There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Kochi and Lisbon: The Two Graves of Vasco da Gama

Kochi, formerly called Cochin and the second largest city of Kerala, India's most south-westerly state, is well worth a visit. I will get round to writing about it in full one day [I did, after our second visit in 2016, click here] but this short post concerns only the Anglican church of St Francis. Although the church is firmly on the tourist route, it is fair to say that for most people it will not produce one of their abiding memories of the city. It is a plain building, which must be why I took no photograph. The picture below is stolen from Wikipedia.

St Francis, Cochin
India's first European church was built on this site by the Portuguese in 1506. That wooden construction was replaced by the present building ten years later. When the Dutch took Cochin in 1663 the church converted to Protestantism and then, after the British arrived in 1795, it became Anglican.

There is not a great deal to see inside, either.

Inside St Francis, Cochin

The long narrow pieces of material apparently dangling from two low beams are actually punkahs. In the days before air-conditioning, the punkah wallahs sat outside pulling on the ropes, which can be clearly seen, and the punkahs wafted a cooling breeze over the worshippers inside.

Like many churches there is a visitors' book and the name above ours is that of Sir Peter de la Billière, Commander-in-chief of British forces in the 1990 Gulf War. He is the elderly gent with a military bearing and blue shirt at the far end of the church. The shambling non-military man in a blue shirt nearest the camera is me.

Vasco da Gama led the first expedition to sail from Europe to India via the Cape of Good Hope, arriving in Calicut, a little north of Cochin, in 1498. His three voyages to India opened up the trade route and established a Portuguese presence on the west coast. Some of his trading practises were indistinguishable from piracy, but he did India, and indeed the world, a great service in introducing the chili to the sub-continent. He died in Cochin in 1524 and was buried in this then rather new church.

Lynne by the grave of Vasco da Gama, Cochin

But we thought that we had seen the grave of Vasco da Gama before.

Santa Maria de Belém was once a fishing village 6 km west of Lisbon, though it was long ago absorbed into Lisbon's urban sprawl. It is most famous for the Torre de Belém, built beside the River Tagus about the time that Vasco da Gama was in India, and intended as part of Lisbon's defences.

The Torre de Belem, Lisbon

The Jeronimos Monastery dates from the same period and is just a short walk away.

Jeronimos Monastery, Belem, Lisbon
It now contains the National Maritime Museum as a well as a church. Inside the church........

The Grave of Vasco da Gama, Belem the grave of Vasco da Gama.

He was, it seems, buried in Cochin and then, fourteen years later, dug up and taken home to Lisbon. They did not want his body to fall into the hands of Hindus, Muslims or, worst of all, Protestants.

Vasco da Gama certainly got about, but I would have thought that one grave was enough for anyone.

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