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St Francis CSI Church

Opp. Post Office, St Francis Church Road, Fort Kochi, Fort Kochi, Kochi, Kerala 682001, India

Church
Tomb

The 500 year old Church which was the burial place of Vasco da Gama, the first European to enter India.

Location of St Francis CSI Church

More about St Francis CSI Church

St Francis CSI Church, originally built in 1503 AD is the oldest European church in India. Witnessing the influence of multiple European powers, the church stands as a monument that has seen the periods of Portugese, Dutch and British colonialism in the country.

The body of Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama who died in 1524 was buried in this church for 14 years.

History of St. Francis CSI Church

Following the discovery of the sea route from Europe to India by Vasco da Gama in 1498 by landing at Kappad beach Kozhikode, Portuguese explorers Pedro Alvares Cabral and  Afonso de Albuquerque landed in Cochin in the early 16th century. They built the Emmanuel Fort at Fort Kochi Beach with the permission of the King of Cochin Kingdom. Within the fort, a wooden church dedicated to St. Bartholomew was built by the missionaries who accompanied them.

The first viceroy of Portuguese to India- Francisco de Almeida was allowed by the King of Cochin in 1506 to reconstruct the wooden building in stone and masonry. In 1516, a new church was completed with bricks and mortar and tiled roofs and it was dedicated to the patron saint of Portugal Santo Antonio calling it as the Church of San Antonio.

The period of the Dutch, the British and the current administration

The Church was under the control of the Portuguese until the region was captured in 1663 by Dutch. While the Portuguese were Roman Catholics, the Dutch were Protestants. They demolished most of the churches in Cochin, except the Church of San Antonio and the nearby Santa Cruz Cathedral. After the capture, the Dutch reconditioned the building and converted it into a government church. 

In 1795, the British captured Cochin from the Dutch but they allowed the latter to retain control of the church. In 1804, the Dutch voluntarily handed over the church to the Anglican Communion. It is believed that the Anglicans changed the name of the church to the present day name - St. Francis Church.

The church was declared a protected monument in April 1923 and it comes under administration of the Archeological Survey of India even though it is owned by the Kochi diocese of Church of South India.

Exploring St Francis CSI Church

The church has a tall structure with timber framed roofs covered with tiles. Stepped pinnacles present in each side of the structure retaining an old world charm. The pulpit with wood carvings, the confession and baptism platforms, book rests, every objects in the church showcases itself as monuments from yesteryears.

Though the church has very little architectural wonders, it has been the model for many churches in India, may be due to the simplicity in which the structure stands. St. Francis CSI Church even though has very little architectural merit stands as a landmark of history and church architecture in India.

The tomb of Vasco da Gama and the graveyards

The first European explorer to land on Kerala- Vasco da Gama died in 1524 during his third visit to Cochin. He was buried in this church and after 14 years the body was taken back to Lisbon in Portugal where it rests now. His original burial spot inside the church is marked out, attracting large numbers of visitors to the church yearly.

Since the church was under the influence of both Portuguese and Dutch at different periods of history, their graveyards also stands separate. The gravestones of the Portuguese are on the north side of the church and the Dutch on the south. There is also a war memorial in front of the church in memory of ten British and one Indian officer Lieutenant K.H. Bhat who lost their lives in World War I.

Record books from the past

An old Dutch baptism and marriage register (1751 to 1804) is preserved at the church. Many Dutch citizens visit the church to try and trace their family roots from this register. The church also has a British register and several inscriptions on leaves depicting the life and times of the Portuguese and the Dutch.

Getting to St Francis CSI Church

The Church is situated at Fort Kochi in Ernakulam City of Kerala in Southern India. There are numerous bus services within Ernakulam City to Fort Kochi Bus Station from where visitors can either walk or take a taxi/ rickshaw to reach the church. The nearest major railway station is in Ernakulam which is well connected to rest of the districts of the state and country.