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St. Francis Church

The St. Francis Church, well-known for its beautiful architecture and ambience, is believed to be one of the oldest churches built by the Europeans in India.

History
The church’s history dates back to 1503. It owes its origin to the Portuguese Franciscan Friars, who reached Kochi along with Pedro Alvarez Cabral. The church, made of wood and mud, was situated in the middle of the fort that had been constructed by the Portuguese with the permission of the erstwhile Cochin Raja and it was dedicated to St Bartholomew. The church was reconstructed and reopened in 1516 and dedicated to the patron saint of Portugal, Santo Antonio, hence named Santo Antonio Church.

The church witnessed various European invasions and during the Dutch invasion of Kochi in 1663, it came under their possession. They converted it into their church by placing their communion table and rostrum furniture. They also constructed a Dutch cemetery adjacent to the church. In 1804, the Dutch surrendered the church to the Anglican Church following the British invasion of Kochi in 1795.  The church was renamed and renovated in 1886. The Church of South India (CSI) took over the administration and management of the church in 1949.

Architecture
The church has a lofty structure with a gabled timber framed roof covered with tiles. A stepped pinnacle is constructed on both sides of the façade, which is very impressive and retains the old world charm.  The interior of the church too provides a magnificent view with two stepped pinnacles crowning the top of the chancel roof and with the plain arched opening that divides the chancel from the nave.  The old world charm and magnificence is very visible on every element of the church – be it the pulpit made of wood decorated with carvings, the confessional, baptism platform, book rests or the offering.

There also stands a cenotaph in the middle of the lawn and it was built in 1920 in remembrance of the Kochiites who laid down their lives in World War I.

The Vasco da Gama connection
The famous explorer Vasco da Gama, the first Portuguese sailor to reach the shores of Kerala, died in 1524 during his third visit to Kochi. He was buried in this Church. After 14 years, his body was taken back to Portugal. His burial spot inside the church is clearly marked out and has drawn visitors ever since.

Other historical elements in the church
An old Dutch baptism and marriage register (1751 to 1804), the Doop Book, is preserved in the church. Records say that the register was maintained by a Predikant Cornelies. Many Dutch citizens visit the church to try and trace their family roots from the register. The church also has a British register.

There are also several inscriptions on leaves, depicting the life and times of the Portuguese and the Dutch.

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