Like millions of Christians around the globe, those in Sri Lanka too remember with gratitude the supreme sacrifice made by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary every Good Friday. Even though Sri Lanka is a country where the majority of its citizens follow the Buddhist faith, the island’s years of colonial rule introduced Christianity to its people. It can even be said that some of the present day Christians here are direct descendants of the foreign nationals who occupied the country, which means that several customs and traditions related to Christian festivals are still adhered to.
Good Friday is one such significant day in the Christian calendar. It is marked by services in every Church across the island, many of them extending over a three hour duration to signify the length of time Christ suffered much agony on the cross. Held in English, Sinhala or Tamil these services are attended by everyone including the young and elderly, dressed in sober attire. Many Christians fast on Good Friday and those who do not fast partake of very simple meals in keeping with the somber significance of the day. Many choose to abstain from eating meat or give up a favourite variety of food during the lead up to Good Friday, which is the period of Lent.
That day in history
According to the Bible, Jesus Christ came to be born as a poor carpenter’s son and live a normal life just like every other person on this earth, in order to finally sacrifice His life on the cross as recompense for the sins of man. It is estimated that the crucifixion took place around the year 33AD on Mount Calvary along with two other criminals sentenced to die. It is also said that after his death on the cross, he rose again on the third day, signifying a new life free from guilt and punishment for one’s sins, and this forms the heart of the Christian faith.
Various accounts over the years have detailed Christ’s agony on the cross, forming the basis of many a movie and theatre production. The substance of each description however, remains the same in almost all reports. In Sri Lanka the different Christian denominations conduct Good Friday services according to diverse traditions, with some Churches veering away from the conventional three hour service to carry out more modern devotional programmes.
It is traditional for Christians, mainly Roman Catholics to observe the Way of the Cross or Stations of the Cross as part of the Good Friday service. This is a series of artistic representations such as paintings or sculptures depicting the various stages of Christ’s passion. Two of the most famous sites in Sri Lanka for the Stations of the Cross are located in Hiniduma, which is close to Galle in the south of the island, and Mawathagama in the Kurunegala district. Special shrines have been erected in both these locations depicting the Way of the Cross and it has become a tradition for pilgrims to visit them and attempt to experience the Lord’s sacrifice on that Good Friday many centuries ago.
‘Passion Plays’ too have become very much an integral element of Good Friday commemorations taking place across the island. Duwa Passion Play in Negombo is considered the oldest in the country. The events of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday (which marks the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples) and the climatic sequence of His crucifixion are all theatrically depicted on stage, with dialogues mostly in the native language, Sinhala. It is considered an honour and privilege to be selected to play a role in these dramatic productions which are performed free of charge in public places.
A place to see and appreciate
As a result of Sri Lanka’s colonial era, there are many beautiful Churches and places of worship that deserve a visit in order to absorb and appreciate the architectural and artistic talent that has been lovingly donated to each edifice. Sri Lanka tours by Tours Lanka offers you the chance to visit shrines of your choice and marvel at their beauty whilst appreciating the valuable lessons taught there.