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St Francis Church, Kochi - India’s Oldest Church

Kochi also referred to as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, was an important trading town frequently visited by Arabian and European traders. They came to India, the fabled land of jewels, for in search of riches and wealth. The weather and the prospect of fame and glory attracted several traders and explorers to the shores of the city.

Many of these explorers went on the settle in India, contributing towards an already diverse socio-cultural heritage of the nation. Portuguese were the first European to land in India, and establish a settlement. With time they built churches, palaces, and other still-standing monuments, which have adorned the stunning landscape of this fabulous historic town.

The given write-up focuses on the beautiful Portuguese church, the St Francis Church. Believed to the first church in the Indian subcontinent, the religious building has been the witness of several events in the history of Kochi and India.

Here is a brief overture on the St Francis Church, Cochin that will help you uncover some of the stunning facts about this important religious monument.

A Quick Glance

Address:  Head Post Office, Saint Francis Church Road Opp, Fort Kochi, Kochi, Kerala 682001
Opening hours:  10:00 am to 5:00 pm (Monday to Saturday), 12.00 am to 5.00 pm (Sunday)
Entry Fee:  Free
Visit duration:  One hour
Famous for:  Architecture, photography, and religion    
Not to miss features:  The stunning fixtures and simplistic architecture
Best time to visit:  October to February

How to reach:   Public bus, auto-rickshaw or cab could be hired to reach St Francis Church, Cochin

St Francis Church, Kochi
St Francis Church, Kochi

History of the St Francis Church

Established in the early 16th century, the St Francis Church is an important fixture in the cityscape of Kochi despite passing over through three colonial empires. Built by the Portuguese in early 1503 (although there is an ongoing debate among scholars regarding the date), after the Dutch annexation of power the church was renovated and beatified in Dutch fashion.

Before the Portuguese Era, it is believed that a substantially smaller structure dedicated to one of the twelve Apostils - St. Bartholomew – existed on the same site. According to some records, the monument was run by five friars who came to Cochin with the Francisco de Albuquerque. After the Portuguese arrival, the current building was established and renamed as the Conventional Church of the Order of St. Francis of Assisi under the orders of Dom Francisco Almedia (the Portuguese Viceroy).  

In the era after the Dutch takeover of Cochin, the church was expanded and renamed according to the Reformed Religion doctrines. With the change in political power, from Dutch to British, the church also saw another round of renovations. It is during the British dominance that the church was finally named as St. Francis Church.   

This remarkable church was once the final resting place of the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, for fourteen years. Later on, his remains were shifted back to Lisbon, but the tombstone of the voyager remains in the St Francis Church, Cochin.   

The Architecture of the Church

Inside the St Francis Church
Inside the St Francis Church
The edifice of the St Francis Church is popular among tourists for its stunning architectural design. An important structure in the Fort Kochi area, this place reflects a delicate balance of Portuguese and Dutch influences.

Framed roof made from wood enclosed with decorated tiles and semi-circular arches in some of the Portuguese elements present in the building. Other important features of the building include a bell tower, a sparsely decorated praying hall, and minimalistic decorations – fill the ambiance with a sense of devotion. The accompanying cemetery was used by both Portuguese and Dutch. However, the northern side of the cemetery was reserved for the Portuguese, while the southern side was used for the Dutch.

In the later years, the St Francis Church, Cochin was used as a prototype of several Indian churches. Undoubtedly, church an important landmark of the city surrounded by history and many untold stories. The rare to find fixtures like hand-drawn fans or the tainted glass windows makes this place special.

Things to Do at the Church

•    Explore the beautiful architecture of the monument and marvel its contribution towards India
•    Walk up to the bell tower for a mesmerizing view
•    Sit in the prayer hall to culture inner peace and harmony, the simplistic interiors of the church are known to have a soothing effect on the visitors

What Next?

After a soothing and calming trip to the St Francis Church, Cochin here are some of the things you can do for the rest of the day:

1. Exploring the Jewish heritage of the city

At Fort Kochi, the Jewish Synagogue is one of the oldest existing synagogues of the British Commonwealth. The delicately decorated interiors and the sparking dash of blue tiles are some of the striking features of this flawless monument.

2. Shopping for curio and forgotten trinkets

Just a stone throw away from the Paradesi Synagogue, lays the stunning shopping hub of Kochi – the Jew Town. The curio shops of this stunning antique alley sale items and trinkets leftover by the Jewish community who emigrated from Kochi. Additionally, the nearby spice market is the place to buy aromatic spices and condiments used in Indian households.

3. Chinese fishing nets

Kochi was once the home to several Chinese traders who came here during the early 14th century. It is believed that these traders named the region Cochin, meaning similar to Cheen. It might not be completely accurate narration, but these newcomers indeed changed the landscape of the city. The Chinese fishing nets have been present in the Kochi’s skyline since eons.

4. Mattancherry Palace                   

Another Portuguese built monument of Cochin, the place is well known for its stunning architecture and beautiful murals.

The St Francis Church, Kochi is a popular landmark of the city, attracting tourists and history buffs alike. While exploring this stunning landmark, you might come across some of the interesting facts about Kochi and its surrounding regions.

An ideal destination worth million pictures, head to this ancient church on your Kochi expedition.