X is for Francis Xavier

This is my contribution to Round Eleven of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.

Francis XavierIf there is anything destined to scupper my ABC Wednesday posts, it has to be the letter X. There just aren’t that many people who have that as an initial, but while there are I’ll carry on, this time with Francis Xavier.

Xavier was a Roman Catholic missionary and co-founder of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits and more provocatively as God’s Marines.

He was born in Navarre in the Basque country of Spain in 1506 at the family castle of Xabier, the name deriving from ‘etxaberri’, or ‘new house’ in the Basque language.

The Spanish invaded Navarre in 1512 and in 1516 Xavier’s brothers took part in a failed attempt to drive them out which resulted in the family’s land being confiscated and their castle all but destroyed save for their living quarters.

Xavier grew up in a world of warfare as France and Spain vied for the disputed territory and in 1525 he went to study at the Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris.

Although seemingly destined for an academic life, Xavier’s thoughts turned more to missionary service and in 1534 he founded the Society of Jesus in a small chapel in Montmartre, making vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and also to convert the Muslims in the Middle East.

Xavier spent much of the remainder of his life in missions in Asia, partly to convert the local people, but also to bolster the faith of Portuguese settlers.

Conversion of the Paravars

Conversion of the Paravars

His first missionary work was among the Paravars on the east coast of southern India. He lived in a sea cave in Manapad and built 40 churches along the coast, including St Stephen’s at Kombuthurai.

Xavier later travelled to Japan and what is now Indonesia and gained several Japanese converts who were to travel with him.

After briefly returning to India, they again visited Japan, but he found it difficult to convert the people to Christianity. To begin with, Xavier struggled with the language which was unlike any he had encountered, but the other obstacle was that many Japanese were already followers of Buddhism or Shinto.

They also struggled with the concept of hell as a place where their ancestors were forced to live!

Statue of Xavier and his Japanese followers in Kagoshima

Statue of Xavier and his Japanese followers in Kagoshima

But Xavier’s great ambition was to take the word of God to China and in August 1552 he reached the island of Shangchuan,  eight miles from the mainland.

He had an agreement with a local to take him to the mainland in exchange for a large sum, but died from a fever while waiting for the boat to arrive.

Xavier’s body was buried on the beach at Shangchuan, but was removed the following year and re-interred at St Paul’s church in the Portuguese colony of Malacca.

It didn’t stay there long. Xavier’s remains were again removed and this time taken to their final resting place at the Basilica of Bom Jesus where it was later placed in a glass container encased in a silver casket in December 1637.

Read more about Francis Xavier on Wikipedia.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

6 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 28th December 2012

    Xavier’s basketball team always disappoints in my March Madness picks.

  • Trevor Rowley 28th December 2012

    The Basilica of Bom Jesus (“Holy” Jesus) is in Old Goa, India. The building is almost fortress-like in its design and proportions and is typical of what you might expect in this Portuguese influenced part of the tropics. I was there about a year ago and, given his dedication and industry in spreading Christianity to the eastern world, it wasn’t until returning home that the significance of having visited the tomb of St Francis Xavier became so apparent to me. A wonderful experience.

  • ChrisJ 28th December 2012

    Very interesting post. I do like posts where I learn something new. I knew about Francis Xavier and the Society of Jesus but did not know of his missionary efforts — especially in India and Indonesia.

  • Blind Pudding 28th December 2012

    A few years back, on a trip to Old Goa Town, I wandered around the Basilica of Bom Jesus but had no idea that Francis Xavier’s mortal remains were there. What a pudding I am!

  • John 29th December 2012

    I always come away from chez SP feeling a little more intelligent x

  • rhymeswithplague 31st December 2012

    A very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2013 from the not-quite-mountains of north Georgia to you there in the motherland.

    We didn’t send out any Christmas cards this year (again) and we didn’t even put up a tree, first time ever in our entire lives. I missed it, but the best thing about not having put up a tree is not having to take it down.


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