Kochi before Christmas

We walked through the brightly lit and festive streets of Kochi on Christmas Eve. We’d had a big lunch and were looking forward to a wonderful dinner, so this long walk was really necessary. About the time that the sun went down we tried to look into St. Francis Church, where Vasco da Gama was buried for a while, but it had already closed. We walked down the road to order the special bread called the breudher from a bakery which I’d located after some searching. The last part of this walk took us out of touristy parts of Kochi and into roads lined with houses which were lit up for the festival.

Almost a third of Kerala’s population is Christian, and most of them follow an Orthodox church. Some are counted as the oldest churches in the world, perhaps older than the church of Rome. The Indian church was represented in the Synod of Nicea in 325 CE, which was the first organized gathering of the Christian religion. What we see today, however, is also strongly influenced by later contact with Europe. The Indian Orthodox church celebrates Christmas, but I always wonder which part of people’s celebrations at home come through the original eastern line of traditions, and which were adopted later from the western traditions.

The Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica was gearing up for its midnight mass. The lighting scheme for Christmas was interesting. The Portuguese were allowed to build a church at this spot and its foundation stone was laid in 1505 CE. This was reputedly the first mortar and stone building in Kochi which was not a royal palace. It was declared a Cathedral in 1558, converted into an armoury by the Dutch in 1663, and destroyed by the British in 1793. The tall column in the foreground of the photo above seems to be mostly a modern structure, but the base could be part of a granite column from this old building.

Construction of a new church on the same site was started in 1887 by the Bishop of Kochi, but the building took some time to complete. It was finally consecrated in 1905 and declared to be a Basilica in 1984. A look inside showed it to be an exuberantly early 20th century construction: full of cast iron. If we ever go back at a less busy time I would take the time to look at the frescoes and paintings inside, but also a close look at this construction. One sees very few large churches from this era.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


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