St Francis Xavier
Xavier was born Francisco de Jaso y Azpilcueta in the Castle of Xavier (modern
Spanish Javier, Basque Xabier) near Sangüesa and Pamplona, in Navarre,
Spain. He sprang from an aristocratic Basque family of Navarre.
In 1512, Castile invaded Navarre. Many fortresses were devastated, including
the family castle, and land was confiscated. Francis’ father died in 1515.
At the age of 19, Francis Xavier went to study at the University of paris,
where he received a licence ès arts in 1530. He furthered his studies
there in theology, and became acquainted with Ignatius Loyola. Along with
Ignatius, Pierre Favre and four others, Xavier was one of those who on August
15, 1534 bound themselves by a vow at Montmartre and formed the Society of
Francis Xavier devoted much of his life to missions to remote countries.
As King John III of Portugal desired Jesuit missionaries for the Portuguese
East Indies, he was ordered there in 1540.
He left Lisbon on April 7, 1541, together with two other Jesuits and the
new viceroy Martin de Sousa, on board the Santiago.
From August of that year until March 1542, he remained in Mozambique, and
reached Goa, India, the capital of the then Portuguese colonies, on May 6.
His official role in Goa was Apostolic Nuncio. He spent the following three
years operating out of Goa.
On September 20, 1542, he left for his first missionary activity among the
Paravas, pearl-fishers along the east coast of southern India, north of Cape
He then exerted himself to convert the king of Travancore to Christianity,
on the west coast, and also visited Ceylon. Dissatisfied with the results
of his activity, he turned eastward in 1545, and planned a missionary journey
to Macassar, on the island of Celebes, in today’s Indonesia.
After arriving in Malacca in October of that year and waiting there three
months in vain for a ship to Macassar, he gave up the goal of his voyage.
He left Malacca on January 1, 1546 and landed on Amboyna, where he stayed
He then visited other Molucca Islands, including Ternate and More. Shortly
after Easter 1546, he returned to Ambon Island, and then Malacca.
In December 1547, in Malacca, Francis Xavier met a Japanese nobleman from
Kagoshima called Anjiro. Anjiro had heard from Francis in 1545 and had travelled
from Kagoshima to Malacca with the purpose of meeting him. Following their
conversations, Xavier decided to travel to Japan.
He returned to India in January 1548. The next fifteen months were occupied
with various journeys and administrative measures in India.
Then due to displeasure at the unchristian life and manners of the Portuguese,
which impeded proselyting work, he went forth once again into the unknown
Far East. He left Goa on April 15, 1549, stopped at Malacca, and visited Canton.
He was accompanied by Anjiro, two other Japanese men, the father Cosme de
Torrès and Brother Juan Fernandez. He had taken with him presents for
the “King of Japan”, since he was intending to introduce himself
as the Apostolic Nuncio.
Xavier reached Japan on August 15, 1549. He landed at Kagoshima, the principal
port of the province of Satsuma, on the island of Kyushu. He was received
in a friendly manner and was the host of Ajiro’s family until October 1550.
From October to December 1550, he resided in Yamaguchi. Shortly before Christmas,
he left for Kyoto, but failed at meeting with the Emperor. He returned to
Yamaguchi in March 1551. There he was permitted to preach by the daimyo, but
not knowing the Japanese language he had to limit himself to reading aloud
the translation of a catechism.
ltimately his sojourn was fruitful, as attested by congregations established
in Hirado, Yamaguchi, and Bungo. Xavier worked for more than two years in
Japan and saw his successor-Jesuits established. He then decided to return
During his trip, a tempest forced him to stop on an island near Guangzhou,
China. There he saw the rich merchant Diégo Pereira, an old friend
from Cochin, who showed him a letter of Portuguese being held prisoners in
Guangzhou asking for a Portuguese ambassador to talk to the Chinese Emperor
in their favor. Later, he stopped at Malacca on December 27, 1551 and was
back in Goa by January, 1552.
On April 17 he was again under way, together with Diégo Pereira, leaving
Goa on board of the Santa Cruz and aiming for China. He introduced himself
as Apostolic Nuncio, and Pereira as ambassador of the King of Portugal. Shortly
thereafter, he realized that he had forgotten his testimonial letters as an
Back in Malacca, he was confronted by the capitan Alvaro de Ataide de Gama,
who now had total control over the harbor. The capitan refused to recognize
his title of Nuncio, asked Pereira to resign from his title of ambassador,
named a new crew for the ship, and demanded that the gifts for the Emperor
be left in Malacca.
In early September 1552, the Santa Cruz reached the Chinese island of Shangchuan,
10 km away from the southern coast of mainland China, near Taishan, Guangdong,
200 km south-west of what later became Hong Kong.
At this time, he was only accompanied by a Jesuit student, Alvaro Ferreira,
a Chinese man called Antonio, and a Malabar servant called Christopher.
Around mid-November he sent a letter saying that a man had agreed to take
him to the mainland in exchange for a large sum of money. Having sent back
Alvaro Ferreira, he remained alone with Antonio.
On November 21, he fainted after celebrating a mass. He died on the island
on December 2, 1552, at age 46, without having reached mainland China.
He was first buried on Shangchuan Dao’s beach. His intact body was
taken from the island in February 1553. It was temporarily buried in St. Paul’s
church in Malacca on March 22, 1553. An open grave in the church now marks
the place of Xavier’s burial.
Pereira came back from Goa, removed the corpse shortly after April 15, 1553,
and moved it to his house.
On December 11, 1553, Xavier’s body was shipped to Goa. The body, having
resisted extensive decay, is now in the Basilica of Bom Jésus in Goa,
where it was placed into a silver casket on December 2, 1637.
The silver casket is lowered for public viewing only during the public exposition,
which most recently took place in 1994.
There is a debate as to how the body could have remained incorrupt for so
long. Some say that Francis Xavier was mummified, while others argue that
the incorruptible body is evidence of a miracle.