St. Francis Xavier Chapel stands on the seafront in the Shella area of Malindi, about 100 meters from the waterline on Mama Ngina Road in Old Town. For over five centuries, this chapel has served as a revered sanctuary for Christians, especially Catholics, seeking a spiritually uplifting experience.
In 1498, Vasco da Gama, renowned for his voyages from Europe to India, arrived in Malindi and left a group of soldiers to build the St. Francis Xavier Chapel. This momentous journey marked the discovery of the sea route connecting Europe and Asia.
Guided by a Gujerati navigator, Vasco da Gama found refuge in the friendly Malindi after facing hostility in Mombasa, where he looted unarmed Arab merchant ships. Notably, this voyage took place over three centuries before Dr. John Ludwig Krapf’s arrival in Mombasa in 1844.
St. Francis Xavier Chapel was declared a national monument in 1935 and is carefully preserved by the National Museums of Kenya (NMK).
Unique from traditional churches, it lacks a resident pastor or a permanent congregation, sparking debates among religious leaders. Nonetheless, the Catholic Church recognizes its significance as the first Christian place of worship in Kenya. While St. Paul Church in Rabai, holds the distinction of being the oldest church in Kenya, St. Francis Xavier Chapel remains a significant Christian shrine, attracting hundreds of worshippers during the annual feast of St. Francis Xavier on December 3.
The chapel gained international recognition due to Xavier’s requiem mass held in 1541 for two sailors who perished on their voyage to India. Vasco da Gama strategically built the chapel in Malindi, a town engaged in a war with the Omani rulers of Mombasa, forming an alliance based on mutual interests. The chapel’s connection to St. Francis Xavier, a key figure in spreading Christianity, further solidifies its historical importance.
After the Portuguese departed from Malindi in 1593, the chapel’s history faced obscurity. However, between the 17th and 19th centuries, Malindi experienced decline and near abandonment before regaining prominence. The chapel’s graveyard hosts the final resting place of notable figures, including J. Bill Smith, the first Malindi District Commissioner, and Frank Matthew, the son of a pioneering tea grower in Kericho.
Inside, an altar with Catholic religious paraphernalia, two chairs, and eight wooden benches on a cemented floor can accommodate around 40 seated and 50 to 60 standing individuals.
St. Francis Xavier Chapel continues to welcome pilgrims and visitors, inspiring reverence for centuries to come. Its storied past pays tribute to St. Francis Xavier, the Apostle of the Indies, who passed away on December 3, 1552, with a desire to extend his missionary work to China. His beatification and canonization further honour his profound impact on the spread of Christianity. As the chapel stands as a living testament to faith and legacy, its significance remains deeply etched in the heart of Malindi’s history.
St. Francis Xavier Chapel is accessible to visitors from Monday to Friday between 6 am to 6 pm.
Admission Fee to St. Francis Xavier Chapel
To explore this remarkable historical landmark and gain access to four national monuments, including The Vasco da Gama Pillar, House of Columns, and Malindi Museum, guests can acquire a single ticket at the following prices:
- Citizen adults: Ksh 100
- Citizen children: Ksh 50
- Residents adults: Ksh 100
- Residents children: Ksh 50
- Non-residents: Ksh 500 (adults) and Ksh 250 (children)
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