history/Dutch Reformed Church (1642–2010)
The history of the Dutch Reformed Church (currently Christian Reformed Church) spans 360 of the 400 years of Dutch-Sri Lankan relations. It was in Galle on the 6th of October 1642 that the first Protestant ministrations began after Willem Jacobsz Coster had captured the fort in 1640. Organised Protestantism may be said to have been introduced in 1658 after the Dutch land and sea forces had defeated the main stronghold of the Portuguese on the island, the fort of Colombo, and became the sole masters of the Maritime Provinces of Ceylon.
The Establishment of the Reformed Faith in Ceylon
When the Dutch wrested the Maritime Provinces from the Portuguese, they found three religions already firmly established on the island. Buddhism, Hinduism and Catholicism. Buddhism had been there for nearly 2000 years. Hinduism was introduced by the Dravidian invasion of the 13th century and mainly established in the North of the country. The Portuguese had introduced the Roman Catholic religion during their 150 years of rule and endeavoured to graft it in. It was therefore difficult for the Dutch to introduce their Calvinistic branch of Protestantism. Moreover, the Dutch were never a proselytising nation, despite their 80-year war of liberation against Roman Catholic Spain, in which religion was one of the major issues.
The VOC (Dutch East India Company) which was responsible for the administration of the Dutch possessions in Asia, was primarily a trading enterprise. The spread of the Reformed religion was considered to be one
of the main duties of the company but should not conflict with overall trade objectives. In general, other religions were tolerated. However, the bitter recollection of the 80-years war, the bloody extermination of Dutch Protestants by the Duke of Alva, made the Dutch still consider the Roman Catholic clergy to be mortal enemies. Catholics in Ceylon were also viewed as a security threat, since the Portuguese might try to recapture the island. Therefore, all Roman Catholic churches, monasteries, schools and alms houses were appropriated by the Dutch administration and transferred to the Dutch Reformed Church.
All priests found on the island were summarily transported to the Continent of Europe by Dutch ships. Later this policy was reversed and Roman Catholicism was reluctantly tolerated. Due to their superior organisation and zeal, Catholicism remained strong. During the 18th century there were more Roman Catholic priests than Dutch Reformed Predikants (Ordained Ministers) on the island.
Especially during the first period of the Dutch administration, religion was taken very serious. The Dutch Reformed Minister of Batavia, C.A.L. van Troostenburg de Bruyn, wrote: ‘In Ceylon, at Jaffnapatnam there was in the time of Philippus Baldaeus on June 1st, 1658, three services on Sundays and once during the week besides the usual visitations to the congregations in the outlying areas. In Colombo, around 1662, there were two services in Dutch on a Sunday and in the forenoon prayers were read in Tamil. In the afternoon, Scriptures were read in Portuguese – this happened every Tuesday in the afternoon. There were prayers every day in the evening at the residence of the Governor and twice a day at the Hospital and the Lord’s supper once in three months.’