The Chapel of the Transguration was consecrated to the glory of God by the Rt Rev’d Mark R. Carpenter-Garnier, Lord Bishop of Colombo, on the 12th of February 1927. Since then it has served as the spiritual heart of the College. The Chapel, dear to the hearts of all Thomians of every faith, continues to play a vital role in the education and formation that is offered at this School.
Liturgically ‘High’ Church or Anglo Catholic, the worship of the Chapel combines the best of modern Anglican Liturgy and hymnody with the best of the Anglican Choral tradition, and the Thomian Chapel Choir, that made its debut at Christ Church Cathedral Mutwal in 1854, continues to lead worshippers to ‘touch the heel of heaven’! The annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in December, the Good Friday and Easter Liturgies and other special liturgical celebrations draw many to worship God “in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96: 9), with “reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12: 28) and “in spirit and in truth” (John 4: 24) in this sacred space special to all Thomians young and old.
This booklet, published as we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the consecration of the Chapel in 2017, gives a brief historical introduction to the building and its many features, not least of all the unique and powerfully evocative depiction of the Transguration of our Lord painted in 1968 by the renowned Sri Lankan artist, David Paynter.
I want to place on record my deep appreciation to two young Thomians, Oshanthaka Cabraal and Sidath Gajanayaka for the hard work they have taken to produce this booklet. I wish to extend my thanks to Mr Helakamal Nanayakkara and Warren White (Senior Sacristan) for their photographs of some of the features of the Chapel in this booklet. I must also thank Mr Shavindra Fernando for permitting us to use and update the text of his story of the Chapel published in 1977 when we celebrated the Golden Jubilee and Bishop Duleep de Chickera, a former Assistant Chaplain, Chaplain and Sub Warden of the College as well as 14th Bishop of Colombo, for having granted us permission to include his powerful reection on the Mural of the Transfiguration.
To all those who visit this Chapel my hope and prayer is that you will leave saying: ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ (Genesis 28: 17)
The Rev’d Marc Billimoria
12th February 2017
90th Dedication Festival
The Chapel of the Transfiguration S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia
The Chapel of the Transfiguration, of S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia towers majestically from the highest hillock of the campus – a silent witness to the thoughts and prayers, and the hopes and aspirations of generations of Thomian schoolboys, who have trodden its long familiar aisles during its ninety years.
Looking back over the last ninety years, the humble beginnings of Christian worship in the island’s premier Anglican educational institution were evident from the cadjan shed that served as a place of worship for the pioneer generation of College boys in 1918.
During the early years of transition when the school which had stood in Mutwal since 1851 was striking its roots in her new home, Mount Lavinia was but a tiny fishing hamlet that stood on the borders of the Bambalapitiya jungle. The move from Mutwal, then the most esteemed residential area in Colombo, and the hallowed precincts of the Christ Church Cathedral, the ‘Gal Palliya’ (stone church) so beloved to the first Thomians, was almost traumatic in its effects.
There amidst the coconut palms, that grew in orderly profusion in what is today the War Memorial Big Club cricket grounds stood a large shed thatched with cadjans, along the road that runs by the present Primary School class room block. This served as the boarders’ dining hall and preparatory hall and was partitioned off by a glass screen to distinguish a small temporary chapel.
The Humble Beginnings
On the 26th of May 1921, when Warden Stone left for England on holiday, the Rev’d G.M. Withers was given the task of acting for him. He set to work at once upon a campaign of raising money for the building fund of the College Chapel. The tales told of this World War I veteran’s persistence as a collector, of how he toured the length and breadth of the island on his battered motorcycle are legend today. The Michaelmas issue of the College magazine of 1921 records that the amount subscribed to the fund was Rs. 51,315.16 from June to October, 1921.
Rev’d G.M. Withers
It was proposed that the building should be 130 feet in length, rising 39 feet to the top of the walls, while the belfry was to rise to a height of 60 feet. It was to be large enough to accommodate 500 boys. The architect was Mr. P.A. Adams, A.R.I.B.A., and the building contractors Messrs. Jayasuriya & Co. The estimated cost was Rs. 110,000. The site was chosen with care and is the highest point on the campus, a hillock from which the Chapel towers over the rest of the school. This is symbolic of the centrality of the Christian faith in the life and work of the College.
On the 13th October 1923, the foundation stone of the chapel was laid by the Bishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev’d Ernest Arthur Copleston. Accompanied by Warden Stone and the Sub Warden, Rev’d Withers, the Bishop came up the hill with the choristers to where the boarders had already assembled. The site was a wise and inspired choicethe highest point in the compound: just like the cathedral at Mutwal, where the ‘Gal Palliya’ had dominated and still dominates the scene. Prayers were said and the stone was laid. It may be seen on the left of the main gates of the College on the face of the eastern wall of the Chapel. It bears the inscription:
To meet the expenses of completing the building, a fund was started by Warden McPherson and the Rev’d R.S. De Saram to which the schoolboys contributed 25 cents each, some weekly and others monthly. With more donations from Old Boys and well-wishers, Rs. 25,000 was raised. Before Bishop Copleston departed from the island, he presented a generous cheque to the Warden with his characteristic lack of ostentation. The school will never know the amount of his gift.
1926 saw Rev’d Withers resigning from his position in the school as acting Warden and the Rev’d R.S. De Saram, succeeding him as Sub Warden, filling the gap till the arrival of the new Warden the Rev’d Kenneth McPherson.
Work on the building slowed down when there was a change of contractors, but within a year of Rev’d Withers’ departure the work was accomplished; for this the College is indebted in no small measure to the eects of Rev’d Withers and to the generosity of Old Boys.
Thus on the 12th February 1927 the Chapel was consecrated by the Rt. Rev’d Mark Carpentier Garnier, Bishop of Colombo, at a colourful and imposing ceremony. The Bishop, vested in full ecclesiastical canonicals with cope and mitre, arrived, accompanied by his several chaplains, and was received by the Warden at the West door. The Warden then read out the petition of Consecration. After the Bishop had passed round the Chapel three times and blessed the outer walls then the doors were opened from within by the Guardian Deacon for the Bishop, clergy and congregation to enter.
The people took their seats, while the master of ceremonies strewed the floor in front of the Bishop with sand in the form of a St. Andrew’s cross. Then after a hymn and the Benedictus were sung, while the canticle was being chanted, the Bishop with his staff inscribed the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet on one arm of the cross and the rst and the last letters of the Latin alphabet on the other. The Bishop then blest the altar, and making a circuit of the walls of the Chapel, blessed and signed each of the consecrated crosses cut in them. After the prayers and the responses the Bishop signed the front of the altar. Two short prayers followed and his Lordship, sitting on his chair, then blessed and dedicated such ornaments and vessels of the Chapel and of the ministers as were placed before him. The ceremony ended with prayers of thanksgiving, the reading of the Sentence of Consecration and a hymn.
The Chapel was dedicated to the event of Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why this was so remains a mystery. But, the name is apt for a school chapel where young lives are meant to be transformed into the image of Christ.
The second part of the consecration service followed on Monday 15th February 1827 with a Pontifical High Mass, at which the main celebrant was the Bishop.
Design and Architecture
The exterior of the building is of Byzantine architecture, with its elaborately carved heads of the four massive outer pillars. The letters A.M.D.G. (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – which when translated means ‘For the greater glory of God’) and year of the dedication are carved on the wall over the West door. The Byzantine style was chosen as it best served the needs of the College; and although it had no connection with any local style, it was of eastern origin and did not seem to be inappropriate for its use in Sri Lanka.
The interior of the Chapel consists of a high and wide nave between the western entrance and gallery and the high alter in the eastern apse. The great roof beams, carved in a simple motif, are supported on pillars, and one of the few decorative features of the Chapel is the variety of the designs moulded on the capitals of the lower pillars. They are all different from each other, with one exception; and a keen eye is needed to spot the identical pair. In later years, when Warden De Saram had the Chapel white washed, he had the various designs effectively displayed by picking out the patterns in white against the blue background.
The High Altar, which has five crosses marked upon it, is of fine Italian marble, grained with blue and coral pink. A brass plate set into the left wall of the sanctuary has the following inscription indicating that the altar was a gift in memory of Richard Jacob de Mel given by, Mrs. C.E.A. Dias, his sister.
It was made in Italy and shipped to Sri Lanka. However, it was slightly disfigured by the stains incurred when it was left neglected on the building site during the erection of the Chapel. It was provided with a crucifix and six candle stands of carved brass, which were also of Italian design.
Rev’d Rebecca Mathew introduced the 2009 experimental Liturgy for Sri Lanka during her chaplaincy. Eventually, on Church of Ceylon Sunday 2013, Rev’d Marc Billimoria introduced the fully authorised Liturgy of Sri Lanka (2013) as well as the wooden Nave Altar that was dedicated by the Lord Bishop of Colombo for use in the Chapel every Sunday in keeping with the modern liturgical reforms in the worldwide Church. The High Altar is still used on the first Sundays and at liturgical events such as the Feast of the Transfiguration and the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The Good Friday and Easter Liturgies together with the Choral Offices on special occasions are also special acts of worship in the Chapel.
Rev’d Rebecca Mathew
First Woman Chaplain
The Baptismal Font
Rev’d Withers secured the delicately sculptured font when he went on furlough to England in the latter part of1924. In a letter he says: “I have written (to the Wardens And Treasurers of Pershore Abbey in England) and the Vicar and trustees are sending the old Font which has stood in the old Abbey Church since the Reformation. The circumstances under which they are able to make the gift are peculiar. Quite recently a much older Pre-Reformation font, dating back to, Norman times was discovered by a garden hand and restored to its ancient use. Pershore Abbey is a spot very precious to me and on a visit to the Church last year I asked the authorities whether they would present the Font to us for our College Chapel.” It was in due course shipped out and reached here more or less intact. The cost of its transport was borne by Mr. E.O. Pereira as a gift in memory of his father Mr. F.H. Pereira – both of whom served on the staff for more than 30 years. The brass plaque installed under it on the wall reads thus:
About same time, the Chapel bell, which upon investigation bears the words J.S. Doyle 1890 – (probably the maker) was secured for a nominal sum from St. Colomban’s College, Dublin, Eire, through the efforts of W.T. Keble of the staff of S. Thomas’ from the Headmaster, Mr. Sobey, who was a friend of his. The only stipulation made for the acceptance of the low payment was that the bell should not be rung for any Roman Catholic service. When it was installed and rung the sound made in the Chapel was so deafening that a wooden platform was constructed just below it to muffe the peal and give relief.
Throughout the years, the more daring schoolboy has defied the authorities at one time or another to climb to the platform in the belfry, that is reached by way of the spiral staircase to the organ loft and from there by a very narrow bamboo ladder with a few and precious rungs. Their names and those of the workmen who had been up there could be seen carved on the walls of the tiny cell that houses the bell. A peep through the wooden lattice of the cell window provides a most spectacular view of the campus.
The Choir, its Music and Choral Traditions
The Thomian choir is one of the oldest institutions of the College. The choir rst sang on St. Mathew’s Day, on September 21st 1854 at the dedication of the Christ Church Cathedral, which served as the Chapel of S. Thomas’ College Mutwal. Since then the choir has earned itself a venerable place in the history of the College. The choir stalls which are now in use were given in memory of Archer Dias and Eardley Dias in 1951, by their mother. The story is told that when the stalls were given in the making, Rev’d Roy Yin, the Chaplain at that time, who apart from the fact that he was an inspiring choir master, mathematician par excellence and the half-brother of Leslie Charteris of “The Saint”, did not agree with the carpenters as to the size of the stalls. On the completion of two of them, the Chaplain knelt at one of them and found that he was mistaken. The other two were made according to the specications of the carpenters. This is why, they say, the choir stalls are of two sizes.
The Chapel has developed a reputation for high standards of Choral and Liturgical excellence with a renowned choir contributing in no small measure to this reputation. The Chapel choir is afiliated to the Royal School of Church Music in London. The Chapel has always been ‘High’ in its pattern of worship and it is this heritage of Anglo-Catholicism and the emphasis on Traditional Anglicanism, which continues to nurture the young Thomians of today. The contributions of men like Rev’d Gilbert, Prof. R.B.W. Jayasekera, Rev’d Foster, Budd Jansze, Rev’d Roy Yin, Rev’d L.G.B. Fernando and Mr. Russel Bartholomeusz have been in building up the choir to what it is today. Currently the choir is trained by its able director of music and organist, Mr Vinodh Senadeera.
A most important event in the College as well the Chapel calendar is the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, which was introduced by Rev’d Canon R.H.B. Yin. The first carol service was held on the 7thof December 1947. Even up to the present this service, which is styled on the basis of that of King’s College Cambridge England is held on the First Sunday in December every year. It is truly a service of praise and thanksgiving for the Thomian voices to God and for sending his only begotten Son Jesus to save the world.
In the year 2012, a choir fund was begun in memory of Rev’d Roy Yin to whom the school community and the choir owe much. All proceeds are utilized to provide the choir better facilities and opportunities. As a result, the choir was invited to sing in Dubai and Sharjah during the Holy Week in 2014. In the same year, the choir of Jesus College Cambridge joined the school choir in the Chapel for a service of Advent lessons and carols.
Rev’d Roy Yin
Above the West end of the Chapel is the gallery, which houses the organ. It is reached by a spiral staircase and is without windows, originally to protect the organ from the deleterious effects of the monsoons, but which makes the loft very uncomfortable. On the 20th of February 1938 the Hammond organ, gifted by Sir Stewart Schneider, was used for the first time. On 24th of March Bishop Carpenter-Garnier dedicated the organ in his farewell service. The Allen Digital Computer System organ was dedicated for the use of the Chapel on the 21st of February 1986. Mr. K. C. ‘Marko’ Markalanda played a significant role in raising funds for the Allen organ. Presently, both these organs are preserved in the College museum. On the 13th of February 2014, at a special choral evensong, the new Johannus Ecclesia D570 was installed in the Chapel to enrich its worship. The old Johannus Sweelinck 30 installed in 2000 is currently played by students of the school who would like to develop their skills as Church organists. In the purchase, installation and maintenance of the two Johannus organs, the expert advice of Mr. Neranjan de Silva has been of immense value to the school. Mr. Eddie Appathurai has also been a staunch benefactor of the choir and the chapel at all times. At the occasion of the installation of the new Johannus Ecclesia D570, a new Hymn Book which was compiled especially for the use of the Chapel and school community was donated by an Old Boy of the school and was dedicated for the Glory of God.
The choir is solely for the worship in the College Chapel and therefore refrains from performances. Moreover, it is recorded solely on permission of the Warden of the school. The choir has recorded and released a collection of choral music ranging from Advent to Lent to mark its 70th Festal Service of Nine Lessons and Carols and the 90th anniversary of the Chapel of the Transfiguration in 2017.
|The Hammond Organ||The Allen Digital Computer System||Johannus Sweelinck 30||Johannus Ecclesia D570|
In 1968, David Paynter, one of the most renowned artists of Sri Lanka, completed his massive masterpiece upon the interior of the East wall behind the altar. It was blessed on the 5th of October that year by Bishop Harold de Soysa at the service of Conrmation. This famous mural completely transformed the inner face of the Chapel. It gave a new dimension to the name of the Chapel – The Transfiguration. The old familiar striped dull blue and gold drape that served as the backdrop to the altar and the upper dome in the midnight blue picked out with clusters of silver stars (Thomians of those days will remember how they seemed to see one particular star shine from whatever point in the Chapel they looked) gave place to the mural which with its riot of colour now adorns it.
The painting with its unusual beardless Christ has caught the imagination of numerous admirers. Comments, criticisms, and opinions in the central aspect of the painting, the face of Christ, will remain as long as the mural exists. The singular appropriateness of the youthfulness of the gures in contrast with the old has not failed to attract the attention of those who have seen it. But this has made it unique.
David Paynter used as his models the workmen and choristers, who used to be practising while he painted. It is said that the features of Rev’d Roy Henry Bower Yin are reflected in the face of Christ. Another outstanding feature of the mural is that from wherever you look at it, the eyes of Christ seem to follow you. The flowers and plants of the painting are tropical and the hillock upon which the Transfigured Christ stands is of an unusual shape. A similar hill could be seen from the Trinity College Chapel in Kandy where David Paynter had earlier spent months painting the famous mural that now adorns its walls. Many still maintain that there is a strong possibility that it was this hillock that was reproduced in the Mural of the Transfiguration.
When the painting began, there was a proposal to extend the central motif suitably to the narrow panels on the walls that flank the sides. Accordingly the two niches in them, which held flower arrangements, were sealed and prepared. The huge brass perpetual lamp that used to hang in the middle of the sanctuary was transferred to the Chapel of the Sacrament. However, David Paynter died before the sides could be completed and his sister has expressed a wish that the original plan should be abandoned and that the side panels should be left bare, as any attempt to complete them would, by a contrast in style, mar the main mural. Since then, two smaller brass lamps were hung opposite the sidewalls. They are a symbolic reminder of an unfinished masterpiece that none other should attempt to complete.
It is a fact that through the years many a traveller from all over the globe who has visited the resort town that Mount Lavinia is today has said on their visits to the College Chapel that its mural is one of unusual beauty seen nowhere in the world.
Furniture, Paintings and Other Gifts
One of the first contributions was the sum of Rs. 6 each made by every boy who worshipped in the Chapel at the time of its dedication towards the cost of the chairs and other furniture.
A very old wooden statue of St. Andrew, was given by a church in the Channel Islands, stands today on a pedestal to the north of the west door. What connection this Chapel has with St. Andrew is unknown.
Another gift was a set of paintings of the Stations of the Cross, which adorn the walls of the Chapel. They were painted by Miss Dunn and were gifted in 1935.
The Lady Chapel in the southern wing was built in memory of the Rev’d E.F.Miller (Warden 1878-1891) from the subscriptions of the Old Boys. There was a proposal to call it the Chapel of the Holy Ghost but this did not find acceptance. In the choristers’ vestry could be seen a carved wooden casket, that served as the Tabernacle, in which the Reserved Sacrament was kept in the Pre-Independence era. The original door was in blue. During the World War II, when the College was taken over for a military hospital, the Roman Catholic Church used this chapel for their services.
In the Sacrament Chapel in the northern wing is installed a silver Tabernacle, overlaying a casket of teak. It was given by Dr. and Mrs. Godlieb in memory of their son, Wilhelm Godlieb who died a tragic death while still in College. At the bottom of the same side is a smaller inscription: M.C.L. delinit – which tells us that the design was by Lt. Cmdr. Michael C. Lethbridge, R.N, who during the period of his service in Ceylon had been a regular worshipper in the Chapel.
The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament
The library cupboard was given in cherished remembrance of George Fredrick Dugald Abeysekera by his mother. He had been a student here from 1933 to1944 and was lost in action while serving the Royal Air Force on 22nd May 1944. A niche in the wall where the holy oil is kept looks almost a secret safe, and its wooden panel almost disguises its identity as a wall door. The framed picture of the Transfiguration that adorns the wall of the chapel near the font was a gift of Lady Schneider. The original wooden cross on top of the belfry, which had braved the weather for many years, at last decayed and collapsed in 1962. The present cross with its distinctive design was erected by Artisans Ltd. and part of its cost was borne by Mrs. Arndt and Mr. L.A.H. Arndt (jnr), who was on the staff at that time; his father and uncles have been closely connected to S. Thomas; for nearly a hundred years and have earned a place in the annals of the school for service and scholarship. The Neon cross was installed in 1964 in memory of their father, Mr. Philip de S. Seneviratne, by Mr. Roland A. Tennekoon and Mrs. Doreen and Mrs. Lilian de S.Seneviratne. In the same year Mr. Neville de Alwis presented a set of cruets for use in the side chapel in memory of his father Mr. Wilfred de Alwis. In 1965 Mr. K. Bartholomeusz had a new set of altar rails installed just before he left Sri Lanka to Australia.
The imposing structure of the Warden’s stall at the rear end of the Chapel, the wooden ceiling with its cut work rafters, the dual pulpit and the lectern, the tracery of the altar railings that enclose the sanctuary, and the flags of the College and the Nation that flank the main altar are noteworthy features of the Chapel. These flags are carried to the entrance of the Chapel during the End of Term Service and back to the sanctuary during the Beginning of Term Service by the Head Prefect (if a Christian) and another senior Prefect.
When the Chapel celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1977, a tablet to the memory of Rev’d R.M. Withers was installed and the Withers Memorial scholarship was launched to nance the education of deserving students of neighbouring schools. A service was held which echoed the dedication service of 1927. Photographs of the Dedication of 1927 and of the Chapel and its environments in those early years are now on display in a glass-fronted case, to be seen at the entrance of the Chapel.
The modern painting of the tormented Christ, which hangs above the altar of the Chapel of the Sanctuary, is a contribution of a student by the name of D. L. S. Atapattu (14 years of age) done in 1979. There are of course a great many others whose gifts to the Chapel are not recorded here- some because they wished to remain anonymous and others because the writers have been unable to find mention of them in the records available.
The Chapel Renovation
In the eightieth year, it became clear that extensive renovation was required. The cost, however, at Rs 25 million was a formidable sum. The roof, which had sprung leaks in many places, was most in need of renovation. For fear of the rain damaging the priceless mural, the authorities initiated a plan to repair the roof and renovate the Chapel as a whole. The materials necessary to preserve the Chapel’s traditional image and fortify its decaying structure were particularly expensive. Thus, with the initiation of the Chaplain Rev’d Canon Lloyd Weerasooriya and with the invitation of the Warden Dr David Ponniah, on 17th June 2007, the Chapel Renovation Fund was launched after a service of thanksgiving in the Chapel. At the event, bonds were issued and the website for the Chapel Renovation Fund was also launched. Present and past Thomians, benefactors and well-wishers of the College community came in multitudes to support the preservation of the College treasure, and a number of fund raising events were organized. In addition to the fund raising events, the school boys were also requested to lend a hand with each buying a bond worth Rs 1,000. Contributions for the renovation fund were made by Christian and non-Christian Old Thomians alike; showcasing the true spirit of the school and the impact of the Chapel on all students. As a result of this zealous Thomian community the renovation was completed and the Chapel was rededicated to the glory of God on 28th November 2008 at a service of Conrmation and First Holy Communion, presided by the Bishop of Colombo.
In 2011 a restoration of the mural was done by Mr Udaya Hewawasam of the University of Peradeniya. Furthermore, upon the advice of Mr Ashley de Vos, a sealant was applied on the exterior of the apse to protect the mural from seepage.
The spirit of the Chapel pervades every nook and cranny of S. Thomas’ and no one who has passed through the hallowed precincts of the College can fail to experience the alchemy that is wrought in them by the influence of our Chapel of the Transfigured Christ, be he Christian or not.
At present it stands, marking the heroic labours of those who have loved it, and served it and passed on, and as an edifice in stone that withers not though its architects have withered away for it to be a monument of inspiration for the future.
By Bishop Duleep de Chickera – former Assistant Chaplain, Chaplain and
Sub Warden of the College and retired 14th Bishop of Colombo
One of the most life like and captivating murals ever painted, is that of the transguration, depicted in the Chapel of the Transfiguration at S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, Sri Lanka. This painting of Christ in communion with Elijah and Moses brings deep insight to those who meditate on it.
This meditation is on leadership. It begins on the mountaintop and travels to the reality of the plain.
The three imposing figures of Christ, Moses and Elijah are central. We focus on them.
Moses stands with confidence. He appears planted in, and part of the rock. He holds the “Law” (two stone tablets) tucked into his side, as if part of himself. He is sure of what he is, what he knows, what he does, and what he wants. He is established.
Moses is fully clothed and behind him is the city, built, impressive and spreading. One can imagine the life in the city; orderly, organized, defined; a niche for everyone; checks and balances to safeguard rights and property, accountability, constitutions, hierarchy and so on. In short the city depicts contemporary powerful, bureaucratic, ecient and expansionist values. It is the epitome of all that is desired: the status quo.
Moses represents a leadership that easily accepts, and resolutely defends establishment. For him order matters most. He is the lawgiver.
Elijah, on the other hand appears uncertain, he sways. It’s almost as if he At present it stands, marking the heroic labours of those who have loved it, and served it and passed on, and as an edifice in stone that withers not though its architects have withered away for it to be a monument of inspiration for the future. is about to lose his balance. He could be uprooted and tumble down at any moment. He holds a staff, useful for traveling long journeys. Elijah is unable to stay rooted, he is on the verge of moving. He must, for he is an adventurer.
Unlike Moses, he is not fully clothed. His chest is bare, except for the fold of this garment. Behind him is the wilderness. This is the unknown, that which needs to be explored, the terrain for those who follow their curiosity, who dare to question and travel, trading risk for the anticipation of surprise and discovery. Here life is rugged, open to the elements, uncertain and dangerous. Little is defined and very few safeguards prevail. The wilderness depicts age-old universal values that explore investigate and challenge. Together these refuse to accept the status quo, for the only thing that must be preserved is movement. This is life, restlessness in a never-ending search.
Elijah represents a leadership that upholds movement. For him truth matters most. He is the prophet.
The garments, of the figures, caught by the wind, indicate the direction in which it is blowing. It blows from behind Elijah, from the wilderness to the city. And this is no ordinary wind. It is the mighty desert wind, Ruah (Heb). Ruah also refers to the Spirit of God. The Spirit is behind Elijah. Is it pushing him towards Moses and the city? Does the push suggest contact for communication or contact to challenge or contact to counter? In the mural at least, the wind, the spirit moves on … it never stops.
We turn to the Christ. He demands the last word. But here He speaks with His hands. They are in a most unnatural gesture. The two palms face different directions, suggesting deliberate positioning. Both hands have moved away from His body, the left towards Moses, and the right towards Elijah. The palm of the left hand cannot be seen. It is turned inwards in a sign of cautioning Moses. It seems to be saying … go-slow, pause, stay, stop. The palm of the right hand is turned the other way. It is opened but not fully, in a gesture of oering encouragement. It seems to be saying … proceed but carefully. It says it caringly, implying that the direction is not easy. It also seems to be saying it with dignity … there is One of the first contributions was the sum of Rs. 6 each made by every boy who worshipped in the Chapel at the time of its dedication towards the cost of the chairs and other furniture. A very old wooden statue of St. Andrew, was given by a church in the Channel Islands, stands today on a pedestal to the north of the west door. What connection this Chapel has with St. Andrew is unknown. Another gift was a set of paintings of the Stations of the Cross, which adorn the walls of the Chapel. They were painted by Miss Dunn and were gifted in 1935. The Lady Chapel in the southern wing was built in memory of the Rev’d E.F.Miller (Warden 1878-1891) from the subscriptions of the Old Boys. There was a proposal to call it the Chapel of the Holy Ghost but this did not nd acceptance. In the choristers’ vestry could be seen a carved wooden casket, that served as the Tabernacle, in which the Reserved Sacrament was kept in the Pre-Independence era. The original door was in blue. During the World War II, when the College was taken over for a military hospital, the Roman Catholic Church used this chapel for their services. In the Sacrament Chapel in the northern wing is installed a silver Tabernacle, overlaying a casket of teak. It was given by Dr. and Mrs. Godlieb in memory of their son, Wilhelm Godlieb who died a tragic death respect for those who travel the path of Elijah.
This mural, since the mid 1960’s influenced generations of Thomian schoolboys in particular. It has correspondingly produced two types. In some, the path they would travel was discernable during their school days. For all that could be said in favour of those who pursued the Moses tradition, it is ones who walk with the prophet that make the difference in communities like St. Thomas. For any community that fosters exploration and adventure is engaged in wholesome education.
The Mural speaks to others as well. The choice of leadership in all other spheres also fundamentally between establishment and movement.
Those who opt for establishment are inevitably compelled to strengthen existing structures, expand existing boundaries, entrench ritual, tradition and law, and legitimise sacrosanct cliques, parties and communities. From here on no matter what the rhetoric may imply, consultation, commissions, decisions and promises effectually become means of manipulation and control. When this happens truth suffers and life becomes a charade; and vision and values, people’s needs and aspirations, all become subject to the consolidation of power. And then … history is repeated as the people are oppressed.
The choice for movement reverses this order. It begins, as all prophets do, by challenging people’s values that create and perpetuate oppressive establishment. Leadership for movement believes that the decline of oppressive establishment corresponds with the growth of universal salvific human values.
In this task truth and freedom are the dynamic that empowers. People must be set free with the truth and for the truth. This way the converted become the conveyors and momentum is assured. In this process, hypocrisy (righteous claims and unrighteous doings) is condemned more than ignorance and error. And since all are hypocrites, self-criticism becomes intrinsic.
Caught up in structured society this kind of leadership acknowledges the need for organisation in which community and change are twin pillars.
Community ideally comprises people in equal participatory relationships, and change ideally requires the continuous pitching of differently designed tents. Since these ideals are never achieved even satisfactorily, leadership for movement engages in discourse. For that which is, can always be improved upon, but no improvement is possible till that which is, discussed continuously with integrity.
From the chancel the viewer of the mural sees Moses on the right hand side of Christ. From Christ’s position however Elijah is on His right hand side. The biblical metaphor of the ‘right hand side’ conveys harmony with the divine intention and authority to accomplish this intention.
The disciples in the mural stand with the viewer in the chancel and opt to build tents …… the foretaste of the city. For them too Moses is on the right side and establishment is right.
The request of the disciple was refuted by the Christ. David Paynter the imaginative creator of the mural does likewise. Together they suggest that movement rather than establishment is right, it provokes transfiguration.
Choirmasters and Organists of the Chapel of the Transfiguration
Prof. R.B.W. Jayasekera
The Rev’d T. W. Gilbert
The Rev’d A. J. Foster
N. E. M. Budd Jansze
The Rev’d Roy Yin
The Rev’d L.G.B. Fernando
L. A. Nethsingha
Compiled with excerpts taken from Shavindra Fernando