The documents held at the Jaffna Bishop’s House are unique testimonies of the social and cultural history of the people of Jaffna and of the Christian missions in the pre-independent Sri Lanka. However, these manuscripts have narrowly escaped the turmoil and shellings of the past decades, and need digitising to ensure their preservation.
The history of the Christian missions in pre-independence Sri Lanka is very important to understand the influence of the European – Portuguese, Dutch and British – colonial powers. The manuscripts held at the Jaffna Bishop’s House contain a variety of information about the Diocese and the parishioners. They cover a wider geographical area including the Jaffna peninsula, Mannar, Puttalam, the Vanni, Anuradhapura, and they are in six languages (French for a large majority, English, Latin, Tamil, Sinhalese and Portuguese). The registers contain notes and reports about family affairs, village management, organisation of educational networks, relation between Hindu and Catholic neighbourhoods, and with the State.
The burning of the Jaffna public library in 1981, one of the biggest libraries in Asia, is far from forgotten by the Tamil minorities of Sri Lanka. The missionary documents, kept in the Bishop’s House of Jaffna City, have narrowly escaped the severe bombings and shelling of past decades. They are highly vulnerable due to the recent attacks, poor storage conditions, worms, human mishandling,
Stemming from a pilot survey project in 2015, the project digitised 412 documents dated from 1775 to 1948. A further major digitisation project will be planned to digitise 100,000 pages of newly discovered manuscripts.