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St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi, Kerala: The First European Church Built In India
Kerala, a tiny state on the southern tip of India is well noted for several reasons. The land also known as “The God’s Own Country” has plenty of amazing as well amusing features to capture the worldwide attention. Where else on the earth you can find the followers of three great religions- Hindu, Islam and Christianity live in together with peace and harmony? Absolutely, it is Kerala. And again interestingly, it is in Kerala that both Christianity and Islam started centuries ago.
I had narrated the role and strength of the Christians in Kerala in my article titled “Christianity in Kerala”. If you love to read it and learn more, click here. This time, our journey is to visit an ancient church- The St. Francis Church in Fort Kochi. It is the first European church built in Kerala and a symbol of the colonial ruling existed in the land.
The Fort Kochi area of Ernakulam (Kochi) in Kerala is the best-preserved history of the colonial times. The church’s history also reflects the colonial struggle of European powers in India from 15th to 20th centuries.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans landed in India. Vasco da Gama’s arrival at Kappad in Calicut in the year 1498 was the first chapter of the history of the European invasion to India. His discovery of sea route to India was historic and had got a prominent place in history texts.
Vasco da Gama was followed by Pedro Alvares Cabral and Alfonso de Albuquerque. In the year 1500 and exactly on the 24th December, Portuguese ships, under the command of Admiral Cabral visited Cochin (now known as Kochi). That time the land was under the rulership of the Raja of Cochin, the Hindu King. The Hindus and its rulers were always tolerant and respected and admired other religious communities. They gave a warm welcome to the sailors from Europe and Asia and even provided them decent accommodation. In fact, that very positive attitude was the main reason for how other religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam took its root in India and spread here though India was a Hindu dominant nation.
The Cochin Raja permitted the Portuguese to engage in trade. In 1503, Alphonso Albuquerque was given permission to build a fort. Accordingly, the Portuguese built a fort and also a church within the fort with a wooden structure. Later in the year 1506, permission was given by the Raja to reconstruct the wooden building in stone and masonry. The construction was completed in 1516 and it was dedicated to St. Anthony.
In 1663, the Dutch captured Kochi. They demolished all churches in the area except this one. Later in the year 1795, the British captured Kochi from the Dutch. Again this church was saved when they allowed the Dutch to retain the church.
In 1804, the Dutch voluntarily surrendered the church to the Anglican Communion when it was passed to the Ecclesiastical Department of the Government of India. The Anglicans changed the name of the patron saint to St. Francis.
Unique Features/Attractions of the Church
- The first European Church built in India.
- Vasco da Gama was buried here. (Fourteen years later that is in 1524, his remains shipped to Portugal).
- You can see the Vasco da Gama tomb (gravestone) still here. It is on the ground at the southern side.
- The gravestones of other Portuguese are on the northern sidewall and the Dutch on the Southern wall.
- The nearby Dutch Cemetery constructed in 1724 is one of the oldest cemeteries in India.
- The church possesses ‘Doob Book’, a record book, which has the records of all baptisms and marriages held at the church between 1751 and 1804.
- The church is a protected monument since April 1923 under the Protected Monument Act of 1904.
- The Cenotaph in memory of the Cochin residents who fell in the First Great War was erected in 1920.
- The clock of the church was erected in 1923 in memory of Hal Harrison Jones, a former Mg. Director of Aspinwall & Co
- The Pankhas or Fans in the church are a reminder of the British opulence of that period.
- The church being a protected monument is now under the Archaeological Survey of India but owned by the North Kerala Diocese of Church of South India (C.S.I).
There is regular worship service here on all Sundays and commemorative days. The church is open for visitors and tourists on weekdays.
Location: River Road, Fort Kochi
Address: St. Francis CSI Church, Fort Kochi, Pin-682 001, Kerala.
Tel: 00 91 484-2217505
Mobile: 99476 06054
My Hub Related to Fort Kochi & Mattancherry
- Fort Kochi & Mattancherry, Kerala: The Oldest Europe...
The oldest European settlement in India was established in Fort Kochi & Mattancherry. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and the Jews had a great presence here. Take a look into the history here.
© 2014 Sunil Kumar Kunnoth