06 May 2024  |   11:43pm IST

Today, the day he set his feet on Goan soil

Francis was born on April 17, 1506 at Chateau Javier in the region of Navarre in Northern Spain
Today, the day he set his feet on Goan soil

Frazer Andrade

The dawn of the 16th Century saw the Portuguese thrust themselves into unknown countries in their giant ships, thus opening the sea route to India and the Far East. Even though the world has denied to Portugal the glory and honor, due to her by political sectarianism, people of Goa admit that St. Francis Xavier’s appearance on the Malabar Coast of India in the 16th Century, brought them to a turning point in their history.  

Francis was born on April 17, 1506 at Chateau Javier in the region of Navarre in Northern Spain. By the second half of the 16th century, Goa had become the seat of the Portuguese Empire in the East. It had prospered and become immensely rich and hence rightly called as the “Rome of the East” or “Goa Dourada” (Golden Goa). The Portuguese who governed the country, used the expression “Quem viu Goa, excusa de ver Lisboa”, i.e., “He who has seen Goa, has no need to visit Lisboa”. But gradually, the rot had set in for the worldly ways of the people had made the situation rankle.  Francis landed in Goa on 06 May 1542. He writes to the King of Portugal, describing Goa as a “sink of corruption”. He mentioned that there was cruelty, greed and corruption of Portuguese traders and officials, especially when it directly affected the pearl divers of Coromandel, who were his flock of converts.  He appealed to the King to introduce the Inquisition, so as to primarily check the morals and religion of the Portuguese, “as many”, he said, “live openly as Jews or Mohammedans merely for monetary gain”. This request had even affected those Christians who had previously been converted by St. Thomas, the apostle of Christ. On landing Goa Francis was overjoyed that he set his foot there. He bent down kissing the soil giving thanks to God, for many who had sailed with him from Lisbon, had perished on the way, some buried at sea and others on the African soil. 

He had been sent by the Pope, at request of the King João III of Portugal. He visited Malacca and the Molucca Islands between 1545 to 1547. His next objective was to convert Japan to Christianity, where he lived from 1545 to 1552.  Towards the end of 1552, he attempted to reach China, but died on island of Sancian, at the age of 46.

Many miracles were witnessed during his stay in the Orient, some cited in the bull of canonization issued by Pope Gregory XV, in 1622. Francis Xavier was beatified by Paul V on 25th October 1619, and was canonized by Gregory XV on 12 March 1622, at the same time as Ignatius Loyola. Pius XI proclaimed him the "Patron of Catholic Missions".

The 18th century sculpture shown here is carved from cattle bone. The Saint is represented in His usual attire, wearing a surplice and stole over his cassock. Both hands of the Saint are missing. The head is a separate attachment affixed to the body. The hair and beard of the Saint have traces of black pigment.  He is Shown standing on a base also carved out from the same piece of bone as the body. This base has a name plate in the center on which, probably there existed an abbreviation S.F.X (São Francisco Xavier), at one point in time. The edges of the name plate and surplice have a toothed appearance which allows us to date the image to the 18th Century. The bone piece is placed on a wooden base which has a horizontal groove in center. 

The halo adorning the saint is made of beaten silver designed to look like radiating rays. The lower portion of the halo has a crescent, bordered with pearl motifs. Within the crescent are circular motifs with alternating spaces.


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