Saint Francis Xavier

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Goa Central

St. Francis Xavier or Goencho Saib as he is popularly known holds a special place in the hearts of Goans for over 400 years.

Goa Central has put together a brief introduction to the life and the times of this extraordinary Jesuit saint.

Memorial

December 3

The early years

Francis Xavier was born to an aristocratic and wealthy Basque family in the Castle of Xavier near Sanguesa, in Navarre, Northern Spain on 7 April, 1506. In 1525, after having completed a preliminary course of studies in Spain, Francis Xavier went to Paris, where he entered the Collège de Sainte - Barbe. In his early days as a student he spent his allowance enjoying the good things in life including gambling.

The College years and St. Ignatius

Around 1529, while in his final year of college, a chance admission of a new and mature student to the college brought him a new room mate, Ignatius Loyola. Ignatius was 15 yrs older than Xavier and had a similar up - bringing, but had decided to pursue a spiritual life. It was Ignatius's influence and guidance that brought about a religious and spiritual awakening in young Xavier; an influence that changed the course and direction of his life forever.

The Vow of Montmartre

On August 15, 1534, in a small chapel at "Montmartre", the six followers of Ignatius Loyola took the now "famous vow of Montmartre", a vow of chastity, charity and vowed to devote their life to the the spread of the Gospel and Christianity. The seven being Favre, Xavier, Lainez, Salmerón, Rodríguez, and Bobadilla and Ignatius.

Soon after, following completion of his studies in Paris, Xavier left with his companions for Venice on 15 November, 1536. Their then plan was to go to Jerusalem and spread the word of God and the Gospel in the Holy Land. While at Venice, he began caring for the sick in the hospitals .

Priesthood and the Society of Jesus

On 24 June, 1537, he became ordained as a priest with St. Ignatius. The following year he went to Rome, and with Ignatius, seriously began toying the idea of creating the foundation of the Society of Jesus with his other friends. This was met with some opposition by the establishment then. A year later, Xavier was appointed by the King of Portugal to evangelize the people of the East Indies. He left Rome 16 March, 1540, and reached Lisbon ready to travel to the Indies.

The Missionary arrives in Goa

On 7 April, 1541 ( his 35th birthday ), he sailed for India and landed at Goa on 6 May, 1542. The first five months he spent in preaching and ministering to the sick in the hospitals. It has been said that he would walk the streets ringing a little bell and inviting the children to hear the word of God. When a sufficient number had gathered, he would take them to a nearby church and explain catechism to them.

It was while in Goa that he learned that a papal decree of 27th September 1543 had finally approved the creation of the Society of Jesus. Ignatius Loyola had been elected the first General of the order in April 1541. Xavier then devoted the next three years preaching to the people of Western India, converting a few thousand to Christianity in the process.

The Mission to East Indies

In the spring of 1545 Xavier started out for the East Indies. He reached Malacca. After preaching there for a few months, he left Malacca in January 1546 and then went to the Molucca Islands, where the Portuguese had some settlements. He preached there for a year and a half. He converted many. It is claimed that during this time he even landed on the island of Mindanao, and for this reason St. Francis Xavier has been also called the first Apostle of the Philippines.

By July, 1547, he was back in Malacca. Here he met a Japanese man called Anger , from whom he obtained much information about Japan. He then began toying the idea of introducing Christianity into Japan. His society affairs brought him back to Goa bringing Anger with him. Anger was baptized at Goa and given the name of Pablo de Santa Fe.

The Mission to Japan

Xavier meanwhile continued to work on going to Japan and finally it did became a reality. He set off for Japan and landed at the city of Kagoshima in Japan, on 15 August 1549. He spent the first year learning the Japanese language and translating some of the essential books into Japanese with the help of Pablo de Santa Fe. When he finally was able to express himself in Japanese, Xavier began preaching and even converted a few Japanese. This act however had him banished from the city. In August 1550 he left Kagoshima and traveled south and preached the Gospel in some of the cities of southern Japan . After working for about two and a half years in Japan he left this mission in charge of Father Cosme de Torres and Brother Juan Fernandez, and returned to Goa in early 1552. His next objective then was to spread the Gospel to China, then a forbidden country.

China, the last frontier

In April, 1552, he left Goa for China on the ship "Santa Cruz". His first stop over was at Malacca. In the autumn of the same year he finally arrived in a Portuguese vessel at the small island of Sancian off the coast of China. At that time China was closed to foreigners and trade with China was banned. There were however some illegal operations going on from Macao, an island close to Sancian off mainland China. While planning the best means for reaching the mainland, he was taken seriously ill and died soon after on December 3 1552.

The Incorruptibility of the body

He died in a wooden hut built for him by his ship crew. His companion present at his final moments was a Chinese convert Anthony who had accompanied him from Goa. Anthony organized a simple burial on Sancian and had the coffin filled with lime "to consume the flesh and leave only the bare bones in case anyone should come later on and take the body back to India". His ship, the "Santa Cruz " remained on Sancian till February of the following year. While the ship was just about to leave Sancian, Anthony reportedly asked the ship's Captain if the body of Xavier should be inspected to see if it had already decayed as it was over three months since his burial. A seaman then was then sent to check and he found the body intact. It had not decayed at all.

Thus began the saga of the "incorruptibility of his body". It was then decided to take the body back to Malacca. The Ship arrived at Malacca on March 22 1553. The body was buried at Malacca in a rock cut grave and filled with earth. Five months later it is said that a dear friend of Xavier wished to see his body one last time and then reportedly dug out his body in the middle of the night. he too found the body again intact. Deciding that it was a miracle, he secretly hid it in a coffin. This news of the "Incorrupt body of Francis Xavier" finally reached the Viceroy of Goa and he ordered its return to Goa.

The Final Voyage home

The ship carrying his body made its final voyage to Goa and arrived at Goa on 16 March 1554. It was taken in a procession to the College of St Paul where it was on display for three days. The viceroy Dom Alfonso de Noronha ordered an official medical examination of the body. Dr. Cosmas Saraiva, his personal physician and Dr. Ambrosio Ribeiro, the Vicar-General examined the body and so did Brother Antonio Dias.

Dr. Cosmas Saraiva writes "I felt and pressed all the members of the body with my fingers, and paid special attention to the abdominal region and made certain that the intestines were in their natural position. There had been no embalming of any kind nor had any artificial preservative agents been used. I observed a wound in the left side near the heart and asked two of the Society who were with me to put their fingers into it. When they withdrew them they were covered with blood which I smelt and found to be absolutely untainted. The limbs and other part of the body were entire and clothed in their flesh in such a way that, according to the laws of medicine, they could not possibly have been so preserved by any natural or artificial means, seeing that Father Francis had been dead for a year and a half and buried for a year."

Dr Ambrosio Ribeiro writes "I felt the body with my own hands from the feet up the knees and about all the other parts of the body. I certify that in all these parts the flesh was entire, covered with its natural skin and humidity without any corruption. On the left leg a little above the knee on the exterior there is a little cut or wound, a finger length, which looked like a hit. All round the wound there oozed out a streak of blood gone black. And much above in the left side near the heart there is a small hole which looked like a hit. Through it I inserted my fingers deep as I could and found it hollow. Only inside I felt some small bits which seemed to me like pieces of intestines dried up due to the long times the body lay in the grave. But I smelt no corruption although I put my face quite close to the body. The head rested on a small Chinese damask pillow leaving on it below the neck some thing like a stain of blood similar to that on the leg, faded in color and turned black.

Brother Antonio Dias writes " To others who come to see the body, they show only the hands and feet and a part of the legs and arms. But I, who am a true witness, saw the body enshrouded and with priests and brothers wrapped it up in another sheet. I assure you that it emitted a wonderful and sweet odor. I myself put one of my hands into the stomach and I found it full because they had not drawn out the intestines at his death or afterwards, and what I found there was all like coagulated blood, smooth and soft, which looked reddish and smelt sweet.

Both the above texts are signed and dated 1556, more than two and half years after the examination - the one of Saraiva on November 18 and the other on December 1, 1556.

Goencho Saib

In 1613 the relics were moved to the Professed House of the Jesuits. Francis Xavier was canonized with St. Ignatius in 1622. He has since then been known as St Francis Xavier, and became Goa's Patron Saint or "Goencho Saib".

After canonization his body was moved to the north transept of the church and later moved to its present location following the construction of the mausoleum. It was placed in a silver casket made by local Goan artisans and was put on permanent display. A three tiered catafalque was constructed in the 1680's and it was consecrated in 1698. All along, the body was continuously being handled by devout followers as it was on display all the time. It was also subject to a series of planned and unplanned mutilations. In 1614 by order of Claudius Acquaviva, then General of the Society of Jesus, the right arm was severed at the elbow and conveyed to Rome. In 1619, rest of the arm was severed and sent to Japan, pieces of the shoulder blade to Cochin, Malacca and Macao. In 1636 the internal organs were also distributed. By 1700 the body had deteriorated and it was then decided to keep the coffin locked. Some exceptions were however made.

Expositions

The body is now referred to as the "Sacred Relics" and continues to be be displayed during an "Exposition".

In 1759, with the change in the political climate in Europe, the order of Jesuits was banned and the Jesuits were evicted from their premises and expelled. The control of both the Church of Bom Jesus and the body was transferred to the Archdiocese of Goa. From 1878 onwards it became tradition to allow an Exposition of the Relics once every 10 years.

The Expositions

I

10th February 1782 to 12th February 1782 Around the time of the Jesuits ban. To reassure people that the Jesuits had not taken the body with them.

II

3rd December 1859 to 8th January 1860

III

3rd December to 6th January 1879

First photo of body in coffin taken at this time.

IV

3rd December 1890 to 1st January 1891

V

7th December to 10th December 1900

VI

26th November to 28th December 1910

VII

3rd December 1922 to 7th January 1923

3rd centenary of his canonization.

VIII

3rd December 1931 to 10th January 1932

IX

6th May 1942 to 17th May 1942

4th centenary of his arrival to Goa.

X

3rd December 1952 to 6th January 1953

4th centenary of his death. Body enclosed in a glass casket.

XI

14th December 1961 to 31st December 1961

During the time of Goa's liberation by Indian Forces, ordered by the then Governor General Vassalo de Silva who expected a miracle to be repeated for the last time in his bid to retain Goa under the Portuguese.

XII

24th November 1964 to 6th January 1965

XIII

23rd November 1974 to 13th January 1975

Examination of the body after the exposition by Dr. Joan Manuel Pacheco de Figueiredo, ex-Dean of Goa Medical College and by Dr. Pedro de Ataíde, physician.

X1V

21st November 1984 to 13th January 1985

XV

November 23rd 1994 to January 7th 1995

Attended by two million faithful believers & tourists.

XVI

21 November 2004 to 2 January 2005


XVII

22nd November 2014 to 4th January 2015

See also

Catholic saints and blesseds: India for a complete list, as well as links to the biographies of other Christian saints and blesseds

Syrian Christian

Mizoram 1870-1926: Christianity and literacy

East Indans (Catholics)

The Bombay East Indian Association

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