St. Francis Church, Kochi & India’s Colonial History

When I was roaming around the streets of Fort Kochi in the latter part of November, it was a mighty struggle with the humidity. This was my first time in Kerala and I was very excited to set foot in the state where ‘India’ was discovered! Kerala was the first port of call for the Portuguese, the Dutch, Arabs, Chinese, and, finally the Europeans who sailed for trading in precious spices. I was told not to miss the oldest Church in Kochi, St. Francis Church near the sea which was also the place where Vasco da Gama was originally buried.

Kochi
St. Francis Church in Fort Kochi.

As I walked through the hallowed hall, I realised that this was a Church that was inextricably linked with India’s Colonial History. I could not help but wonder in amazement at how much this Church had seen over a period of 500 years, when it was established by the Portuguese.

History of St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi

St. Francis Church is India’s oldest European church and was first constructed around 1503 by the Portuguese. It was originally built with wood, but was subsequently replaced by the present stone structure in 1516 AD. In the present day, the St. Francis Church is an unassuming structure in light yellow set amidst greenery surrounded by high boundary walls.

Kochi
The original burial place of Vasco da Gama inside the St. Francis Church.

The Church is believed to have been built by the Franciscan friars, and over the centuries passed through the hands of the Dutch who converted it into a Protestant Church; and finally under the British occupation it was converted into an Anglican Church. Regular services are held at St. Francis church which is now under the Church of South India.

Vasco da Gama was originally buried at St. Francis Church when he died at Le Colonial (name of the house) in Kochi in 1524. His body was later moved to Lisbon in 1538, but there is still a tombstone in Portuguese signifying the same.

 

Kochi
The history of St. Francis Church has been well preserved. On this board are names of the persons in charge of the Church right from the Portuguese rule, to the Dutch, the British era and after Independence too.

The Church has a simple façade that was used as a model for Churches that were built later. There are many gravestones with inscriptions inside the Church. The hall has a high ceiling and gives the impression of a really old building. As with other religious establishments, one is required to leave the footwear outside the main entrance of the Church.

A signboard outside the Church indicates : “Surmounted by a bell turn over the gabled front, the Church, facing west, has an impressive façade with an arched entrance and windows flanked by steeped pinnacles. The earliest Portuguese epitaph in the Church dates back to 1562 AD while that of the Dutch from 1664 AD.”

Click on the pictures to see Vasco da Gama’s connection with the St. Francis Church.

Pepper, Spice Trade, & the Europeans

The Portuguese (and also the entire world!) was seeking a sea route between Europe and the East so they could trade directly in spices. It was the lure of pepper that meant – on 20th May 1498 Vasco da Gama made it to the Malabar Coast near the town of Calicut (Kozhikode). Everyone, including the Jews, Arabs, the Greeks and the Chinese were keen on the spice trade with India because of its lucrative appeal.

Kochi
On this metal plate, the names of British soldiers are inscribed.

The Portuguese began their trade but moved from Calicut to Cochin after being expelled by the rulers of Calicut. It is said that around 1550, the Maharaja of Kochi gave permission for the construction of the first European fort in India. Cochin had hitherto been an obscure fishing hamlet that became India’s first European settlement.

In 1663, the Portuguese lost and thus Cochin fell to the Dutch, and in 1814 Cochin was occupied by the British until it was finally assimilated into the Indian union in 1947. All these foreign influences left their mark, with fascinating architecture spread across Fort Kochi.

Kochi
A closer look at the metal plate on a monument outside the Church made by the British.

Looking back in time, it was Vasco da Gama’s arrival in 1498 that opened the floodgates to European colonialism as the Portuguese, Dutch and English came and ruled at different times. Vasco da Gama guided the first expedition to reach the Indian coast via the Cape of Good Hope and Arabian Sea.

Did you like this post? Have stories to narrate from this region? I would love to check them out. Share in the comments below. 

Kochi
The Church sees a steady flow of tourists and is one of the must see heritage sights in Fort Kochi.

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24 Comments Add yours

  1. This is a wonderful account of India’s colonial past, described in short. This simple and ancient church is an important part of Indian history which is not known to many. I have been in Fort Kochi a long time back and was equally amazed… The pale yellow colour remains the same 🙂 I remember clicking the pictures on my analog camera 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thanks so much. Reading that made me so happy. I wondered if I should make this post or not, because as you mention this post is small and I didn’t have too much information to share. Glad I put it out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. arv! says:

    Happy to read your post on Cochin. It is actually sad to think of how colonial rule sucked the mojo out of India.

    Like

    1. Same to same… I felt exactly how you mentioned, and wondered what might have been! Thanks 🙂 Hope you liked it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. arv! says:

        Sure I did, Shubham 😊

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  3. Missed this place when I went to Kochi! There is sooooo much to see in this city rich with history and heritage!

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    1. Yes, I so agree. I spent like 4 days in Kochi and still think I could have wandered around for more. Thats reason to visit again!!

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  4. Mayuri Patel says:

    looks like good historical place, would love to visit

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    1. Yes, Kochi and history go hand-in-hand… It was a fabulous experience for me. Wish you all the best.

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  5. This place seems truly picturesque and definitely worth exploring when in India, Shubhammansingka! Thanks a lot for the suggestion and the great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks for checking it out. Glad you liked it.

      Like

  6. Sapna says:

    Fort Cochin is my favorite area in Cochin.

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    1. Thats not surprising at all. This region is a delight for people with all kinds of varied interests. I’m sure Kochi is even more fun to explore when the weather is right.

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  7. Really interesting post! Why don’t you check out my travel blog? 🙂

    Like

  8. The calmness exudes through your photographs. So many times we visit places of worship only to offer our prayers to the deities and we ignore the architecture. I think India was some marvellous churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and other places of worship. Good to see someone writing about these gems!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! It is fascinating to receive a comment from you guys. I’m a big fan!

      Thanks for the kind words. I have a huge collection of these places but usually end up writing about experiences from the road. Hope to change that this year!! 🙂

      Like

  9. Oh thank you so much, Subham! It means a lot to us.

    Like

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