History. – It was already known to the ancients with the name of Ταπρονάνη (Taprob ă ne). In the Middle Ages, the first to report it in the West was Marco Polo, in chapters cl and clv of the Million. Later Ibn Baṭṭüṭah and Ludovico da Varthema spoke of the island. We know of the history of the island during our Middle Ages that, first conquered by the Sinhalese dynasty, it was then lost, taken back, repossessed, again subdued by the various ruling dynasties along the Malabar coast.
According to proexchangerates, the Portuguese set foot there in 1305, under the leadership of the Almeida, and found that the island was divided between seven kings, the main of whom ruled in Kotta. The Portuguese negotiated with him and had the concession to open a warehouse, to which they gradually added lands and which in 1520 placed under the protection of a robust fortress, in Colombo (the Kolambu of the Arabs). From that point the Portuguese tried to push themselves inland with weapons and missions, of which he was the main guide in the fifth decade of the century. XVI St. Francis Xavier. The Portuguese domination, however, was short-lived, since at the beginning of the century. XVII also in Ceylon the Dutch tried to replace them, finding an ally in the king of Kandy, who had already waged a long war with the Portuguese. The struggle lasted almost half a century, as Columbus, which was the last fortress to fall, was lost in 1654: four years later it can be said that the domination of Portugal disappeared completely. But meanwhile the English Company was making rapid progress on the continent. She tried to befriend the ruler of Kandy and with his help settle on the island; he did not neglect even from time to time some surprise attacks on the Dutch factories. But he did not achieve any politically significant results until the outbreak of the French Revolution.
When the invasion of republican France in Holland had transformed it into the Batavian Republic, the English attacked all its colonies; and in Ceylon they succeeded, after a year of war (1795), in overthrowing the Dutch domination. At the peace of Amiens in 1802 Bonaparte sacrificed the Dutch colony of Ceylon, which was ceded to England: but this was forced to a long and bloody expedition against the kingdom of Kandy with very poor results. Only after the fall of Napoleon, following agreements with the indigenous people, could English rule be established on the island.
Religion. – According to the 1921 census, the population of Ceylon, as regards religion, is divided as follows: Buddhists, 2,770,391; Hindu, 982,733; Christians, 445,045; Muslims, 303,863; various, 2547; total 4,504,579.
It is therefore Buddhism that occupies the first place, and not only for the number of adherents, but also for antiquity. At the time when it was decaying throughout India, it was preserved here in full efficiency. Hinduism, or rather Sivaism, imported there from Malacca, and Islamism from Java spread and consolidated there during the first period of Dutch domination.
Christianity arrived in Ceylon with the Portuguese, who in 1518 were accompanied by some Franciscans who from the very beginning would have converted a few thousand pagans. Even the apostle of the Indies, St. Francis Xavier, worked there for some time. With the conversion and the assumption to the throne of the island of the Sinhalese prince Dharmapala (1542-1597), the new faith was able to strengthen itself in order to then resist the bursts of religious intolerance and true persecution, to which found exhibited during the Dutch occupation.
Christian Ceylon remained a dependency of the Church of Goa, or more precisely of Cochin, until 1836; then Gregory XVI made it into an apostolic vicariate and finally Leo XIII, with the constitution Humanae salutis Auctor of 1 September 1886, he established the regular hierarchy there, as in all the rest of India, elevating Colombo and his suffragans to the dignity of metropolis Columbus and his suffragans the dioceses of Jaffna and Kandy. To these later, in 1893, other dioceses were added, those of Galle and Trincomalee. Of these five dioceses, Colombo and Jaffna are administered by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate; that of Kandy by the Silvestrini fathers, and the other two by the Jesuit fathers. Kandy, thanks to the magnanimity of Leo XIII, is also the seat of a large pontifical seminary entrusted to the Jesuit fathers and intended for the education of the indigenous clergy of Ceylon and India.
Since 1845 the Anglican Church has organized a diocese on the island with a residence in Colombo and a suffragan of Calcutta.