If you’re looking for India’s oldest church, you’ve found it. Fort Cochin’s St Francis Church has survived wars, raids and the ravages of time. Built in 1516 by the Portuguese, the whitewashed building features an attractive curved gabled facade.
Originally surrounded by the protective walls of the Portuguese fort which gave the town of Fort Cochin its name, this church of stone replaced an earlier wooden structure, erected just a few years earlier in 1503.
When the Protestant Dutch gained control of Kochin, all of the Portuguese Catholic churches in the town were destroyed, except for this one, which was converted into a government church. When the British took over the church, which was originally dedicated to St. Anthony, they rededicated it to St. Francis.
Most famously, the plainly decorated church once housed the body of legendary Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, who died in Kochi in 1524. His remains were later removed and interred in Lisbon.
You can still see da Gama’s gravestone in the church, along with the gravestones of Portuguese and Dutch visitors and settlers.
St Francis Church is in Fort Cochin, a few streets south of the Fort Cochin Beach, on the northern tip of the peninsula. The green expanse of the Parade Grounds run south of the church.