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St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi, Kerala: The First European Church Built In India

Updated on February 27, 2017
St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi, Kerala.
St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi, Kerala. | Source

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.

Dutch Cemetery, Fort Kochi
Dutch Cemetery, Fort Kochi | Source
First World War Memorial at St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi. The names of the soldiers killed are inscribed in the commemorative plaque
First World War Memorial at St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi. The names of the soldiers killed are inscribed in the commemorative plaque | Source
Vasco da Gama's Tomb, inside the church
Vasco da Gama's Tomb, inside the church | Source

History


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.

A view from inside of the St Francis CSI Church,Fort Kochi.
A view from inside of the St Francis CSI Church,Fort Kochi. | Source

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

Email: revjacob_100@yahoo.com

The history of the church is revealed on this Marble plaque. Photo taken by me  from inside the church.
The history of the church is revealed on this Marble plaque. Photo taken by me from inside the church. | Source
A markerFort Kochi, Kerala -
Fort Kochi, Kochi, Kerala, India
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© 2014 Sunil Kumar Kunnoth

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    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image
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      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 2 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      @peachpurple,

      Thank you for reading and commenting on this post.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Wow this church is unique, with a tomb!

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image
      Author

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 2 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      So happy to know that you visited my state-Kerala, better known as The God's Own Country! I hope you will again visit the land and explore more. Keep in touch when you come here next time. Thanks for your comments.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I was impressed with Kerala when I visited. It was green and prosperous.

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image
      Author

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 3 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      I am happy that you enjoyed my write up. Thanks for your visit, comments and sharing. Sunil is a common name you can hear everywhere in India. Some of the famous personalities who share the name is Sunil Gavaskar, Sunil Shetty, Sunil Shastri and so on. Kunnoth is my surname. It is my ancestral name as wekk. I think at least Sunil Gavaskar may be a well known name to you as he was a good Cricket player. Google to know more about Sunil.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina

      How interesting, sunilkunnoth2012. I enjoyed the history of establishing this church, and the photographs. Well written and interesting. UP/U/B

      I will share this article. I enjoyed reading it.

      PS What does your name mean? Thank you.

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image
      Author

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 3 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      Sanjay, thanks for your reading and commenting on my hub

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image

      Sanjay Sharma 3 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Thanks for a trip to the oldest church in India. It is a beautifully written hub.

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image
      Author

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 3 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      Devika,

      Thank you for visiting and commenting on my hub. I am glad that you enjoyed and learned some history lesson.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      An interesting history lesson from you. I enjoyed learning about this unique feature.

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image
      Author

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 3 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      @goatfury, I am happy on your comments. I hope you make a visit to this beautiful as well historic place once. Thank you for your comments.

    • goatfury profile image

      Andrew Smith 3 years ago from Richmond, VA

      The convergence of religion makes this a very compelling place to visit. I had no idea - very educational!

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image
      Author

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 3 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      @MsDora, Thank you so much for your reading and comments.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for sharing the history and significance of the St. Francis Church, in Kerala. Interesting culture of a population with such a religious mix. Good read!