St. Francis Church is the oldest church in India, built in 1516 by Portuguese settlers to replace an older wooden church constructed in 1503 on the same site. It was once the burial site of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, who died in Kochi, and though his gravestone is still in place here, his remains have since been moved to Lisbon.
This magnificent whitewashed structure was the only church the Dutch didn't destroyed when they took over colonial Kochi from the Portuguese; instead, they converted it into a government church. It was later dedicated to Saint Francis under British rule (it had previously been dedicated to St. Anthony). Today, the church is run by the protestant Church of South India, though it’s protected as a monument by the Archaeological Survey of India. The church is a stop on Kochi heritage walking and tuk tuk tours as well as half- and full-day excursions of the city.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Remember to dress modestly; men and women alike should avoid wearing shorts and opt for clothing that covers the knees and shoulders.
- While the church is open daily, mass is usually only on Sundays and special holidays.
- Wheelchair users might find the church difficult to access without some assistance.
How to Get There
This church is located at the northwestern tip of Kochi, right in the Fort Kochi area known for its charming old Dutch-style houses and buildings. Depending on traffic, it takes anywhere from a half-hour to an hour to reach this part of town from the Ernakulam mainland, where many of the area's hotels are located.
When to Get There
Saint Francis Church is open throughout the year and can be particularly fun to visit at Christmastime or Easter. However, travelers who are sensitive to heat or humidity are best off visiting during the dryer months of December through February. The hottest months are from March through May, and this is when the crowds are fewest, while the wet season starts in June and can go on as late as November.
Saint Francis: Patron Saint of Animals
One of the most beloved Catholic saints, St. Francis was a medieval Italian friar best known as the patron saint of animals and the environment. His feast day is on October 4 and the order he founded (the Franciscans) is one of the largest and influential Catholic orders to this day.