Tradition has it that Apostle St.Thomas who is said to have landed
at Muziris in AD 52, built seven churches in Kerala. The first wave of
Christianity to Kerala must have come from West Asia. Inscriptions for
instance of the times of Sthanu Ravi (844-85) and Vira Raghava Chakravarti
(AD1225) clearly reveal the Christian communities enjoyed many rights
It is widely known that early churches in the Roman world,
including West Asia, initiated the plan of Civil Basilica having a semi
circular termination, and with certain modifications for better fulfillment
of liturgical needs. On the other hand, Kerala adopted a temple plan comprising
a four-sided sanctuary fronted by a larger pillared hall, which in the
Christian tradition became chancel and nave respectively. Similarly the
tower over the sanctuary possibly soared higher than of the nave as in
the Hindu temple, the Sikhara above the garbha-griha has the maximum height.
This type of church-architecture can still be seen in Kerala.
In the Orthodox Syrian Church at Chengannur, Peter and
Paul occupy the places of the dwarapalas of the Hindu shrine. A portico,
called sala in front is often provided to shelter pilgrims during festive
occasion. The absence of benches or pews reflects a sense of adjustment
to the prevailing Indian custom of squatting or kneeling on the floor.
Again, many Syrian churches have an impressive gate way with a musical
hall above, which may be an adoption from the Brahmanical practices in
temples. The open air cross in front of the main entrance recalls the
tradition of placing balipitha or dipa-stamba, near the entrance of the
Hindu shrine. Church architecture in Kerala evolved out of an indigenous
building tradition and basically the same trend continued till recently
despite the impact of later ecclesiastical architecture of Europe.
It was Portuguese who introduced the new trend of Church-architecture
in the sixteenth century; followed by the latinization of churches in
Kerala. Santo Antonio, now St. Francis at Cochin is the earliest church
built in India in the new tradition. It has been raised on a plan similar
to the earlier types prevalent in Kerala though in elevation it has discarded
the idea of dominating tower over the chancel. Being a modest unpretentious
structure, it has no particular architectural merit, but it stands as
a land mark of history and church architecture of India. Numerous churches
has been built on the Indian soil keeping the St. Francis church as the
The exact date of the construction of the St. Francis
church is not known. Presumably it owes its origin to the Franciscan Friars
who accompanied the Portuguese expedition under Pedro Alvarez Gabral.
Originally it is said to have been built of wood but later rebuilt in
stone perhaps within the first few years of the sixteenth century.
It is a lofty edifice with a gabled timber-framed roof covered with tiles.
Facing the west, it has a semi-circular arched entrance and windows
above. The facade is impressive, flanked on either side by a stepped pinnacle.
There is a bell-turret on the summit of the gable-front, divided into
three compartments. Inside the chancel is divided from the nave by a plain
arched opening and the top of the chancel roof is crowned by two stepped
pinnacles. It exhibits an architecture of arch.
This is the church where Vasco-da Gama was buried in
1524, though his body was removed in 1538 to Portugal. In 1663 it is passed
on to the hands of the Dutch, who were protestants, it was restored by
the Dutch in 1779. After the occupation of Cochin by the British in 1795,
it gradually became an Anglican Church. At present it has been taken over
by the Church of South India.
Some of the heraldic designs an armorial bearings on
the tomb-stones, affixed on the walls of this church are examples of fine
workmanship. The earliest Portuguese epitaph here dates back to1562, while
that of Dutch to 1664.
Interior of many Churches of Kerala shows fine wood-works
and also paintings devoted mainly to the life story of Jesus Christ. The
murals depicting the fight between the English and Tipu Sultan are seen
in a Church at Kanjhur.