St. Mary’s Cathedral, Jaffna

St. Mary's Cathedral in Jaffna

A mere 15 min walk from the Kacheriyady bus station will take you to the majestic, beige and white domes of the St. Mary’s Cathedral, known as Periya Kovil in Tamil, which rise into the sky. It is one of the oldest and largest Roman Catholic Cathedrals in the Country and is located in Gurunagar, a coastal village in Jaffna. St. Mary’s Cathedral is adorned with sincere faith, copious history and massive walls with dome-shaped windows, which give a peaceful facade to the church, which carries a history of sacrifice on its walls.

Local folklore says that Sankili I, also known as Segarasasekaram, the King of Jaffna, killed his son for converting into Catholicism in the very place the St. Mary’s Cathedral now stands. The story goes like this. The reigning King, Sankili I, was known for resisting Portuguese colonisation. However, his son befriended a Portuguese named Andre De Souza, who influenced him to adopt Catholicism. To get baptised, the young prince was planning a trip to Goa to officialise his conversion. This news enraged the King to a great extend resulting in him ordering the execution of his son in November 1544.

Late, stricken by his guilt, the King conducted a grand funeral for his son and buried the ashes. A tiny chapel was then built over this by Antonio Fernandez and was called ‘Emilda de Cruz’. This used to be served as a worshipping place for Jaffna’s Catholics. Some used to say a luminous cross used to appear in this chapel. This chapel was then slowly constructed into the St. Mary’s Cathedral, centuries later, in 1975.

The architecture of this church is simple, which resonates with Goanese design. The solid marble altar has been carved from one block with a large wooden crucifix and has domes that rise 115ft. The Cathedral has a total of 14 novenas. The first parish priest was Rev. Fr. Leonard Rebeiro, who came to Sri Lanka from Goa. For almost 225 years, the St. Mary’s Cathedral which can accommodate 3,000 worshippers has guided thousands of Catholics and has acted as a ray of hope for those in the Northern province. Today, the church is often visited by local & foreign tourists wanting to attend a mass or to witness the beautiful architecture of this Catholic Shrine. It is another must-visit attraction in Jaffna.

  • You can visit St. Mary’s Cathedral on our curated “City Tour” excursion. Read more about it here.
  • Find out more about all excursions offered by us here.