The St. Francis church was built in the year 1503. It is considered as one of the oldest European churches in India. When Vasco Da Gama discovered the sea route from Europe to Cochin, he sought permission from the then king of Cochin to build a fort. Within the fort, a wooden church structure was built and dedicated to St. Bartholomew.
Vasco da Gama died here in 1524 on his third visit. He was buried in this church but was moved after fourteen years to Lisbon. In the year 1506, the Viceroy Almeida sought permission from the king to rebuild the wooden structure with bricks and stone. The construction was completed in the year 1516 and was dedicated to St. Anthony. This church is witness to the struggle for much European colonization in our history. During the Dutch invasion in 1663, the tables and rostrum furniture were added to the church. The Dutch also built a cemetery adjacent to the church. The Dutch handed the church to the Anglicans during the British invasion in 1795. The church was then renovated and renamed to St. Francis church. The Church of South India then took over the administration of the church from the year 1949. The Church was pronounced as a protected monument in the year 1923.
Some important sightings in the church include the cenotaph in church lawn and an old “Doop Book” which is the Dutch baptism and marriage register too. The Pankhas or fans in the church remind us of the British affluence during their reign. The cenotaph in the centre of the lawn carries the names of the residents of Kochi, who laid down their lives in the First World War. This cenotaph was unveiled by the Madras Governor in the year 1920. The Doop Book was maintained by Predikant Cornelies in his handwriting for forty years. In 1923, this book was sent to London for repairing its leaves. Currently, a Photostat is kept in the place of the original for the public to view. Many Dutch citizens still visit the church to take a look at this register to trace their ancestry. The clock in this church was erected in the year 1923 in memory of Hal Harrisson Jones, the then Managing Director of Aspinwall & Company. The gravestones found on the wall of the church were taken from the floor of the grave in 1886. The northern sidewall has the gravestones of the Portuguese and the southern sidewall has the gravestones of the Dutch. Vasco da Gama’s stone can be found on the southern side of the ground. Worship service is conducted on all Sundays and commemorative days and the church opening for visiting to the public during the weekdays. The Dutch cemetery was constructed here many years ago and is considered to be an ancient cemetery in India. Some monumental brass plates and marble slabs were put up in the church for few significant people who dedicated their lives to this church.
Plenty of European influence is seen in this architecture and this style was adopted in the construction of many other churches. Christmas which is one of the most celebrated festivals all over the world is no different here. The entire church comes alive in red, gold and green color decorations. The sound of the carols sung by the choir of the church reverberates in one’s mind even after days.
The church can be visited all through the year; however, the best time to visit Cochin will be between the months of October and March when the climate is dry and hot. The months between June and September receive very heavy rainfall. For a person, who loves the monsoons, visiting the church during the rains is truly an experience. The old world charm of the church is very evident and creates a lasting impression.
The nearest railway station to Kochi is at Ernakulam and the nearest airport is Nedumbassery International airport which is twenty two kilometers from here.