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Diocese of Kandy

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Formerly part of the Vicariate of Southern Colombo, Ceylon, India, from which it was cut off as a vicariate Apostolic on 16 April, 1883, and erected into a diocese on 1 September, 1886. Its only vicar and first bishop is Dom Clement Pagnani, a Sylvestrine Benedictine, b. at Fabriano, near Ancona, Italy, 24 June, 1834; consecrated 25 December, 1879, at which time he was appointed to the Vicariate of Southern Colombo.

The Vicariate of Southern Colombo had been in the hands of the Sylvestrine Benedictines since 1855, but the needs of the country demanding a greater supply of missionaries than the Sylvestrines could meet, the Vicariate of Kandy was entrusted to them in 1883, and Leo XIII made other arrangements for Colombo. Actually the Diocsese of Kandy is suffragan of the Archdiocese of Colombo. It comprises the provinces of Central Ceylon and Uwa, where tea and rubber are the main industries. Owing to the hilly nature of the country, the climate of the diocese is more temperate than throughout the rest of the island.

From the palm-groves and sweltering heats of Colombo the railway line threads its way a distance of seventy-five miles through tea-plantations, wild bush, and forest, across mountain streams and under crags of limestone overhanging in great boulders, with Adam's Peak looming conspicuous in the distance, until at an elevation of 1734 feet above the sea it reaches the town of Kandy (in Cingalee, Maha-unwara the Great City), former capital of the island, now the residence of the British governor-agent. It stands on the shore of an artificial lake in an amphitheatre of beautifully wooded hills. Its population in 1901 was 26,522.

Kandy is first mentioned in the fourteenth century, when the Dalada Milagawa, or Temple of the Tooth, was built to contain that famous relic of Buddha brought to Ceylon for safety about 311. In 1592 the town became the capital of Ceylon, and the king's palace was built about the year 1600. Kandy was the last stronghold of the old dynasty, and kings continued to rule there up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the last king, Vikrama Raja Sinha, was taken prisoner by the British (1815) and sent to Vellore. The Temple of the Tooth still remains, and is the scene of annual festivities (Perahara) in honour of this precious relic of the Buddha. The sacred tooth itself, however, was taken by the Portuguese to Goa in 1560, and publicly burned there in presence of the viceroy. The Buddhists claim otherwise, and show in proof of their claim a piece of ivory about two inches long by one inch in diameter, which is said to resemble the tooth of a crocodile rather than of a man. It reposes in the temple on a lotus flower of pure gold under seven concentric bell-shaped metal shrines. In the vicinity of Kandy is an immense cemetery where were deposited the bodies of the mighty kings and heroes of Ceylon, and about four miles away are the botanical gardens of Peradenia, covering one hundred and fifty acres with most luxuriant exotic vegetation. Indeed the vegetation all around Kandy is luxuriant, and when the white flower of the cinnamon tree is in blossom the effect is very wonderful. Other trees that furnish the landscape are the ebony, satinwood and halmilla. The woods here also have a curiosity in the nature of a fruit, the caskew, which produces its nut outside of the skin, and form the fruit itself, which is not very palatable, a strong intoxicant is distilled. Serpents are numerous, especially the cobra and the carawilla. Kandy has a municipal council partly elected by the ratepayers and partly by the governor-agent. A figure of extreme interest among the inhabitants for many years now has been Arabi Pasha, the Egyptian patriot, imprisoned or exiled there since the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir in 1882.

Besides being the seat of the diocese and the residence of the governor-agent, Kandy is also the residence of the Apostolic delegate to the East Indies, Monsignor Zaleski, Archbishop of Thebes. The town has a seminary known as the Leonianum for native students of India and Ceylon. It is under the care of the Jesuits and numbers eighty-eight students; the course of studies includes philosophy and theology.

The population of the Diocese of Kandy, which is made up of various races including Cingalese and Tamils, amounts to 809,506, of whom 27,938 are Catholics; 11,871 are Protestants; 403,909 are Buddhists; 321,350 Hindus; 43,867 Mohammedans; and the remainder unaccounted for. The languages spoken include Cingalee, Tamil, and English. The towns that have churches with resident priests, besides the episcopal city, are Ampitiya, Panvile, Matale, Vahacotte, Gampola, Mavalapitiya, Hatton, Dirubula, Nuvara-Eliya, Badulla, and Bandarawella.

Matale, a hundred miles from Ceylon, is the northernmost limit of European civilization. It is a large village and is the centre of a flourishing tea and cocoa plantation; it is famous for its native bazaar, and for a splendid avenue of rain-trees, so called from the circumstance that at night the leaves fold into a kind of sack in which the moisture condenses and at sunrise when the leaves open this is discharged in quite a shower all around. Among the natives many Christians are to be found with Portuguese names, descendants of converts made on the island 400 years ago.

Hatton (414 feet above the sea-level) is a resting place for tourists or pilgrims on their way up Sumana, or Adam's Peak (7400 feet), where Buddha is said to have left the imprint of his foot. Hatton is also the centre of a great tea-growing district. Nuvara-Eliya (6210 feet above the sea) is famous for its cool climate, and has been chosen as the summer residence of the governor-agent. In the neighbourhood is Pidauru Talagala (8300 feet), the highest peak in Ceylon. Badulla is an attractive old town. Dambulla, near Hatton, is famous for its rock temples and natural caves, to which access is obtained along a steep stairway cut about 500 feet up the face of a rock.

Besides the churches with resident priests, there are fifteen chapels-of-ease and thirty-two stations in the diocese. The mission work is done by three secular priests, one native priest, twenty-one regulars, and twelve catechists. There are in the diocese six elementary schools for boys with 668 pupils; nine for girls with 921 pupils; one college for boys with fifty-five pupils; two girls with 163 pupils. There are, moreover, four orphanages containing 126 children. The girls are looked after by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd of whom there are seventeen, and by native sisters of whom there are ten. The regular clergy consists of twenty-five Sylvestrine Benedictines and eleven Jesuits. By an ordinance of 1906 the bishop is constituted a corporation sole, with power to acquire and hold property, and to sue and be sued in courts of justice in relation thereto. The management of the schools is in the hands of the missionaries, but the Government sends its inspector every year to hold an examination, on the results of which a grant is made for the upkeep of the school. The Church Missionary Society and the Wesleyan Methodist Mission Society are very active in and around Kandy.


TENNENT, Ceylon (London, 1860); BURROWS, Buried Cities of Ceylon (London, 1899); CAVE, Ruined Cities of Ceylon (London, 1900); MURRAY, Handbook of India (London, 1907); CRANE, India Impressions (New York, 1907); BALLOU, Pearl of India (Boston, 1894); PIOLET, Les Missions (Paris, 1902); Missiones Catholic (Rome, 1907).

About this page

APA citation. Grey, J. (1910). Diocese of Kandy. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Grey, James. "Diocese of Kandy." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Czeglédi Erzsébet.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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