St Anthony’s Church

Church in Colombo

Image by Peter Stuckings Getty Images

One of the city’s most interesting shrines is St Anthony’s Church. Outside it looks like a typical Portuguese Catholic church, but inside the atmosphere is distinctly subcontinental. There are heaving queues of devotees offering puja (offerings or prayers) to a dozen ornate statues; a likeness of St Anthony said to be endowed with miraculous qualities is the centre of devotions from people of many faiths.

Mothers often bring pubescent daughters here to pray for protection from evil spirits that might take advantage of the girls’ nascent sexuality. The current church is built on the site of an 18th-century chapel that was a mud hut. Photography is frowned upon.