Today, for the first time in my life, I visited Fort Kochi. One of the first places I stopped at was the St. Francis Church, which is the oldest European church in India, and the original burial site of the Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama. In 1498, Vasco da Gama became the first person to sail from Europe to India. Both the Portuguese and the Spanish were in search of an ocean alternative to the Arab monopoly on the lucrative spice trade, and the Portuguese had the good fortune to sail east vs. west. He and a few other Portuguese men who followed were allowed by the Raja of Cochin to build a fort in Kochi, and subsequently, in 1506, Francisco de Almeida, the Portuguese viceroy, was allowed to build a Christian church. Ten years later, the church was completed and was dedicated to Saint Anthony.
The church has changed hands over the years. In 1663, the Dutch captured Kochi and they demolished every other church in in the city, and while St. Anthony’s was not destroyed, it was converted to a government church. Over a hundred years later, in 1795, the British invaded and successively captured the port city from the Dutch, however, the British allowed the Dutch to retain the church. In 1804, the Dutch voluntarily gave the church over to the Anglican communion, and the Anglicans changed the name of the church from St. Anthony to St. Francis, which it is known as today.
There are currently about 30 million Christians living in India, and Kerala specifically is a major hub of Christianity in India. Whether just to visit, or to perhaps go to a service one Sunday morning, the St. Francis Church in Fort Kochi is definitely a place everybody in South India should visit.