St. Francis Church is located in Kochi (previously called Cochin). It is one of the ancient European churches in the country and is a marvelous specimen of Portuguese architecture in the country. It is a mark of the colonial struggle of the Europeans to make their presence felt in India at that time. This church, built in 1503 by Portuguese traders, was where Vasco da Gama was buried when he died in 1524 AD. However, fourteen years later, his remains were shifted to Lisbon. Earlier, the church was named after Santo Antonio which was changed by Anglican Communion after the name of patron Saint Francis. It is now considered integral to the history and tourism of Kochi. In April 1923, this church became a protected monument under the Protected Monuments Act of 1904. In 1920, the Cenotaph was set up in the memory of the inhabitants of Kochi who died in the World War-I. Apart from all this, one interesting fact to observe is that, despite being very modest in its architecture, the model of this church has been followed by many churches India.
This church was built with a wooden structure by Pedro Álvares Cabral and Afonso de Albuquerque and was dedicated to St. Bartholomew. They constructed a fort, with due permission of the Raja of Kochi, within which this church was built. In 1506, Francisco de Almeida, the-then Portuguese viceroy, was ordered to get it restructured with stone and bricks. He remodeled it along with a tiled roof. The new church was completed in 1516 and was devoted to St. Antonio.
In 1663, when the Dutch seized Kochi and demolished all Catholic churches, Saint Francis church was renovated and transformed into a government church. In 1795, Kochi was conquered by the British army but the Dutch were permitted to maintain the church. It stayed under their watchful eyes till 1804 post which, the Dutch willingly gave the responsibility of the church to the Anglican Communion who changed its name from Santo Antonio church to Saint Francis church. During this time, the church was kept under the Ecclesiastical Department of the Government of India and today, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Archaeological Survey of India. However, it is maintained by the North Kerala diocese of Church of South India.
The unique feature of this church is the collection of old wood-and-cloth fans which are operated with the help of ropes. Other things which draw attention is the timber-framed roof, sheltered with tiles, which gives the church an ancient look. This ancient look is completed by the huge tarnished glass windows at the entrance hall and the gorgeous porticoes which are bordered with stepped pinnacle. The bell tower of the church is divided into three sections and also draws considerable attention of the visitors. The choir area is adorned with two stepped peaks which highlight the excellent work of the arch.
The architecture of this church, as stated above, is not very complex or modernistic. The beauty of this structure lies in its simplicity and sobriety. The church is considered peaceful and even the surroundings attract people's attention and awe. Located 10 degrees north on Equator, Kochi has a weather which is generally hot and humid. Hence, the best time to visit the Saint Francis church is from November to March as this is when the weather is rather fresh, pleasant and welcoming.
How to Reach
The Cochin International Airport is 30 kms away from the main city and caters to both national and international flights. Direct flights from here connect Kochi to almost all the major cities of India including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Goa while international flights connect to Singapore, the Middle East and Colombo.
The city has three major railway stations viz., Ernakulum Junction, Ernakulum Town and Cochin Harbor Terminus. The two junctions of Ernakulum are also known as North and South stations. As with airways, the railways also connect Kochi to all major cities of the country. Rom the station, there are a plethora of options, like cabs, buses, etc., to reach the church.
Plenty of public and private buses connect Kochi to nearby cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad etc.
St. Francis church is amongst the popular churches of India. From being built by the Portuguese to being maintained by the Dutch, the Anglican Communion and now the diocese of Kerala, this church has come a long way and has now become and inseparable part of Kochi's identity. Currently, being a protected monument of India, this church is open for worship only on Sundays and other major festivities while, on other days, it is just a tourist site.