St. Francis Church

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St. Francis Church

Fort Cochin (presently Fort Kochi) is the oldest European settlement in India and St. Francis Church is the first European Church that was built in India. The History of this Church reflects the colonial struggle of European powers in India from the 15th to 20th centuries. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover the sea route to India when Vasco da Gama landed at Calicut in 1498. Two years later, on 24th December 1500, Portuguese ships, under the command of Admiral Cabral, visited Cochin and the Rajah of Cochin permitted them to engage in trade. In 1503 Alphonso Albuquerque was given permission by the Rajah to build a fort at the mouth of the river which was constructed mainly of the stems of coconut trees bound with iron bands, whilst the rampart of stones and sand formed the inner defence. Within the fort they erected a church made of wood which was dedicated to St. Bartholomew and that stood on the exact place where the more spacious existing structure of the Franciscans later arose. In 1506 Dom Francisco Almeyda, the Viceroy, was given permission by the Rajah of Cochin to build a new city using mortar and stone and building roofed with titles (a privilege hitherto been confined only to the palace of the local prince and to the temples in which he performed puja). The Portuguese vowed that apart from the fortifications, the first permanent erection would be a church for divine worship. Accordingly, the wooden structure was replaced with one made of mortar and bricks. The new church was completed in 1516 and dedicated to St. Antony. Towards the end of 1524 Vasco Da Gama returned to Cochin (his first visit was in 1502) where he died on the Christmas eve of that year and was buried in this Church. Fourteen years later, his remains were shipped to Portugal and deposited at Vidigveria where they remained until 1872 when they were removed to the monastery of Jeronimos in Lisbon, its present abode.

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