St. Francis Church

St. Francis Church was the first European Church to be built in India, originally dedicated to Santo Antonio, the patron Saint of Portugal situated at Parade Road, 2 km west of Mattancherry in Fort Cochin in Kerala.

St. Francis Church, Kochi has great historical significance. The history of this Church reflects the colonial struggle of European powers in India, from the 15th to 20th Centuries. The church was originally a wooden structure dedicated to St Bartholomew within the fort built in 1503, by the Portuguese who came with Admiral Pedro Alvarez de Cabral, following the tracks of Vasco da Gama who landed at Calicut in 1498. In AD 1506, the Portuguese Viceroy Dom Francisco Almedia was permitted by the Cochin Raja to reconstruct the buildings in stone masonry. Accordingly the wooden Church was refurbished presumably by the Franciscan friars with bricks and mortar and a tiled roof was erected. In 1516 A.D the new church was completed and it was dedicated to St.Antony. When the Dutch captured Kochi in 1663, they converted it into their official church and made some renovations in AD 1779. This St. Francis church was under the control of the Dutch until 1795 when the British captured Kochi from the Dutch. They allowed the Dutch to retain the church for sometime. In 1804, the Dutch willingly surrendered the church to the Anglican Communion when it was passed to Ecclesiastical Department of the Government of India. It is said that the Anglicans changed the name of the patron saint to St. Francis.

Vasco de Gama was buried at St Francis Church in 1524 but his remains were returned to Lisbon 14 years later. The gravestone is still located on the south side of the Church.

Being a modest unpretentious structure, St. Francis Church has no particular architectural merit, but it stands as a landmark of history and church architecture of India. It is interesting to note that numerous churches have been built in India keeping the St. Francis church as the model. It has been raised on a plan similar to the earlier types prevalent in Kerala, though in elevation. This Church has discarded the idea of dominating tower over the chance.