|Born||7 April 1506(1506-04-07)|
Xavier, Kingdom of Navarre, (Spain)
|Died||3 December 1552(1552-12-03) (aged 46)|
Shangchuan Island, China
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Anglican Communion|
|Beatified||25 October 1619 by Paul V|
|Canonized||12 March 1622 by Gregory XV|
|Attributes||crucifix; preacher carrying a flaming heart; bell; globe; vessel; young bearded Jesuit in the company of Saint Ignatius Loyola; young bearded Jesuit with a torch, flame, cross and lily|
|Patronage||African missions; Agartala, India; Ahmedabad, India; Alexandria, Louisiana; Apostleship of Prayer; Australia; Bombay, India; Borneo; Cape Town, South Africa; China; Dinajpur, Bangladesh; East Indies; Fathers of the Precious Blood; foreign missions; Freising, Germany; Goa India; Green Bay, Wisconsin; India; Indianapolis, Indiana; Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan; Joiliet, Illinois; Kabankalan, Philippines; Nasugbu, Batangas, Philippines; Alegria , Cebu, Philippines; diocese of Malindi, Kenya; missionaries; Missioners of the Precious Blood; Navarre, Spain; navigators; New Zealand; parish missions; plague epidemics; Propagation of the Faith|
The first formal request for a portrait of Xavier came 30 years after his death. Most likely at Rome’s request, Alessandro Valignano, the Jesuit superior general’s delegate in the Far East, commissioned two authentic portraits in Goa in 1583. One remained in Goa; the second was sent to Rome. Both have been lost, but the one sent to Rome was copied and became the source of later images. Xavier was depicted in the type of clothes he wore in India, holding his robe to his chest with his hands, eyes directed heavenward. His physical features, gestures, and clothes follow contemporary descriptions of him. Contemporaries said that he was of medium to tall height, that he walked with a joyful, calm face, and that often his eyes were moist and gazed upward. Friends regarded the portrait as true to life.
In some images Xavier is pulling his cassock open with both hands, and the words in Latin reading “It is enough, O Lord, it is enough!” appear somewhere near him. This is an allusion to Xavier’s moments of ecstasy when he thought he was alone and no one could see or hear him, which seem to have occurred primarily at Goa in 1552 before he embarked on his final voyage to China. This image was repeated in the decorations and in souvenir pictures sold at the time of his canonization. In other images, Xavier wears a black cassock with a white surplice and stole.
Xavier had a reputation as a miracle-worker even in his lifetime, and the miracles figured in his imagery. In 1546 in the Moluccas, Xavier lost a crucifix during a storm at sea, and a crab brought it back to him. The crab appears in the Xavier tradition of iconography, an appearance unique in European imagery. This story was so important that it was depicted on the altar at the canonization ceremony and was one of four miracles represented on the banner that decorated St. Peter’s Church on that occasion.
Another important image was the sailing ship. In engravings produced in Rome after the 1590s, ships are associated with episodes of his life. Several times Xavier’s prayers calmed storms at sea, preserved ships from pirate attacks, and steered them safely into port. One story, reported by two eye witnesses, told how Xavier, while sailing on the Santa Cruz from Malacca to China in 1552, converted sea water into fresh water.
In “The Miracles of Francis Xavier” by Peter Paul Rubens, Xavier brings a number of dead persons back to life, including an Indian child who had drowned in a well—a miracle attested to by many as early as 1543. In the same painting appear a blind man in Japan given sight by Xavier, another whose ability to walk was restored, and a third whom Xavier cured of demonic possession.
The oldest portrayals include a lily, a symbol of purity, for which Xavier was well known. Flemish painter Anthony Van Dyck shows Xavier with a halo and with angels crowning him with a garland of roses and bringing him a lily. Another tradition about Xavier was that he did not experience bodily discomforts. Early biographers relate how he walked barefoot through Japanese mountains during the winter of 1552. Since all his thoughts were directed to God, he felt no pain. This tradition also shows up in the imagery. According to some of his writings, Xavier engaged in an interior struggle with evil spirits; this struggle too entered into the imagery of the saint.
The departure of Xavier and his companions for missions marked the start of the Society of Jesus’ involvement in proclaiming the Gospel beyond Europe. In a sense, his departure came to symbolize the Jesuit’s readiness to be sent on a mission anywhere at the pope’s request. Iconographically this is best represented by an image of Xavier carrying an Indian on his back, a recurring dream he had in Italy in 1537.
The cross was one of the most important symbols of Xavier’s missionary activity. He is often depicted preaching or baptizing while holding a cross. In mission lands, the sacrament of baptism, whereby non-Christians were freed from sin and became members of the Church was, obviously, extremely important. A painting in the Gesù in Rome during the canonization illustrated the baptism of three kings and a host of “heathens.” Xavier’s reports home fostered his reputation as a missionary. In January 1544, for example, he wrote that the number of new converts was so large that his arms often failed him as he baptized.
In 1593 the Society of Jesus requested the canonization of Ignatius and Xavier. At the Gesù in 1599, Cardinal Caesare Baronio officially established the cult of Ignatius by placing his image on his tomb. Later that year he placed an image of Xavier on the altar directly opposite. Ignatius was beatified in 1609; Francis in 1619; and in 1622 the two altars were dedicated to Ignatius and Xavier, now declared saints. Henceforth Jesuit churches had altars dedicated to the first two saints of the Society. In life as in death, in cult as in iconography, the two would be forever linked.
The canonization of Ignatius and Xavier had repercussions in the iconography. Henceforth, many paintings and engravings, especially those from Antwerp and Flanders, emphasized their equal status as saints by vesting them both in chasubles. In the late sixteenth century, Aloysius Gonzaga and Stanislaus Kostka, two other Jesuit candidates for canonization, were added to many engravings of Ignatius and Xavier: Gonzaga, the scholastic, wore a surplice while the novice Kostka was vested in the simple soutane.
In the mid seventeenth century, reliefs of Xavier and Ignatius along with St. Jerome and with the coat of arms of Portugal decorated the fort in the Indian town of Daman. This decoration offered contemporary observers an important visual exemplar of the close relations between the political and religious authorities, especially between the Portuguese royal house and the Society of Jesus, which were decisive for the veneration of Xavier. The Portuguese king initiated proceedings for Xavier’s canonization immediately after his death and thus deserves some credit for Xavier’s rapid canonization. More important, Xavier fulfilled the post-Tridentine requirements during his lifetime: capacity for miracles, bodily incorruption, a combination of a contemplative life and virtue (chastity and dedication to the needy, for instance).
The Society of Jesus skillfully employed various artistic genres in its campaign for the canonization of Xavier. After Ignatius, Xavier is the Jesuit most frequently depicted in art. With Ignatius he has a fixed place of honor on several church façades and Jesuit altars. Various portraits highlight Xavier’s place in Jesuit history, and he figures prominently in “historical” scenes, even those in which he had actually played no part. For example, Xavier can be identified in paintings of Pope Paul III’s approval of the Society on September 27, 1540, even though he had left Rome the previous March. Official works of art portrayed him with the attributes of a blessed or a saint years before his beatification or canonization. Public cult outran official measures and, indeed, evoked them.
Today historians and scholars may be more interested in his efforts to learn foreign languages, to adopt indigenous dress, and to debate with learned Japanese than in his miracles and incorrupt body. And this shift will influence the iconography. But Xavier continues to fascinate. Now 450 years after his death, Muslims, Hindus, and Christians still venerate him as “Santo Padre.”
History of His Incorrupt Body
Its nearly five-hundred-year-old “mostly” incorrupt body of the great Portuguese Jesuit Saint Francis Xavier.
In his life, Father Francis converted thousands to the Christian faith and performed many miracles, including raising a boy from the dead; and many more conversions and miraculous events are attributed to him after his death. But the story of what happened to his body after his death is amongst the most sensational, and certainly most documented miracles.
The length of time which God preserved his body incorrupt “as fresh as a living man” after his death (for the first two or three hundred years, he was very ‘fresh”) certainly attests to the incredible sanctity this follower of Christ possessed. Today, his holy remains look a bit like a well preserved mummy.
It is rather dry and light-brownish looking, yet the details of the ears and eyelids and nose and lips and wrinkles in the skin on the cheeks are incredible considering it was never preserved in any way, not even air conditioned or hermetically sealed to keep out the effects of the caustic Indian weather of intense heat and humidity. It should be noted that the Basilica doors and windows are kept open most of the day, allowing heat and humidity in freely, and without any type of air conditioning, as is the norm for all churches and most buildings and houses. The body has always been subject to these conditions, even to this day, as it lays in an ordinary glass case, its removable lid held in place by screws.
“The Incorrupt Body of St Francis Xavier suffered not only many indignities but also many violences from the thoughtless friends as well as admiring devotees through all the vicissitudes it has known during these four [now more than 4 ½] centuries. We already know how the servant who was sent to exhume the body from the desolate coast of Sancian cut off a piece of flesh, a finger’s length from the left knee.” [This gushed forth blood as if it had been cut from a living body.]
Dec 3, 1552—the Saint died at the age of 46 years, seven months and twenty six days, of which he had spent 10 years and 7 months minus 4 days in Asia. He was in the islands off the coast of China where he wished to enter and spread the Gospel, when he fell ill with a fever which lasted 13 days. He finally succumbed in the night between Dec 2 and Dec 3, praying quietly, invoking the Holy Trinity.
The next day his body was given a lowly burial of the poor, on the beach of Sancian off the coast of China. Only four persons were present at the grave: Antonio the Chinaman, two servants to dig the grave, and a fellow Portuguese, Francisco Sanches. They had decided to pack the body with lime “as it would consume the flesh and leave only the bare bones” in the event it would be decided to transport the remains back to Goa.
Feb 17, 1553—the body was exhumed to see if it was fit for transport to Malacca and then to Goa. They were amazed to find the body without any sign of decay or corruption. A piece of flesh was cut from above the left knee, from which it gushed blood as if from a living person. They took the body in an open coffin and filled it with lime, hoping the open sea would help the lime do its work decomposing the flesh quicker.
March 22, 1553—the body reached Malacca where there was a Jesuit mission where Xavier often preached and taught. They had a Mass for the dead for him there. When they removed his body from the lime in order to place him in a grave which had been hollowed out of rock near the high altar, “they found the body as fresh as someone who had died but yesterday.” Without even removing the lime which had stuck to the body and clothes, the servants had placed the body without a coffin as was the custom of the place, with nothing but a handkerchief thrown over the face. As the grave was found to be too short, they pressed the head over the breast, thus breaking the neck. This position of the head has remained ever since. They “then filled the grave with earth and thumped it down with heavy weights, thus inflicting further injuries to the body.”
August 5, 1553—Fr Juan de Beira, successor Francis in the Molucca missions could not leave the Malaccas without seeing the remains of his former superior and model. He and Diogo Pereira, in the dead of night, had the grave opened and the body taken out. To their great astonishment the body was still fresh, showing no signs of corruption, though the burial had left its marks on the body: the nose was crushed, there were bruises on the face and a sharp stone had made a wound on the left side. Finally it dawned on these guys “such a life like body should not again be consigned to a grave.” They secretly removed it, closing the grave up behind them. They laid the body in a new coffin and clothed it in the rich linen that Francis Xavier had meant to bring as presents to the Emperor of China. Thus he lay in secret until it was placed on board a ship to Goa, Dec 11, 1553.
March 16, 1554—the holy body of Francis Xavier reached Goa. It was met with frenzied jubilation from the people. There were reports of the odor of sanctity which accompanied the body and an inspired sense of prayer and devotion among the people. The next day a doctor examined the body and reported that it was like a fresh body.
June 1554-- The Viceroy sent a physician who examined the body. He was surprised to find a body which was dead for a year and a half and buried for a year to be in such a fresh state. He verified there had been no embalming and that the organs were all in their natural position. He “observed a wound in the left side near the heart and asked two of the Society who were with him to put their fingers into it. When they withdrew them, they were covered with blood which smelled absolutely untainted.”
One of the Jesuits who accompanied this examination wrote “I assure you that [the body] emitted a wonderful and sweet odour. 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 red and smelt sweet.”
November 3, 1614—The right arm was cut off by order of Father General Claude Aquaviva. Cut at the elbow, it was sent to Rome in the following year, where it is kept in a silver reliquary and venerated in the church of Gesu. The body was found to be “beautiful and whole” at the time of this desiccation. The eyes were bright and black and the lips scarlet red, the tongue moist and pink, the beard black and thick. The limbs flexed easily, according to the report. “The forehead is broad and high, with two rather large veins, soft and of a purple tint, running down the middle as is often seen in talented persons who concentrate a great deal. The eyes are lively and sweet, with so penetrating a glance that he would seem to be alive and breathing. The lips are of a bright reddish colour and the beard is thick. In the cheeks there is a delicate vermilion tint. The tongue is quite flexible, red and moist and the chin is beautifully proportioned. In a word, the body has all the appearances of being that of a living man. The blood is fluid, the lips flexible, the flesh solid, the colour lively, the feet straight, the nails well formed. The loss of two toes left a darkish trace on the right leg. But for this, there can be found no other body so clean and sound as the body of the Apostle of the Indies. It is so great a marvel and miracle that on seeing it, while I was present, the Commissary of the Dutch East India Company, Mynheer Vandryeers, became at once a convert to the Catholic Faith."
April 27, 1619—the rest of the right arm with the shoulder blade was cut off at the order of the same Fr General in order to satisfy the request of the Jesuit Province of Japan for a great relic of its first apostle. At that time Japan was in the middle of a fierce persecution. Many small pieces of relic have been made from these pieces and sent to congregations and shrines throughout the world. Bits of skin, hair, nails were removed and distributed.
1698—The Jesuit authorities in Rome ordered the holy relic to be enclosed in glass to prevent further desiccation. This glass coffin was later encased in a silver casket.
Feb 10-12 1782—first exposition of the relics to the people, in response to a rumor that the relics had been stolen away by the Jesuits, leaving the empty coffin behind.
Before the exposition, there was an official inspection of the relics, on Jan 1, 1782. They “found the body vested in sacerdotal robes, the head intact, with enough hair on the skull, which is visible; the face shrunken but covered with skin, with a trace of a small contusion on the right side; both ears intact, all the teeth, except a missing one, visible; the left arm and hand shrunk but covered with skin; the rest of the body entire but without intestines, as the Archbishop ascertained by passing his hand below the vestments; the thighs and feet shrunk, but still covered with skin, the veins being visible; the toes still had their nails, though one of them was missing. The authorities were then satisfied that the body was in a fit state to be exposed to the view of the people.”
Dec 3, 1859 – Jan 8, 1860—second exposition. Body in same condition as previous exposition. Eight miraculous cures that were individually examined and verified and seven person asked for baptism.
Dec 3 1878 - Jan 6, 1879—third exposition. This is the first time the body was photographed, which “gives us an invaluable document to the state of the body at the time. And it was in the same state in 1922.”. 300,000 people kissed the feet of the Saint, notable among them was the Nizam of Hyderabad who went there in a special ship. There were fourteen miraculous cures which were examined and authenticated.
Dec 3, 1890 - Jan 1 1891—fourth exposition. Fifty-seven miraculous cures were examined and authenticated.
Dec 7-10, 1900--short exposition due to the Eucharist Congress held in Goa.
Nov 26 – Dec 28, 1910—sixth exposition. Many important dignitaries came among the pilgrims, including the prelates from British India. Thirteen miraculous cures were verified, among them a Jesuit missionary from Germany who later devoted his life to the study and writing of Xavier’s life. This is Father George Schurhammer, S.J., whose work on St Francis Xavier is well known among the Jesuits.
Dec 3, 1922 to Jan 7, 1923—exposition in honor of the third centenary of the canonization of St Francis Xavier. 4,000 Masses were celebrated during the expositon. Many miraculous cures. Twenty-one conversions from Anglicanism, Hinduism, Mohammedanism and Zoroastrianism. (The author of the book I am referencing states his grandfather attended this exposition and he recounts his grandfather’s memories, which is probably why the previous religions of the converts is pointed out here and nowhere else. It should be noted that for all of the conversions associated with this Saint throughout the years, most of them were previously Hindu, and a good number of them were Muslims and Anglican/Protestants.)
Dec 3, 1931 to Jan 10, 1932—exposition at the request of the new governor of Goa who was greatly devoted to the Saint. More than 500,000 people came to venerate the relic. Twenty miraculous cures reported and verified. Twelve persons asked for instruction and baptism.
May 6-17, 1942—exposition in honor of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of St Francis Xavier to Goa. Troubles leading up to partition of India and the on-going World War II made travel difficult to the shrine. In lieu of travel, the devoted sent their petitions by post and telegram. 10,000 petitions were collected and laid at the feet of the Saint.
Dec 3, 1952- Jan 6, 1953—exposition in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Saint’s death. 817,000 faithful kissed the relics. Five miraculous cures were reported.
At the end of this exposition, it was decided that pilgrims should no longer touch the holy relic and it was enclosed in a glass case in 1955.
Dec 13-31, 1961—secret exposition for the troops and officials of the Portuguese occupation. These were the days of tension between the Indian Union and the Portuguese Government over the question of merger of Goa. As tensions began to grow, the Saint's relics were exposed and his intercession sought. After Goa was liberated from Portuguese occupation, the relics were quietly put back in the glass case, the Goans not made aware of this exposition.
Dec 24, 1964 - Jan 6, 1965—exposition in honor of the 38th International Eucharistic Congress held in Bombay. In preparation for this event, the Indian government did much in repairing churches, and laying out roads and electrical lighting for the first time. Pope Paul VI visited the Eucharistic Congress in Bombay on Dec 4th of 1964. On his way back to Rome the next day, the pope flew over Goa in his plane, sending a prayer as he did so.
Nov 23, 1974 to Jan 5, 1975--exposition in honor of the Holy Year proclaimed by Pope Paul in 1975, namely “Renewal and Reconciliation”. It was post Vat II fever, complete with an exhibition “Witness ‘75” held in the historic convent of St Monica, it ‘discouraged ‘external pomp’ of the exposition and directed everything be performed in ‘sober austerity’.
February 12, 1975—medical examination by two physicians, and a dean of the medical college of Panjim. They found great changes in the face. The left eye no longer protruded. The eyelids can still be distinguished. On the exterior they still form part of the face whose skin seems to be dry, withered and rough with some spots of decay and the hairs of the beard are sticking to the chin. In the angle of the lower jaw there is a spot of decay in the skin, revealing clearly the bone in a fresh condition. The outer right ear looks rather atrophied. In the hand and feet they could still see the flexuous veins and tendons. The right heel is detached but kept in position with the rest of the bones by a piece of wire. The colour of the skin of the parts that are bare is clayish.”
Every year on the Feast day of the Saint, Dec 3, thousands flock to the Basilica to venerate the Saint and pray for various intentions. Many are Catholic of course, but there are also many Hindus and Protestants and Muslims who attend each year as well. To this day, many report miracles and conversions as a result of the intercession of this great Saint Francis Xavier, the Apostle to the Indies.
The relics of St Francis Xavier have been enclosed in a glass case since February 13, 1955; “there can be now no difficulty in keeping them exposed to the view of the public. They are not hermetically sealed, as many thought before; the top lid can be opened by removing screws; this is how the glasses are cleaned from the inside, as it was done after the 12th and before the 13th expositions in order to render the relics more visible.”
It rests atop a tall pedestal, the marble mausoleum, which is to the right of the main altar of the Basilica. This is the “permanent exposition”, The mausoleum probably stands 8 feet above the ground, and the glass case is on that.
Welcome to the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus is a World Heritage Monument as well as one of the finest baroque churches of Goa. The Church was built between 1594-1605 and dedicated to Bom Jesus (Good Jesus). The name of Jesus is symbolically represented by the letters ‘IHS’ and is found embellished throughout the Basilica. The IHS is also the monogram of the Society of Jesus, popularly known as the Jesuits, who usually stamped their churches with this insignia.
For all the grandeur contained in this Basilica, nothing could possibly surpass it than the mortal remains of Saint Francis Xavier (1506-1552). Born of Spanish origin and high ambition, Francis Xavier had his heart won for Christ and, along with Ignatius of Loyola, was instrumental in founding the Society of Jesus. Francis Xavier arrived in Goa on 6 May 1542 and tirelessly worked for the spread of the Christian faith throughout the East. While the Church declared Francis Xavier the Patron of the Indies, Goa chose to honour him as Goencho Saib (Lord of Goa).
As you gather your pilgrim staff and journey along the Shrine of Saint Francis Xavier, ask yourself: How do I intend to give glory to God?
We pray that your visit to the Basilica of Bom Jesus will be a memorable experience…