.
The building bears little resemblance to a typical colonial Dutch church such as the Wolvendaal and the Galle churches, it looks more like an elegant country house. This, however, gives the building a unique character and makes it an interesting site for tourists to visit.
This long standing historical church was severely affected by the Tsunami tidal waves on the 26th of December 2004. The internal and external walls of the building as well as the floor and the historical tombstones have seriously deteriorated as a result of the waves. Most of the antique furniture has been destroyed.
Because of the damage all tiles and tombstones had to be removed and renovated after equalising the underground. An important tombstone is the one of Frank Willem Falck, who was Dissave of Matara and the father of Imam Willem Falck, the longest serving Dutch Governor of the Maritime Provinces of Ceylon, dating back to 1737.
Already prior to the Tsunami, the Wolvendaal Foundation had replaced the roof tiles by new ones to prevent further leakage, as the first part of plans to renovate the entire church. These plans were somewhat delayed as a result of other priorities such as the DRC Aid Programme for Tsunami victims, the fact that the church building was used as a relief centre for aid organisations as well as the normal church services of the local congregation.
A project proposal was submitted in April 2006 to the Dutch Embassy in Colombo. After having received a contribution of Rs 6.5 mln (appr. €45,000) from the Dutch Government a public tender procedure was started after which on October 30, 2006 a contract was concluded with Poly-Chem Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, Colombo. The renovation works were completed within 2 years. The roof was restored, all walls were repaired and painted, the floor was equalised and the historic Dutch tombstones re-installed onto their original position. The antique pulpit and pews were renovated. The Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka has further improved the roof of the building in the beginning of 2010 within the framework of the allocated budget.
Backlog Maintenance and Renovation works at Wolvendaal Church, Colombo
The walls of the church are 5 feet thick and have been constructed with local materials, rock, antique Dutch bricks (IJssel stones) and clay mortar. The plastering has also been done with by using clay mortar, after which lime has been applied. The mouldings at the exterior are very vulnerable and easily deteriorate. Black fungus quickly conquers the external walls. Leaking gutters around the roof and the rainwater splashing on the walls makes it easy for the fungus to grow faster. It is observed that over the years many paint coatings have been applied but most of the paint is coming off in layers. The aggressive climate requires permanent maintenance. To keep the church in a good condition, the walls must be fully painted every three years, plants growing out of the walls (bo-trees) removed and mouldings repaired.
In the period 2005 – 2007 a large extensive programme of backlog maintenance was carried out. The entire church (both the inside and the outside walls) has been repainted. Mouldings were repaired and gutters renewed. All fences and entrance gates have been renewed while a roof has been constructed over the back entrance of the church thus creating an extra space for the exposition of photos and other artefacts. Behind the church the street has been paved with bricks. Moreover, the last remaining original Dutch building on the church yard has been fully renovated. This building was once used by the Dutch Governor to stable his horses.
A large number of antique Dutch tombstones have been relocated and placed against the North and East walls of the church. Many of them date back to the 17th century, thus prior to the construction of the church. These tombstones are originating from the old Pettah graveyard (the current location of the Consistory building) and the old (dilapidated) Dutch church in the Fort of Colombo, which was finally demolished by the British in 1813. The oldest one is the tombstone of Maria van Waalre, the wife of the Dutch Predikant G. Van Holckenburg, who died in 1661, only five years after Dutch forces defeated the Portuguese and conquered the Fort of Colombo. The last tombstone in the Dutch language, dating back to 1831 (Jacob Anton Muller) has been placed next to the one of Maria van Waalre.
Many improvements in the interior of the church have been realised. Most of the antique pews and chairs have been renovated including the pulpit constructed in 1749. Moreover, a small meeting room for the Predikants and deacons has been redecorated.
The total costs of this renovation and maintenance works amounted to some € 40,000.- and have been covered by a private donation.
Restoration of the Wolvendaal Church Archives
The vestry of the Wolvendaal church accommodates a unique collection of 17th and 18th century documents including marriage and baptism registers. Many of these valuable documents deteriorated over the years due to chemical, biological, and physical causes. As a result many documents have become brittle and it is impossible to handle them freely. In addition to that some of them were badly damaged by insects.
In 2009 a project was started to conserve the documents by restoring them in a professional way.
There are about 140 volumes of historic documents in the church library; which have been partly affected due to the above mentioned causes. From the total number, 25% is badly damaged while 55% is in a deteriorated state. The project provides for these documents being strengthened by applying repair tissues and hand made papers.
After a formal agreement was reached with a group of professional restorers, managed by Mr Palitha Kumarapperuma, the work started officially in September 2010. The local consistory made office space available in the building behind the church. Visitors to the church will be allowed to view the interesting restoration works as currently being performed by the restoration team.
As per July 1st, 2013 the work was almost completed. 135 of the in total 140 volumes (36.692 pages) have been restored. It is expected that the project will be completed by the end of September 2013. The project will be completed within budget. The binding of the restored documents will require an extra amount of some Euro 7000,- Total project costs are be approximately € 20.000 and are donated by the Netherlands Embassy in Colombo.
Roof Renovation of the Wolvendaal Church
In the time of the VOC the church building served as a landmark to mariners to steer their ships into the roadstead of Colombo. It was originally roofed in with brick-barrel arches, and the central tower was surmounted by a gilt weather-cock in the form of a Dutch lion. In 1856 a stroke of lightning carried away the weather-cock and so badly damaged the central tower that it had to be taken down and replaced by a timber roof covered with blue Bangor slates.
The monsoon storms of later years which spent their fury on the brick-lined plastered domes made the lead sheet covering necessary. The church has never been re-built and it appears substantially the same as originally designed by the Dutch builders, save for the structure of the top roof, now covered with sheets, dating back to 1859.
In January 1969 gale force winds blowing across Colombo wrenched off some of the lead sheets on the roof and badly damaged the dome. Immediate action was taken by de Dutch Reformed Church in cooperation with the Archaeological Department and further damage was arrested. The repair costs were met by the Dutch Government, the Foundation of Cultural History of Dutch Overseas and donations from church members in Sri Lanka and abroad, in particular from Australia. However, In June 2009, again one of the dome’s roof sheets came off during severe wind conditions. Emergency repairs were conducted, but it was evident that this roof, which was constructed in the 19th century, could not be repaired again and has to be replaced in its entirety. The Wolvendaal Foundation started the preparations for a full restoration of the entire roof. Recently, before such preparations could be finalised, in February 2010 another part of the roof collapsed and this time structural renovation cannot be delayed any more as the roof after emergency repairs is still leaking. It is feared that the monsoon rains may cause structural damage to the building.
In the spring of 2010 plans hav been developed by the Foundation under direction of the renowned architect Ashley De Vos to contract a competent firm to waterproof the roof, as a first measure to avoid further damage. This would still be a temporary solution good for a period of some five to ten years. A final solution, however, can only be full replacement of the entire dome.
In September 2010 a project proposal was prepared by the Foundation in co-operation with Architect Ashley De Vos to carry out roof conservation works for the church. A revised budget was submitted to the (Dutch) Shared Heritage Fund through the Dutch Embassy in Colombo, which included not only the top roof, but also the four barrel roofs, the moulding and renovation of part of the gables. The total costs amounted to some SLR 6.21 mln. In October 2010 the Foundation was informed that the Shared Heritage Fund had donated a sum of SLR 3.98 mln for the roof renovation. The remainder of the costs had to be covered by private donations. On November 14th 2010 a contract for the performance of the renovation works was signed between the Wolvendaal Foundation and INTA International (Pvt) Ltd from Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka. The firm applied an Acronil Polymer base flexible waterproofing system with exceptional weather resistance characteristics. It is a form of soft paste applied by brush or roller that cures to form a flexible elastic film with good chemical resistance, and is not affected by UV radiation or ozone, while it completely inhibits the growth of mould and bacterial growth. This waterproofing system is highly environmentally friendly and is specially adapted for top roofs in various applications. The renovation works have been completed to the full satisfaction of the Foundation in March 2011, just in time before the monsoon rains. The Board of Directors of the Foundation and the Local Consistory of the Wolvendaal Church hereby express their heartfelt thanks for the support of the donors, in particular the Heritage Fund and the Dutch Embassy in Colombo.
De Wolvendaalsche Kerk (Time like an Ever-Rolling Stream)
Part of this campaign for the renovation of the church is the reprinting of a book originally titled De Wolvendaalsche Kerk which was first published in 1938, and reprinted in 1958 and 1982. The English text was written by Dr Richard L. Brohier while the Dutch translation was made by Maria Jurriaanse, in the late 1930s Assistant Archivist of de Department of Archives. The book contains black and white photos from the famous photographer of the time, Lionel Wendt. The new edition, subtitled Time, Like and Ever-Rolling Stream, is edited and extended by Deloraine Brohier and Christiaan van Krimpen. Compared to the original print of 1938, the number of annexes has been updated and new subjects and photographs have been added in order to make the book more interesting for the present-day reader.
The book is published by Neptune Publications (Pvt) Ltd, 264/2B Heenatikumbura Road, Battaramulla, Sri Lanka. Tel.: +94 (0) 11 441 3243, Email: email@example.com
Visit of Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency
On December 14th, 2010 a delegation consisting of Antoinette Le Coultre, Director of the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency accompanied by Jean-Paul Corten, international co-ordinator of the same agency, paid a visit to the Wolvendaal Church to get acquainted with the ongoing roof restoration works and the restoration project of the historic church archives. The delegation was informed of the progress by church architect Ashley De Vos and the project manager of the archives project Palitha Kumarapperuma. Also present was Mr Hettipathirana of the Dutch Embassy in Colombo. The Chairman of the Wolvendaal Foundation Rev. Stanley Nelson thanked the delegation for their interest in the historic VOC church and presented them with a copy of the newly published bi-lingual book De Wolvendaalsche Kerk.