Saudi synagogue of Cochin (Kochi) was built in 1514. The synagogue functioned for four decades and ceased operational by 1556. Modern Saudi (also called as Saude, Saudhi, Southie or Southee) is in the western shores of Kochi and south of Fort Kochi. It is said that a port existed at Saudi and was used mainly by the Arabs and later by the Portuguese for trade. Some believe that the name Saudi was from this Arab influence on the region.
In the 1723 ‘Letters from Malabar’ (Letter XVIII, p.115), Jacobus Canter Visscher, mentions about the Jews of Saudi; “A party of the white Jews came to a place called by the Portuguese Sinhora Savode, about half a league distant from the town of Cochin, where they maintained themselves for fifty years; but being unable to endure any longer the offensive vicinity of the Moors, and still more of the Christians, who keep unclean animals in their houses, they obtained from the Rajah of Cochin in a piece of ground near his palace, on which to build their houses. Here they have dwelt now for 202 years, but the place being small, their houses are poor and huddled together; they are chiefly built of stone, and covered with tiles”.
The Jewish settlement ‘called by the Portuguese Sinhora Savode’ most probably refers to Saudi. Visscher’s letter gives us two important information: 1) The first Jews of Saudi were Paradesis from Cranganore; 2) The Jewish settlement of Sinhora Savode was established by at least 1471 AD. A few queries remain unaddressed if Visscher’s version is accepted. First, why it took more than four decades to build a synagogue at Saudi in 1514, after Jews arrived there in 1471? Secondly, we know that the ‘Saudi Synagogue’ remained intact until 1556, but how did it function for an additional 35 years after the Paradesis left for Mattancherry in 1521? Had there been Malabari Jews too in Saudi? What we know for sure is that the Saudi synagogue was rarely used for religious ceremonies.
A thumb rule for locating the Jewish monuments in Kerala is to look for Christian or Muslim religious structures from the parallel period. Today, we can find an early 16th century Catholic Church, “Our Lady of Health” and a cemetery in Saudi, Mundamveli. The Church was established in 1501, probably by the Portuguese, and it is presently under the Diocese of Alleppey. It is highly plausible that Saudi got its name from this church, as ‘Our Lady of Health’ in Portuguese is “Nossa Senhore da Saude”. Saudi is then a derivation of the Portuguese word for ‘health’. The Jewish settlement of Senhora Savode was also known as 'Canaan-Nagar' or 'Canaan Town'(Nathan Katz and Ellen S. Goldberg, 'The Last Jews of Cochin', p. 63). Since the religious structures of the three monotheistic faiths are commonly built close to each other in Kerala, I believe ‘Saudi Synagogue’ existed somewhere near this Church in Mundamveli, and adjacent to the sea.