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Saint Francis Xavier
Saint Francis Xavier was one of the founding members of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits.
Apostle to the Far East
Born 7 April 1506(1506-04-07), Xavier, Kingdom of Navarre
Died 3 December 1552 (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
Feast 3 December
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; diocese of Malindi, Kenya; missionaries; Missioners of the Precious Blood; Navarre, Spain; navigators; New Zealand; parish missions; plague epidemics; Propagation of the Faith
Society of Jesus

History of the Jesuits
Regimini militantis

Jesuit Hierarchy
Superior General
Adolfo Nicolás

Ignatian Spirituality
Spiritual Exercises
Ad maiorem Dei gloriam

Famous Jesuits
St. Ignatius of Loyola
St. Francis Xavier
Blessed Peter Faber
St. Aloysius Gonzaga
St. Robert Bellarmine
St. Peter Canisius
St. Edmund Campion

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Saint Francis Xavier, born Francisco de Jaso y Azpilicueta (7 April 1506, Javier, Navarre – 3 December, 1552, Shangchuan Island, China) was a Spanish pioneering Roman Catholic missionary of Navarrese origin and co-founder of the Society of Jesus. He was a student of Saint Ignatius Loyola and one of the first seven Jesuits who dedicated themselves to the service of God at Montmarte in 1534.[1] He led an extensive mission into Asia, mainly in the Asian Portuguese Empire of the time. He was influential in the spreading and upkeep of Catholicism most notably in India (in Goa), but also ventured into Japan, Borneo, the Moluccas, and other areas which had thus far not been colonized. In these areas, being a pioneer and struggling to learn the local language of the indigenous people in the face of opposition, he had less success.

Early life

The castle of the Xavier family was later acquired by the Company of Jesus and reconstructed.

Francis Xavier was born in the family castle of Xavier (Xabier, in Basque) in the Kingdom of Navarre on 7 April, 1506 according to a family register. He was born to an aristocratic family of Navarre, the youngest son of Juan de Jaso, privy counsellor to King John III of Navarre (Jean d'Albret), and Doña Maria de Azpilcueta y Xavier, sole heiress of two noble Navarrese families. He was thus related to the great theologian and philosopher Martín de Azpilcueta. Following the Basque surname custom of the time, he was named after his mother; his name is accurately written Francisco de Xavier (Latin Xaverius) rather than Francisco Xavier, as Xavier is originally a place name. Basque[2] and Romance[3] were his two mother tongues.

Joint Castilian and Aragonese troops commanded by Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, second Duke of Alba conquered the Kingdom of Navarre in 1512. After a failed French-Navarrese attempt to reconquer the kingdom in (1516), in which Saint Francis' brothers had taken part, the outer wall, the gates and two towers of the family castle were demolished, the moat was filled, the height of the keep was reduced in half,[4] and land was confiscated. Only the family residence inside the castle was left. Francis' father died in 1515 when he was only nine years old.

Xavier met Ignatius of Loyola while they were both students at the University of Paris. While at the time he seemed destined for academic success in the line of his noble family, Ignatius reputedly turned his sights to a life of Catholic missionary service. He later joined Ignatius, together with five others, in founding the Society of Jesus. On the 15 August, 1534, in a small chapel in Montmartre, they made a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, and also vowed to convert the Muslims in the Middle East (or, failing this, carry out the wishes of the Pope). Francis Xavier went, with the rest of the members of the newly papal-approved Jesuit order, to Venice, Italy, to be ordained to the priesthood, which took place on 24 June, 1537. Towards the end of October, the seven companions reached Bologna, where they worked in the local hospital. After that, he served for a brief period in Rome as Ignatius' secretary.

Missionary Work

Francis Xavier devoted much of his life to missions in foreign countries. As King John III of Portugal desired Jesuit missionaries for the Portuguese East Indies, he was ordered there in 1540 by Ignatius on behalf of the King. The King believed that Christian values were eroding among the colonists of Goa. He left Lisbon on 7 April, 1541 together with two other Jesuits and the new Viceroy Martim Afonso de Sousa, on board the Santiago. From August of that year until March, 1542, he remained in Mozambique then reached Goa, the capital of the then Portuguese Indian colonies on 6 May, 1542. His official role there was Apostolic Nuncio and he spent the following three years operating out of Goa.

On 20 September, 1543, he left for his first missionary activity among the Paravas, pearl-fishers along the east coast of southern India, North of Cape Comorin (or Template:Noredlink). He lived in a sea cave in Manapad, intensively catechizing Paravar children for three months in 1544. He then focused on converting the king of Travancore to Christianity and also visited Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Dissatisfied with the results of his activity, he set his sights eastward in 1545 and planned a missionary journey to Makassar on the island of Celebes (today's Indonesia).

As the first Jesuit in India, Francis had difficulty procuring success for his missionary trips. Instead of trying to approach Christianity through the traditions of the local religion and creating a nativised church as the Jesuit, Matteo Ricci, did in China, he was eager for change . His successors, such as de Nobili, Ricci, and Beschi, attempted to convert the noblemen first as a means to influence more people, while Francis had initially interacted most with the lower classes (later though, in Japan, Francis changed tact by paying tribute to the Emperor and seeking an audience with him).[5] However Francis' mission was primarily, as ordered by King John III, to restore Christianity among the Portuguese settlers. Many of the Portuguese sailors had had illegitimate relationships with Indian women; Francis struggled to restore moral relations, and catechized many illegitimate children.

After arriving in Portuguese Malacca in October of that year and waiting three months in vain for a ship to Macassar, he gave up the goal of his voyage and left Malacca on 1 January, 1546, for Ambon Island where he stayed until mid-June. He then visited other Maluku Islands including Ternate and More. Shortly after Easter, 1546, he returned to Ambon Island and later Malacca. During this time, frustrated by the elites in Goa, Francis wrote to King John III of Portugal for an Inquisition to be installed in Goa. However he never saw the Inquisition; it began eight years after his death. The Inquisition has since been criticized as being repressive.

Voyages of St. Francis Xavier

Francis Xavier's work initiated permanent change in eastern Indonesia, and he was known as the 'Apostle of the Indies' where in 1546-1547 he worked in the Maluku Islands among the people of Ambon, Ternate, and Morotai (or Moro), and laid the foundations for a permanent mission. After he left the Maluku Islands, others carried on his work and by the 1560s there were 10,000 Catholics in the area, mostly on Ambon. By the 1590s there were 50,000 to 60,000.[6]

In Malacca in December, 1547, Francis Xavier met a Japanese from Kagoshima named Anjiro. Anjiro had heard from Francis in 1545 and had travelled from Kagoshima to Malacca with the purpose of meeting with him. Having been charged with murder, Anjiro had fled Japan. He told Francis extensively about his former life and the customs and culture of his beloved homeland. Anjiro helped Xavier as a mediator and translator for the mission to Japan that now seemed much more possible. "I asked [Anjiro] whether the Japanese would become Christians if I went with him to this country, and he replied that they would not do so immediately, but would first ask me many questions and see what I knew. Above all, they would want to see whether my life corresponded with my teaching."

He returned to India in January 1548. The next 15 months were occupied with various journeys and administrative measures in India. Then, due to displeasure at what he considered un-Christian life and manners on the part of the Portuguese which impeded missionary work, he travelled from the South into East Asia. He left Goa on 15 April 1549, stopped at Malacca and visited Canton. He was accompanied by Anjiro, two other Japanese men, the father Cosme de Torrès and Brother João Fernandes. He had taken with him presents for the "King of Japan" since he was intending to introduce himself as the Apostolic Nuncio.

Francis Xavier reached Japan on 27 July, 1549, with Anjiro and three other Jesuits, but it was not until 15 August that he went ashore at Kagoshima, the principal port of the province of Satsuma on the island of Kyūshū. As a representative of the Portuguese king, he was received in a friendly manner. hosted by Anjiro's family until October 1550. From October to December, 1550, he resided in Yamaguchi. Shortly before Christmas, he left for Kyoto but failed to meet with the Emperor. He returned to Yamaguchi in March, 1551, where he was permitted to preach by the daimyo of the province. However, lacking fluency in the Japanese language, he had to limit himself to reading aloud the translation of a catechism.

Francis was the first Jesuit to go to Japan as a missionary. He brought with him paintings of the Madonna and the Madonna and Child. These paintings were used to help teach the Japanese about Christianity. There was a huge language barrier as Japanese was unlike other languages the missionaries had previously encountered. For a long time Francis struggled to learn the language. Artwork continued to play a role in Francis’ teachings in Asia.

For forty-five years the Jesuits were the only missionaries in Asia, but the Franciscans also began proselytizing in Asia as well. Christian missionaries were later forced into exile, along with their assistants. Some were able to stay behind, however Christianity was then kept underground as to not be persecuted.[7]

The Japanese people were not easily converted; many of the people were already Buddhist or Shinto. Francis tried to combat the disposition of some of the Japanese that a God who had created everything, including evil, could not be good. The concept of Hell was also a struggle; the Japanese were bothered by the idea of their ancestors living in Hell. Despite Francis’ different religion, he felt that they were good people, much like Europeans, and could be converted.[8][9][10]

Xavier was welcomed by the Shingon monks since he used the word Dainichi for the Christian God; attempting to adapt the concept to local traditions. As Xavier learned more about the religious nuances of the word, he changed to Deusu from the Latin and Portuguese Deus. The monks later realized that Xavier was preaching a rival religion and grew more aggressive towards his attempts at conversion.

File:Nasugbu 31 (New Church Altar).JPG

The Altar of Template:Noredlink in Nasugbu, Batangas, Philippines. St. Francis is the principal patron of the town, together with Our Lady of Escalera.

With the passage of time, his sojourn in Japan could be considered somewhat 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 to India. During his trip, a tempest forced him to stop on an island near Guangzhou, China where he saw the rich merchant Diego Pereira, an old friend from Cochin, who showed him a letter from Portuguese being held prisoners in Guangzhou asking for a Portuguese ambassador to talk to the Chinese Emperor in their favor. Later during the voyage, he stopped at Malacca on 27 December, 1551, and was back in Goa by January, 1552.

On 17 April he set sail with Diego Pereira, leaving Goa on board the Santa Cruz 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 Apostolic Nuncio. Back in Malacca, he was confronted by the capitão Template:Noredlink who now had total control over the harbor. The capitão 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 the gifts for the Chinese Emperor be left in Malacca.

Casket of Saint Francis Xavier in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa

In late August, 1552, the Santa Cruz reached the Chinese island of Shangchuan, 14 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, Template:Noredlink, a Chinese man called António 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 Álvaro Ferreira, he remained alone with António. He died at Sancian from a fever on the 3 December, 1552, while he was waiting for a boat that would agree to take him to mainland China.

He was first buried on a beach of Shangchuan Island. In 2006, on the 500th anniversary of his birth, the Xavier Tomb Monument and Chapel on the island, in ruins after years of neglect under communist rule in China was restored with the support from the alumni of Wah Yan College, a Jesuit high school in Hong Kong. His incorrupt body was taken from the island in February 1553 and was temporarily buried in St. Paul's church in Malacca on 22 March, 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 15 April, 1553, and moved it to his house. On 11 December, 1553, Xavier's body was shipped to Goa. The body is now in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, where it was placed in a glass container encased in a silver casket on 2 December, 1637.

St. Francis Xavier's humerus. St. Joseph's church, Macao

Sign accompanying St. Francis Xavier's humerus, Macao.

The right forearm, which Xavier used to bless and baptize his converts, was detached by Pr. Gen. Claudio Acquaviva in 1614. It has been displayed since in a silver reliquary at the main Jesuit church in Rome, Il Gesù.[11]

Another of Xavier's arm bones was brought to Macau where it was kept in a silver reliquary. The relic was destined for Japan but religious persecution there persuaded the church to keep it in Macau's Cathedral of St. Paul. It was subsequently moved to St. Joseph's and in 1978 to the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier on Coloane Island. More recently the relic was moved to St. Joseph's Seminary and the Sacred Art Museum.[12]


Francis Xavier has been criticized by some for his role in initiating the Goa Inquisition, and for his iconoclasm. Francis requested the Inquisition, but he never saw it happen; it commenced eight years after his death. Yet, as noted by Voltaire, the Inquisition was often cruel, forceful and insensitive to the local culture. According to Rao, "St. Francis Xavier made it a point not only to convert the people but also destroy the idols and ancient places of worship."[13]

In Japan, Francis publicly denounced, among other things, idolatry and practising homosexuality. Some Japanese whom he had converted took part in destroying traditional temples and shrines. One Tokugawan law stated that "Christians were bringing disorder to Japanese society and that their followers 'contravene governmental regulations, traduce Shinto, calumniate the True Law, destroy regulations, and corrupt goodness'".


"The Vision of St. Francis Xavier", by Giovanni Battista Gaulli.

St. Francis Xavier is noteworthy for his missionary work, both as organizer and as pioneer. He is said to have converted more people than anyone else has doen since Saint Paul. By his compromises in India with the Christians of St. Thomas, he developed the Jesuit missionary methods along lines that subsequently became a successful blueprint for his order to follow. His efforts left a significant impression upon the missionary history of India and, as one of the first Jesuit missionaries to the East Indies, his work is of fundamental significance to Christians in the propagation of Christianity in China and Japan. India still has numerous Jesuit missions, and many more schools. There has been less of an impact in Japan.

Pope Benedict XVI said of both Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier: "not only their history which was interwoven for many years from Paris and Rome, but a unique desire — a unique passion, it could be said — moved and sustained them through different human events: the passion to give to God-Trinity a glory always greater and to work for the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ to the peoples who had been ignored."[14] As the foremost saint from Navarre and one of the main Jesuit saints, he is much venerated in Spain and the Hispanic countries where Francisco Javier or Javier are common male given names.[15] The alternative spelling '????'Xavier is also popular in Portugal, Brazil, France, Belgium, and southern Italy. In India, the spelling Xavier is almost always used, and the name is reasonably quite common among Christians, especially in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and more common in Goa. In Goa, Xavier besides being a surname, is also seen as the suffix in the names Francisco Xavier, António Xavier, João Xavier, Caetano Xavier, Domingos Xavier et cetera, which were very common till quiet recently. In Austria and Bavaria the name is spelled as Xaver (pronounced Ksaber) and often used in addition to Francis as Franz-Xaver. In English speaking countries, "Xavier" is one of the few names starting with X, and until recently was likely to follow "Francis"; in the last decade, however, "Xavier" by itself has become more popular than "Francis", and is now one of the hundred most common male baby names in the US.[16]

Many churches all over the world have been named in honor of Xavier, often founded by Jesuits. One notable church is the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier in Dyersville, Iowa. The Template:Noredlink is an annual pilgrimage from Pamplona to Xavier instituted in the 1940s.

The Novena of Grace is a popular devotion to Francis Xavier, typically prayed on the nine days before 3 December.

One of his relatives is John Sevier. The Sevier family name originated from the name Xavier.

Beatification and Canonization

Francis Xavier is a Catholic saint. He was beatified by Paul V on 25 October, 1619, and was canonized by Gregory XV on 12 March, 1622, at the same time as Ignatius Loyola. He is considered to be a patron saint of Roman Catholic missionaries in foreign lands. His feast day is 3 December.[17]

Feast and Pilgrimage Centres

The feast of Saint Francis Xavier is celebrated on 3 December. It is a large celebration in Velha Goa, Goa and beyond. The year 2009 has a theme Sam Fransikachea Visvaxiponnachea Dekhin, Jezu-Noketra Bhaxen Porzollum-ia, which translates from Konkani into English as 'Inspired by the faithfulness of Saint Francis, let us shine like Jesus, the Star', probably based on the year's pastoral theme of the Archdiocese of Goa e Damão Noketram Bhaxen, Sonvsarant Porzollum-ia which translates into English as 'Shine like Stars, in the World'. The theme of the feast of Saint Francis Xavier, draws light from the Universal Church's declaration of 2009-10 as the Year for Priests. Similarly, the celebrations will also reflect on the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman's focus on the youth this year.[18] A huge pandal is erected in the front of the Bom Jesus Basilica, with almost eight to ten novena Masses daily mainly in Konkani, besides English, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and Portuguese. The Archbishop, concelebrates the Solemn High Mass, with other bishops and numerous priests. In 2009, Bishop of Belgaum, Rt Rev Peter Machado will be the main celebrant.[18]

Saint Francis Xavier's relics are kept in a silver casket, elevated inside the Bom Jesus Basilica and are exposed (brought at ground level) when the Archbishop of Goa e Damão decides. Generally it is every ten years, but is not a compulsion. The last exposition was held in 2004 and was held for about one month during December. Bones of Saint Francis Xavier are also found in the Espirito Santo (Holy Spirit) Church, Margão and in Sanv Fransiku Xavierachi Igorz (Church of St. Francis Xavier), Batpal, Canacona, Goa. eim Numerous people from Goa, India (mainly from the southern Indian states), south Asia and beyond visit Goa to attend the feast.

Other pilgrimage centres include Saint Francis Xavier's birthplace in Navarra, Church of Il Gesu, Rome, Malacca (where he was buried for 2 years, before being brought to Goa), Sancian (Place of death) etc.

The Template:Noredlink is an annual pilgrimage from Pamplona to Xavier instituted in the 1940s.


There are many hymns written in his honour. Sam Fransisku Xaviera is a Konkani hymn, which is sung as the recessional hymn at most of the novenas held at Bom Jesus Basilica, Velha Goa, the place where the relics of St. Francis Xavier are kept.


  • In Rudyard Kipling's book Kim, the eponymous hero is sent to St. Xavier's School in Lucknow, a fictional establishment said (in the book) to be the most prestigious school in British India.
  • The episode Unholy Union of the Anime Samurai Champloo features a villain claiming to be Francis Xavier's grandson, calling himself Francis Xavier III. The man is in fact a Japanese impostor rallying Christians into gun-racketeering by playing with their faith.

See also

  • Goa Inquisition
  • Jesuit China missions
  • Catholicism in China
  • Christianity in China
  • Flying Saints
  • Roman Catholicism in Japan
  • Xavier University of Louisiana
  • Chronology of European exploration of Asia


  1. Attwater (1965), p. 141.
  2. (fr) François Xavier naquit au sud de cette démarcation à la limite de l'Aragon (1506) et vécut dans son château natal de Xavier jusqu'à l'âge de 19 ans. C'est là qu'il apprit ses deux premières langues: d'une part le basque dans sa famille bascophone (de la région du Baztan et de la Basse-Navarre) et avec ceux qui arrivaient des provinces voisines encore bascophones au château et d'autre part la langue romane de son entourage géographique immédiat. Ce qui explique pourquoi le missionraire navarrais désignera l'euskara comme "sa langue naturelle bizcayenne" (1544), terme très étendu à cette époque.
  3. Navarro-Aragonese, called Romance at this time was also a language spoken in the surrounding area. Romance languages are the result of the changes suffered by spoken Latin through the centuries. Hispanic Romance languages were born in the North of the Peninsula (Galician, Leonese, Castilian, Navarro-Aragonese, Catalonian).
  4. Sagredo Garde, Iñaki. "Navarra. Castillos que defendieron el Reino". Pamiela, 2006. ISBN 84-7681-477-1
  5. Duignan, Peter. "Early Jesuit Missionaries: A Suggestion for Further Study." American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 60, No. 4 (August 1958). pp. 725-732. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association. Accessed 30th Novbeber, 2008 .
  6. Ricklefs, M.C. (1993). A History of Modern Indonesia Since c.1300, 2nd Edition. London: MacMillan. pp. 25. ISBN 0-333-57689-6. 
  7. Vlam, Grace A. H. The Portrait of Francis Xavier in Kobe. Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 42 Bd., H. 1, pp. 48-60 Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag GmbH Munchen, 1979. 30 November, 2008 jstor
  8. Ellis, Robert Richmond. “The Best Thus Far Discovered”: The Japanese in the Letters of St. Francisco Xavier. Hispanic Review, Vol. 71 No. 2 (Spring 2003), pp. 155-169 University of Pennsylvania Press. 30 November, 2008 jstor
  9. Xavier, Francis. The Letters and Instructions of Francis Xavier. Translated by M. Joseph Costellos, S.J. St Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1992
  11. Cappella di san Francesco Saverio, at the official website of Il Gesù. (Italian)
  12. Chapel of St. Francis Xavier, at the official website of the Macau Government Tourist Office.
  13. Rao, R.P. (1963). Portuguese Rule in Goa: 1510—1961. New York: Asia Publishing House. pp. 43. 
  14. Address of Benedict XVI to the Jesuits, 22 April, 2006.
  15. The most frequent names, simple and exact for the national total and exact for the province of residence, Instituto Nacional de Estadística (Spain). Excel spreadsheet format. Javier is the 10th most popular complete name for males, Francisco Javier, the 18th. Javier is the 8th most frequent name for males, either alone or in composition.
  17. Attwater (1965), pp. 141-142.
  18. 18.0 18.1


  • This article incorporates material from the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religion
  • Attwater, Donald. (1965) A Dictionary of Saints. Penguin Books, Middlesex, England. Reprint: 1981.
  • Jou, Albert. (1984) The Saint on a Mission. Anand Press, Anand, India.

External links

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