CSI St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi

Historical Dutch cemetery

The Dutch ruled Kochi until the end of the 18th Century. During this period, they conducted the trade and administered the area. As a result, most traces of the Dutch occupation of this area are only to be found in a few architectural remnants. St. Francis CSI church and the Dutch cemetery are among one of them.

During the year 1498, the Portuguese came to India, along with many missionaries. As a part of their effort, the monument St. Francis Church was constructed, which stands still lifting its head high. During that period, the important and eminent people were buried within the church. But as the arrival of Dutch, in the year 1664, things changed. The Dutch which followed the protestant tradition were against these rituals and they changed this tradition. They moved all the idols in the church, as well as they brought a new place for cemetery near the beach.

The Dutch cemetery, consecrated in 1724, is perhaps the oldest existing European cemetery in India. The cemetery, built in the style of Dutch architecture is surrounded by walls and the year 1724 is engraved on the entrance pillar. The epitaphs and tombs tell the story of Dutch epoch in India. There are around one hundred and four tombs in the cemetery, most employing the Dutch architecture that was prevalent in the 18th and 19th centuries and none of them bearing a cross. The cemetery also served as a burial site for many of the British traders and administers who ruled Kochi from 1795 until 1947. According to T.W.Venn’s book on the St. Francis church, the last person to be laid to rest in the cemetery was Capt. Joseph Ethelbert Winckler in 1913.

Even though the place has historical importance, for the past long years due to no burials in the cemetery, the place was unnoticed and abandoned and it became a thicket and was unable to even enter into the cemetery compound.

As the cemetery is now managed by St. Francis CSI church, Fort Kochi, on the arrival of Dutch embassy in the year 2019, held a meeting with the Vicar. Rev. Shinu John Chacko and the committee members, in which they have decided to, renovate the monument. As a part of that, the work started from February 2020 till December 2020 according to the instruction and guidelines of the Dutch embassy. Now the cemetery is having a beautiful garden and pathways. The cemetery will be opened to the public soon. We wishfully restored the Dutch cemetery as an architectural monument of the Dutch culture in India. It was a great privilege for us; the officials from the royal house of Netherlands had visited this marvellous monument.

The cemetery will be an eye-catcher and especially when it is under the St. Francis CSI church, Fort Kochi which is also a monumental structure with so much historical importance