Vasco da Gama’s Tomb Still Lies At This Church In Kochi Which Is India’s Oldest European Church

by Tejashee Kashyap
Vasco da Gama’s Tomb Still Lies At This Church In Kochi Which Is India’s Oldest European Church

Every nook and corner of Kochi has immense history. As you travel around the famed Fort Kochi lanes, the buildings and the roads tell you tales about how a city has grown, blossomed and flourished through the hands of the Portuguese, Dutch and British. And overviewing the majestic Arabian Sea stands a tall white church with long arches and glass windows built by the Portuguese, St. Francis Church.

Stories From The Past

The first glimpse of the church reminds you of a classical European style of architecture. Built in 1503 by the Portuguese, it is said to be the oldest European church in Kochi and also, the first Portuguese church in India.

St. Francis Church
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

According to old records, it was a thatched-roof structure later renovated by the Dutch who arrived in the 1660s. My travel guide tells me how it was the only architecture that had been spared destruction by the Dutch after they took over the city. Again, the church went through another round of European renovation when the British took over and finally renamed it, St. Francis Church

Architecture Galore

As you step inside this historic church, your eyes are met with the simple white-washed facade and sloping roof exterior of the church while the interior is adorned with beautiful wooden carvings and intricate artwork. The hallowed hall inside has a high ceiling with well-maintained vintage hand-operated pankhas. I recommend going there early in the morning and sitting there in silence in order to instil a sense of tranquillity within you.

There are several inscriptions found inside the church, which talk about the glorious past of the Dutch and the Portuguese. Wandering around the church, you can see blessings inscribed in Portuguese and Dutch. According to my guide, these granite epitaphs placed on the walls and floors indicated the coffins of high-ranking Portuguese officials, who were buried in the church compound. Unlike other altars, this church has no idol. It houses scriptures engraved on stone tablets.

St. Francis Church
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Tomb Of Significance

As the colonial era rolled by, this architectural spectacle became a centre of development for the trading port. Back in time, the Portuguese and other regions of the world were seeking a sea route between Europe and the East so they could trade directly in spices. It was in 1498 when Vasco da Gama arrived in Cochin that opened the floodgates to European colonialism.

The Portuguese explorer visited the port of Cochin three times. However on his third voyage when da Gama passed away, he was buried in this St. Francis Church in 1524. His remains were later taken to Portugal in 1538, but you can still see the gravestone of his original burial site inside the church.

Also Read: 5 Most Beautiful Churches In Kerala You’ll Fall In Love With

After witnessing episodes of conquests and victories, life and death, the majestic St. Francis Church is now a protected monument, still standing tall and marvelling for generations to come.

Where: Head Post Office, Saint Francis Church Road Opp, Fort Kochi, Kochi, Kerala
When: 9 am–5 pm

Cover image credits: Wikimedia Commons