Home Jaffna Provincethe church in 1862

the church in 1862


According to data published in 1860 the Vicariate covered three of the six provinces into which the civil administration was divided at the time.

  • The Northern Province (5,400 sq.mls., population about 300,000) included the civil districts of Jaffna, Mannar, Wanni, Nuwara Kalaviya and Delft.
  • The Eastern Province comprised the civil districts of Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Tamankaduwa and a part of Bintenna. Its area was 4,700 sq.mls., population about 76,000.
  • The North Western Province, covering about 3,400 sq. mls. with a population of nearly 2000, comprised the ecclesial districts of Kalpitiya, Chilaw, Kammala and Kurunegala.

Of a total population of about 576,000 in the Vicariate only 57,874 were Catholics. Of the 25 priests 19 were Oblates. There were two Ceylonese priests. All priests were expected to learn Sinhala and Tamil.

Orazio Bettacchini, who arrived in 1842, was appointed three years later (1845) as coadjutor to Caetano Antonio and was the first to receive episcopal ordination in Sri Lanka itself, which was conferred on 8 February 1846 at St Lucia’s Church, Kotahena. The previous two bishops, both Indians (Vicente do Rosayro and Caetano Antonio) had had their episcopal ordination in India. Bettacchini was placed in charge especially of the northern part of the island. The division of the island into two vicariates was being contemplated at the time in Rome.


By a decree of 9 September 1847 Rome erected two vicariates apostolic in Sri Lanka, the northern vicariate of Jaffna and the southern vicariate of Colombo, the former dependent on the latter, and with Bettacchini as its Pro-Vicar. Two years later, by the apostolic brief of 13 August 1849, the northern vicariate became autonomous with Bettacchini as its Vicar apostolic.

The Italian Sylvestrine, Joseph Bravi, was nominated coadjutor to Caetano Antonio in Colombo. The northern vicariate comprised the Northern, North Central, Eastern and North Western civil divisions or provinces, while the remaining provinces (Western, Central, Uva, Sabaragamuwa and Southern) together formed the Southern Vicariate.

Thus from 1849 there were two vicariates in Sri Lanka, Jaffna and Colombo, both having Oratorian bishops, Caetano Antonio, an Indian, in Colombo. and Orazio Bettacchini, an Italian, in Jaffna. In 1856 the Oblate Semeria was appointed coadjutor to Bettacchini in Jaffna. When in the following year (1857) the Oratorian vicars apostolic of both Colombo and Jaffna died, their coadjutors succeeded them, so that Colombo had a Sylvestrine bishop (Joseph Bravi) and Jaffna an Oblate (Stephen Semeria).

This position of Sylvestrines being in charge of the Colombo Vicariate continued for the next quarter century, three Italian Sylvestrines being Vicar Apostolic one after the other: Joseph Bravi (1857-1860), Hilarion Silani (1863-1879) and Clement Pagnani (1879-1882). The Oblates had charge of Jaffna for the next 115 years (till 1972).


In 1868 the first Oblate Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna, Stephen Semeria, died and Christopher Bonjean was appointed to succeed him. He was followed by four other French Oblate bishops, Andrew Melizan (1883-1893), Henry Joulain (1893-1919), Jules Brault (1919-1923) and Alfred Guyomar (1924-1950), and then by a Sri Lankan Oblate, Emilianuspillai (1950-1972). After him came for the first time a bishop of the diocesan clergy, Bastiampillai-Deogupillai.

We have seen that in the vicariate of Colombo the first two bishops, who were Indian Oratorians, were followed successively by three Italian Sylvestrines. But the Sylvestrine order was not in a position to supply the vicariate of Colombo with the missionary personnel it needed. The Holy See therefore decided to entrust Colombo too to the Oblates and in 1883 transferred Bonjean from Jaffna to Colombo, after he had been Bishop of Jaffna for 15 years.

At the same time a new territorial unit, the Vicariate Apostolic of Kandy, comprising the Central and Uva Provinces, was created and Bishop Clement Pagnani transferred from Colombo to Kandy. Thus 36 years after the setting up of the first two vicariates, Colombo and Jaffna, a third was erected, but Colombo and Jaffna, both now looked after by the Oblates, remained the two major vicariates in the island, where most of the island’s Catholics lived.

In 1886, three years after Bonjean’s transfer to Colombo, came the decision of the Holy See to establish the hierarchy in India and Sri Lanka. At an Episcopal assembly in Colombo on 6 January 1887, the Apostolic Delegate, Antonio Agliardi, promulgated Rome’s decision. Colombo became an Archdiocese, and Christopher Bonjean the first Archbishop of Colombo.   Jaffna and Kandy became Colombo’s suffragan dioceses.

 History in outline by W.L.A. Don Peter

Growth of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka 


  • 1834.12.03: Established as Diocese of Ceylon (from Diocese of Cochin)
  • 1845.02.17: Renamed as Diocese of Colombo / Columben(sis) (Latin) (lost territory to establish Apostolic Vicariate of Jaffna)
  • 1883.04.20: Lost territory to establish Apostolic Vicariate of Kandy
  • 1886.09.01: Promoted as Metropolitan Archdiocese of Colombo / Columben(sis) (Latin)
  • 1893.08.25: Lost territory to establish Diocese of Galle and Diocese of Trincomalee
  • 1939.01.05: Lost territory to establish Diocese of Chilaw
  • 1944.12.06: Renamed as Metropolitan Archdiocese of Colombo in Ceylon / Columbensis in Ceylon (Latin)
  • 1972.05.22: Renamed as Metropolitan Archdiocese of Colombo / Columben(sis) in Taprobane (Latin)


  • 1845.02.17: Established as Apostolic Vicariate of Jaffn Iaffnen(sis) (Latin) (from Diocese of Ceylon)
  • 1886.09.01: Promoted as Diocese of Jaffna / Iaffnen(sis) (Latin)
  • 1893.08.25: Lost territory to establish Diocese of Trincomalee
  • 1975.12.19: Lost territory to establish Apostolic Prefecture of Anuradhapura
  • 1981.01.24: Lost territory to establish Diocese of Mannar


  • 1883.04.20: Established as Apostolic Vicariate of Kandy / Kandien(sis) (Latin) (from Diocese of Colombo)
  • 1886.09.01: Promoted as Diocese of Kandy / Kandien(sis) (Latin)
  • 1972.12.18: Lost territory to establish Diocese of Badulla


  • 1893.08.25: Established as Diocese of Galle / Gallen(sis) (Latin) (from Metropolitan Archdiocese of Colombo)
  • 1995.11.02: Lost territory to establish Diocese of Ratnapura


  • 1893.08.25: Established as Diocese of Trincomalee / Trincomalien(sis) (Latin) (from Metropolitan Archdiocese of Colombo and Diocese of Jaffna)
  • 1967.10.23: Renamed as Diocese of Trincomalee–Batticaloa / Trincomalien(sis)–Batticaloaën(sis) (Latin)
  • 1975.12.19: Lost territory to establish Apostolic Prefecture of Anuradhapura


  • 1939.01.05: Established as Diocese of Chilaw / Chilaven(sis) (Latin) (from Metropolitan Archdiocese of Colombo)
  • 1987.05.15: Lost territory to establish Diocese of Kurunegala


  • 1972.12.18: Established as Diocese of Badulla / Badullan(us) (Latin) (from Diocese of Kandy)


  • 1975.12.19: Established as Apostolic Prefecture of Anuradhapura / Anuradhapuren(sis) (Latin) (from Diocese of Jaffna and Diocese of Trincomalee–Batticaloa)
  • 1982.03.18: Promoted as Diocese of Anuradhapura / Anuradhapuren(sis) (Latin)


  • 1981.01.24: Established as Diocese of Mannar / Mannaren(sis) (Latin) (from Diocese of Jaffna)


1987.0.5.15: Established as Diocese of Kurunegala / Kurunegalaën(sis) (Latin) (from Diocese of Chilaw)


1995.11.02: Established as Diocese of Ratnapura / Ratnapuren(sis) (Latin) (from Diocese of Galle)


Map of the Vicariate in Sri Lanka in 1862