Small church that is a huge pilgrimage destination
Why St. Anthony's Shrine so popular? The origin of the Church goes back to the days when local Catholics were persecuted by the Protestant Dutch East Indian company. There was a man called Antonio who worked as a labourer in Pettah during the day, and at night held secret Catholic services for a small community. One day when he heard the Dutch soldiers were coming to arrest him, he fled towards Kotahena. The local fisherman recognised him and helped him hide. The priest then performed a miracle: surrounded by the fishermen and the soldiers who had by then arrived, he prayed and the sea receded. The Dutch soldiers reported the incident to the Governor who instantly gave the priest the piece of land where the miracle had happened. That’s where Antonio built a little mud hut. That was more than 200 years ago. Now it is a proper church, but the altar still stands on the very spot where the miracle took place.
Where prayers come true
The church building may not be that spectacular, but the energy inside is! There are very few places on this planet where people from all faiths pray together and this is one of them. The highlight is the sacred statue of St. Anthony - which was brought all the way from Goa in India - and is surrounded by traditional motifs designed in brass and on either side are circular plaques representing the Sun and the Moon. This is where you will see Buddhists, Hindu’s, Muslims and Christians kneeling down to say a little prayer for someone sick or needy.
Tip: come on Tuesdays
On Tuesdays, the day dedicated to St. Anthony it gets really busy here. There are queues of devotees offering their puja (offerings or prayers) to the statues. Mothers often bring pubescent daughters here to pray for protection from evil spirits that ‘might take advantage of the girls’ nascent sexuality.